Rachel Platten On ‘The Wildfire Tour,’ Fame & Next Single “Better Place”
Rachel Platten was the feel-good pop story of 2015. After more than a decade of knocking on doors as an independent artist, the 34-year-old singer/songwriter signed with Columbia and landed a surprise hit with “Fight Song.” The empowering anthem took on a life of its own, inspiring people to be brave in the face of adversity. It was also a colossal commercial success — peaking at number six on the Billboard Hot 100 and selling 2.5 million copies.
I recently caught up with the breakout star before the first of two sold-out shows at Los Angeles’ El Rey theatre. Rachel opened up about the changes in her life since “Fight Song” catapulted her to pop stardom and explained how second single “Stand By You” (another sizable hit) came together. She also spoke about the inspiration for “Better Place,” the next cut from debut LP Wildfire. Find out more in Q&A below.
How have things changed for you since “Fight Song” exploded?
The last time I played a headlining show in LA, I think I was at Hotel Cafe and maybe 30 people showed up. In October my manager and agent called me and told me the size of the rooms that we were going to be playing, and I was like, “Wow. You’re out of your mind, no one’s going to come.” And now, here we are at the end of the tour, and 90 percent of it has been sold out. It’s just unbelievable to play two nights in LA at this huge venue that I used to go see shows at. It’s pretty amazing.
How else has fame impacted your life?
I guess the reach that I have for spreading the message that I want to spread, which is accepting yourself, that you’re good enough, bringing people together, and helping us realize how similar the things that we feel are.
Is there a flip side?
Yes, of course. There’s a lot of pressure.I want to give so much, I want to be there for everybody, I want to meet everybody and hug everybody. I used to be able to do that, I definitely can’t do that any more. I’ve got a real problem with letting people down and I’m trying to work on. You know, understanding that I’m doing the best that I can, and if I can’t meet people outside a meet and greet after a show, that’s okay. I need to rest and get healthy for tomorrow.
Did the success of “Fight Song” inspired you to pursue a more commercial pop sound?
Oh, that’s a good question. We did and we didn’t. Most of the songs were written before “Fight Song,” or right around the same time. Then I wrote more, and it wasn’t intentional to have more of a pop sound, it was just what was in my heart. I was starting to picture big crowds, and I hadn’t done that before. Before I was just picturing myself in a room, and maybe people will hear this, maybe they won’t.
All of a sudden I knew millions of people are gong to listen to the next thing I put out. So that did happen, I think. Without me knowing I was writing bigger choruses, and songs that would work for bigger stages.
You collaborated with some amazing people. How did the song [“Stand By You”] with Jack Antonoff and Joy Williams come about?
So Jack Antonoff and Joy had started this song, it was called “Standing Right Next To You.” There was a little bit of the chorus, and my publisher sent it to me and said, “I know you want to work with Jack, here’s a way that you can work with Jack.” And I heard it, and I was like, “Okay, this could be cool, maybe not.” Jack and I did a couple of days together. We didn’t dive into that one initially.
On the second day he’s like, “Will you check this out, I think there’s something there.” And it struck me all of a sudden, what it needed, and what needed to happen. We wrote the verses really quickly, and rewrote the chorus. It was this really easy, fun day of writing where we were just working off of each other, and creatively vibing. Yeah, so “Stand By You” was a really fun one to write. But I wasn’t actually in the room with Joy for it, I haven’t met her.
Did you have a feeling it was going to be a huge song?
Yeah. I hope that doesn’t sound… I didn’t know if it was going to be huge, but I loved it. I think you know when you have something good, because you’re listening to it all the time, and you think it’s amazing, but then people that you show initially are also that excited. Because you’re obviously going to be super psyched about anything you write. And there may be a couple of things where you’re like, “Wow that was terrible.” But the real test comes if, a week later, you’re still super psyched it looks good.
That track really established you as the self-help pop princess.
I’ll take it. Cool. My nightstand table is covered in a billion self-help books. So yeah, I’ll own that. It’s okay.
Is that positive energy something you go out of your way to incorporate into a song? I know one of your parents is a therapist.
Mom’s a therapist. I don’t go out of my way to do it, but songs for me are a way of working through emotions. They’re like journal entries, so it kind of happens. It’s what I do in my journal, anyway. I work through something, and I get to the end of it, I say the most painful part of it. I get it out there, and I sit with it and see how it feels, and then I heal it. So the songs reflect that. It’s amazing that other people find them empowering, but for me it’s just a way of working through what I’m going through.
The video for that song was very different for you.
We did that on purpose. We really wanted to go for it. “Fight Song” was a lot more casual. It’s what I would normally wear if I was going on a trip, you know to be comfortable in a car. I wore a lot of my own clothes. But for “Stand By You,” I wanted to go all out. I wanted to celebrate the hugeness of the song and the sound, and how big that message of being there for someone no matter what is. We didn’t want to go small with it.
What made you settle on “Better Place” as your next single?
It’s one of my favorite songs on the album, it just was the easiest one to write. I wrote it with a woman called Sally Seltmann who wrote Feist’s “1234.” She brought in the idea of that initial melody, and then we kind of left it and didn’t do anything else with it. And then I sat with it over a couple of months. Then all of a sudden, my sister called me one day and told me that she’s found the person she’s going to marry after years of thinking she was just going to be single forever. The song just wrote itself after that. I was just looking out, with this beautiful sunlight filtering through the trees, and it just felt like this gift from the sky. It was already written, it just came through me.
What has been your favorite moment of the tour?
I think New York City was a really special thing for me. I really struggled in that city to make it. I’d carry this huge keyboard all around the city and play tiny little dive bars. To play a venue that I dreamed of playing for 10 years was really incredible, playing two nights there was really special.