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Rising music star doing it her own way

Sara Bareilles performs "Love Song," which rose quickly to the top of iTunes charts, and discusses her decision to write "something honest," even if it wasn't a hit.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

It was all starting to come together for Sara Bareilles, a young singer-songwriter from California with a new contract with Epic Records. But the more she tried to please her producers, the less they liked her songs.

“So I got angry,” she told TODAY’s Ann Curry on Tuesday. “I went to my rehearsal space, I sat down and I said, ‘Whatever this is, good or bad, just write something honest.’”

The result was “Love Song,” which rocketed to the top of the iTunes chart shortly after it was released on the music site as a free download in June. In July, it helped carry her album, “Little Voice,” to No. 1 on iTunes as well. She performed the song live in the TODAY show studios.

It was Bareilles’ first appearance on national television, but music critics hardly think it will be her last. Her sound and style have been compared to Sara McLaughlin, Norah Jones and Fiona Apple.

The 25-year-old Bareilles was raised in Eureka, Calif., a small coastal town in redwood country, five hours north of San Francisco. Her family had a piano and, with help from an older sister, she taught herself to play.

She’s been writing songs since she was 5 or 6 years old. She couldn’t study music at UCLA because she didn’t have the background in music theory, so she majored in communications. But she did sing in an a cappella group called Awaken through her college years; she says on her Web site,, that this experience helped her develop as a singer.

“It gives you different sensibilities about harmony and it can influence your vision of what you can do,” she wrote online.

In 2003, she independently produced a demo CD, “Careful Confessions,” and used that first effort to land a deal with Epic Records. Her first album, “Little Voices,” was released last month.

Asked about comparisons to McLaughlin, Jones and others, she has replied, “I would say I’m ‘pop soul.’ My music definitely comes from a pop sensibility — Elton John, Fiona Apple, Ben Folds. What I like about their writing is that it’s storytelling, some depth to it. I’m also into a lot of jazz, Etta James, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke.”