Ben Platt Talks 'Putting Myself Out There' on Debut Album & Why His First Tour 'Exceeded All Expectations'
"It was sort of like a wall opened up, in a nice way,” he tells Billboard's Pop Shop Podcast of singing his own songs, unlike his theatrical experience.
“It was really wild,” Ben Platt says of his first tour, which recently wrapped at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on May 24, in support of his debut album Sing to Me Instead. “I mean, I think I expected places like New York and LA to be really warm and wonderful because I've performed there before … But to go to Detroit and Toronto… Dallas and Austin… and have people singing along to all the songs -- not just the one that we kind of led with but all the songs on the album -- was a wild experience.”
Platt released Sing on March 29, and he wrote or co-wrote all 12 songs on the personal album. (“It's definitely an amalgam of like four or five formative romantic experiences, and also just my experience growing up with my family and my parents.”) His short tour may be over, but fans near New York can rejoice: He’s scheduled one further date at New York’s Radio City Music Hall on Sept. 29.
“Performing live is my ultimate favorite thing to do,” Platt tells the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast (listen below), “and I think that was the part of this experience I was the most looking forward to. It exceeded all expectations for sure. Getting to do it as myself, which I've never done.”
When Platt says “as myself,” he’s referring to how audiences have seen him singing onstage for years now, but always in character. We’ve seen him singing on Broadway as the title character in Dear Evan Hansen (for which he won a Tony Award) and as Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon. But as for just Platt being Platt? That’s not really happened before.
“I've never had material of my own out in the world,” Platt says of his new album. “I've always been sort of a conduit for other stories and other characters and other projects. And this is purely just putting myself out there.”
How was it to go from a very structured production, like Dear Evan Hansen, to doing his own thing on tour? Did it feel freeing?
“Totally. …I think the greatest divergence from Evan Hansen, and just from musical theater in general, was just the feeling of getting to invest purely in how do I want to convey the stories and sing the songs, and have the music feel -- and not have the primary task be how do I disguise myself fully and appear to be a completely different person and serve this other story. It was sort of like a wall opened up, in a nice way.”
Platt says recording an album of original material was always something that he had hoped to do. “I definitely wanted to experiment with music and singing divergent from character and from other people’s storytelling.” That said, Platt wasn’t sure if he could actually write songs. When he was younger, he had rewritten pop and musical theater songs for weddings and bar mitzvahs, but “had never really songwritten as a kid.”
Though, he says, “As soon as I got into a house that had my own piano in it -- the last two or so years ago -- and started fiddling around and really earnestly giving [writing] a shot, I found that that was something that was kind of in my wheelhouse, and that I enjoyed doing, and felt very authentic to me. And now I can't really imagine doing music unless I've had a hand in [writing] it.”
When making Sing to Me Instead, Platt whittled down 40 songs to the final 12 that we hear on the album. Are there 28 songs floating around for Sing to Me Instead, Vol. 2? “I have like a giant box folder on my phone of all the songs that didn't make it on. And there are some that I still love and listen to and want to find ways to incorporate in future projects, and then there are some that didn't make it on for a reason. [Laughs] Most cases, thankfully, it became very apparent when a song was so strong that it had to be on the record.”
Coincidentally enough, the Pop Shop sat down with Tony winner Platt just a week or so before the June 9 Tony Awards, where he will be a presenter. Has he had a chance to see a lot of the nominated shows this year?
Oh boy, has he!
“I have seen, I think, every single musical and musical revival. And pretty much every play except I haven't seen Hillary and Clinton, and I haven't seen Ink. But I've seen pretty much every other production. I really make it a point to see as many things as possible. It's my favorite activity is seeing theater.
“Anytime that I find that I have some time off, it's my favorite activity. It's like a 20-minute walk from my house to the theaters, so I try to do it as much as possible. But I'm also, you know, very privileged that that's something that's accessible to me. I wish that theater was that accessible to everyone. Because it's just such a great way to broaden horizons and also get out of your own head. I love going to the theater.
“Hadestown [the year’s most-nominated show, with 14 nods] is my favorite. If you haven't seen it, you should go see it. It's not your average Broadway fare, in that it's not very forcibly commercial, and doesn't scream out to be on a big proscenium Broadway stage. But it's maintained so much of its downtown coolness and aesthetic. And the score by Anais Mitchell is unlike any Broadway score I've heard. It's gorgeous -- this like indie rock, very particular sound. It's very beautiful music. I really loved it a lot.”
In addition to the interview with Platt, the Pop Shop team discusses Katy Perry’s new single “Never Really Over,” its debut on the Pop Songs chart, and if this could chart a new course for the pop star. Plus, the live-action Aladdin soundtrack arrives in the top 10 on the Billboard 200 -- will it mirror the success of the animated Aladdin soundtrack? The latter set has sold 2.5 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music, and launched a No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit with the single “A Whole New World.”
The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard's weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard's senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and deputy editor, digital Katie Atkinson every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)