Singer/songwriter Rachel Platten, 36, was raised in Newton. After graduating from Buckingham, Browne & Nichols School, she attended Trinity College and then moved to New York to pursue her musical career. She played coffee shops and small venues while honing her craft, releasing two indie albums before eventually penning the anthem “Fight Song,” the 2014 mega-hit that brought her stardom and earned her a Daytime Emmy Award. Her new album, Waves, continues her strong independent streak. She lives with her husband in Los Angeles.
Jonathan Soroff: Did you set out to write an anthem when you wrote “Fight Song”?
Rachel Platten: No. I just personally needed that song. It was for me. I was struggling with believing in myself. I knew I wanted to do music, even though it seemed impossible. I was 31 at the time. Everyone told me it was too late. But I’m just stubborn and I refuse to give up. I had this idea in my heart that I was meant to give this message. But it seemed like an insane person’s thought. I’m thinking I’m going to save the world when I’m playing to five people at a sports bar.
A lot of your songs seem like they’d be demanding on your voice. Are they? Wow! That’s really insightful. They’re very hard. I wish I could write songs that were easier to sing. I don’t know why I do this to myself. I write crazy acrobatic vocals that are deceptively hard. There are belty notes that are right in the middle. High whistle tones. It’s crazy, and I don’t know why I do this. I just have to warm up ahead of time, which I take really seriously. I warm up for at least an hour every time I sing.
Who have you been compared to that you like the most? Sia, I think. People say the tone of my voice is similar, and I love that comparison. I think she’s outrageously talented.
Your new album is called Waves. Is that a favorite sound? Yes, it absolutely is. It’s so peaceful to me. I live close to the ocean and I go as much as I can. I find that I’m able to just ground myself at the ocean.
So what are the top three things in heavy rotation in your music library these days? Lately I’m obsessed with Louis the Child. There’s a song with Elohim called Love is Alive, and I can’t stop playing it. I’m also highly into Chance the Rapper. I discovered him a little later at the Clive Davis party for the Grammys. Everybody had been telling me how amazing he was. But I don’t care if I’m late to the party. At least I am in the party, dancing. And I also rediscovered Sheryl Crow lately. I loved her in high school, so I’m having a little bit of a nostalgia moment.
Person you want to collaborate with? Chance the Rapper. One hundred percent. I would die to work with him.
Janis Joplin or Joan Jett? Janis Joplin. She was a rebel, but I like that she was soulful and a truth-teller. Joan Jett was amazing, as well—a total badass.
You must have had some unbelievable fan encounters. Is there one that stands out? It happens so frequently, and I’m so happy for it. Every time I do a show, I hear a new incredible story. But recently, there was a little girl who had cancer that was almost inoperable but they were going to try, and she was like 6. Her family said they played “Fight Song” nonstop before she went into surgery and it was the first thing she wanted to hear when she woke up. It’s really humbling. There’s a couple of really hardcore fans who call themselves the Plattenums, which I think is really cute. They created a book they called Chicken Soup for the Plattenum Soul. It’s stories about how they’ve helped each other. It’s like a sisterhood and they support each other unconditionally. They did something incredible for one of them who couldn’t afford a ticket to see me. They did a crowd-fund and flew her from England to see me.
Favorite venue you’ve ever played? I think the Staples Center in LA. When I was struggling as a songwriter, I lived close to downtown and I’d drive by it. So when I drove there to sing it was just incredible. I did two sold-out nights opening for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
Worst venue? On my first tour—which I’m not really sure you could call a tour—my drummer and I were playing the bar scene in New York City. We made up a fake agent email address and this person who believed in us found some smoky pub in Pittsburgh. The stage wasn’t really a stage. It was a crawl space. I was crouching while we performed. Part of the deal was that we got dinner, which was like chicken in water. And afterward, we were like, “That was the best! We’re on tour!” [Laughs.]
Favorite talk show to appear on? I’m gonna have to go with Good Morning America, because I won an Emmy. Now it’s new anchors though and they have no idea who I am, but on red carpets, I’m like, “Yeah, we won an Emmy together!” And they’re like, “We’re trying to find someone famous.”
Weirdest place you’ve been when one of your songs came on? Oh! I was in Korea in Pyeongchang for the Olympics and we were shopping in a mall. Very random. All of a sudden, “Perfect for You,” a song off my new album, came on. I was like, “Oh, this is a good song. Oh, my God—it’s mine!”
Favorite rock anthem of all time? Does Meatloaf count? Paradise by the Dashboard Lights. My sister and I would sing it, without knowing how gross it is in terms of a guy trying to get a girl to have sex with him. But we used to scream it at the top of our lungs with our parents. It’s such a good song. I also learned a fun fact about it. The baseball announcer in it, who’s super famous? They got him to do it by saying it was for movie. He didn’t know he was reading that for a song with sexual innuendo. He thought it was an actual baseball game.
If you were an artist who went by one name only, what would it be and why? Let’s ask The Improper Bostonian readers what they think. Comment on social media and give me ideas. I have none, and mine would be so lame.
Would you ever be a judge/mentor on The Voice or America’s Got Talent? One hundred percent. I was a mentor on American Idol. I loved it so much. I took it very seriously. I really wanted the girl to get as much as she could. I wanted her to see some steps that I had to take that maybe she didn’t have to. I loved passing on the 16 years that I had to learn. I loved the possibility of helping her skip some of that. I love to be a mentor.
Where do you keep your Emmy? It’s on my piano. But sometimes when I work out, I don’t have a heavy enough weight so I’ll use it. It’s really heavy! I also have an iHeartRadio award and they’re equal weight, so I use them for bench presses. It’s so f——— Boston of me.
Ever write a lyric you regret? There’s a song called “Speechless” on my record Wildfire. I just get a little embarrassed singing it live. It’s sexual and it’s not really like me to writhe around onstage. It works for some artists, but it’s not my strength, and I have a lot of young, little girl fans. It feels weird.
Thing about BB&N that you loved the most? I did love the singing group. Now I’m going to be made fun of. Our name was the Nightingales, which is so dorky, but I loved going to practice voice. I just assumed that everyone loved drama class and singing.
Are you the only pop star they’ve produced? No. There are lots of famous people. Mindy Kaling was in the Nightingales, and we went on a trip to Spain together and were roommates. She taught me something major and womanly on that trip, although I can’t remember what. She also had incredible parties—like epic cast parties. She called my mom, who was not happy about letting a freshman go. Mindy convinced her it would be a really solid, wholesome good time. [Laughs.]
Worst job you ever had? Well, I got fired a billion times, so let’s just pick one of those.… I was a horrible employee. I was really good at getting hired. I’m charming, and I can say all the right things. But they very quickly figure out that I’m probably gonna take my shoes off and eat the customers’ food. Plus, I’d go to the mail room and make them print out my posters. So, if the music thing doesn’t work out again and you’re hiring, I’m warning you right now.
Favorite thing about Newton Center? Crystal Lake, by far. I walk around it whenever I’m home and I get so much peace. My whole life, I’ve gone there.
Best thing about touring? Well, your band is basically your family. I have the most fantastic, funny, kind people around me who I get to be on the road with.
Worst part? The people I’m on the road with. [Laughs.] No, it’s the pace. It can get exhausting. You don’t get a lot of sleep.
Favorite country you’ve toured in? Maybe Japan. Tokyo just blew my mind. It’s so cool.
How long before your Grammy? What a sweet question! Hopefully soon. I’ve envisioned it and I hope that it happens and I do want it. I think it’s something I could get. I can see it and visualize it and I hope it does happen. ◆
Rachel Platten, photographed for The Improper by John Russo In Los Angeles; Hair: Christian Marc / Forward Artists Using Igk Hair; Makeup: Lyndsay Zavitz / Celebrity Makeup Artist; Styling: Justin Lynn