When Sara Bareilles finally finished touring behind her major-label debut Little Voice and sat down to start her next album, she was overcome with one dominant emotion: panic. "There's that cliché phrase, 'You have your whole lifetime to do your first record and you have to do your second one overnight.' I was really torn with the writing," she admits. Her pal Matt Hales from Aqualung gave her some valuable advice — "You can't polish a turd, you obviously need more time" — so she scrapped the tunes she'd written over the summer and started from scratch.
Though she dismisses her first stabs at the new album as simply "shitty," early songwriting sessions introduced her to an eccentric slate of potential collaborators, including Mr. Slave 4 U, Pharrell: "I drove up in my bird-shat-on, banged-up Honda Accord, and I was like, 'Is that your Ferrari outside?' " She jammed with the Roots in New York, and teamed with Weezer at a Los Angeles show ("It was rad, I felt like I joined the band for 4.2 seconds"). She also spent time listening to Phoenix and Kings of Leon, soaking up what she praises as the "bombastic sonic quality" of Only By the Night.
But her most fruitful team-up has been with producer Neal Avron (Fall Out Boy, Say Anything), who has helped her shape the new batch of songs into an uptempo, layered album she describes as "revitalizing," packed with attitude and sonically darker than her previous work. Bareilles says her hit single "Love Song" was the last track she tossed together for Little Voice, and its equivalent on the upcoming disc is "King of Anything." "It just poured out of me," she says, explaining the track — which is brightened with horns — is kind of a pep-talk to herself before critics get their hands on the album. "I think I'm preparing myself for what's to come."
"Let the Rain," one of the two tracks that feature Bareilles on guitar, is "about feeling like you need a rebirth." She says the odd-metered song includes a chant on the chorus, and was appropriately recorded during one of L.A.'s periods of "gnarly rain." In addition to the uptempo tracks, "There are some sappy sad songs about being depressed, I know that well," she says. "But I think it's a nice mixture of upbeat and the more sentimental side of me."
Bareilles reports she's a little past halfway done recording the still-untitled album, which is due this summer. And while she doesn't have any special guests on the LP yet, there's a standing invitation for Bono, Chris Martin or Beyoncé to pop into the studio. "Lady Gaga, Sir Elton John, Paul McCartney while we're at it — we'll bring all the Sirs," she jokes. "Ben Kingsley — he can be on my record, too."