Searching for Honesty with Rachel Platten
Ahead of her Ford Front Row show in New York, we get close with the singer-songwriter
This year, Billboard and Ford presented a stellar run of intimate, live experiences with Ford Front Row. So far Los Angeles saw R&B star Tinashe make the crowd swoon, Miami invited Dashboard Confessional to rock the house, and Atlanta featured the magic of Jhené Aiko. This month the final headliner is powerhouse singer-songwriter Rachel Platten in New York on October 15 at Brooklyn Steel, with this event taking on an even more special meaning. This concert is being presented in partnership with the inspiring Ford Warriors In Pink breast cancer charity. We caught up with Platten in advance of the show to talk about her passion for performance…
Rachel, you've been performing since forever but your biggest break came later on in your life. What's kept your determination so strong over the years?
Rachel Platten: I keep journals religiously. Recently I went back and read a lot of them and I visited me at 20 years-old and 23 years-old. I got to see what was keeping me going. I saw how depressing my life could look from the outside. I was really broke, had no manager and no team. But I also had incredible friends and an incredible family of musicians in New York City where I was playing at the time. We'd have these jams three times a week and we'd meet up at some small bar in the West Village and play covers. It was just joy and fun and it would take all the seriousness about trying to impress people out of it. That tiny little bar would be all that mattered that particular night. People would stand up on tables and play instruments and it was a party. I might not have been 'succeeding' in industry terms but I was loving it.
You were always committed to a lot of altruistic work too, right?
Yeah I did a lot of charity. I was singing in hospitals; I still do that now through Musicians On Call. That kept me going more than I can describe. I'd have some kind of heartbreak where a label would almost sign me and then pull the contract. That happened twice. I would hate myself and feel like giving up. Then I'd go and sing to a bedside patient and it was such an incredible reminder about what the meaning of success actually is. That connection sustained me. I was smart enough to see these outside sources for my determination. I also had my own psychotic inner grit.
Ever since “Fight Song” became Hilary Clinton's campaign song, have you felt that you've wanted to use your platform more about topical issues?
I don't think that was the thing that spurred me to want to speak up. I think the world in general is begging for us to all use our voices right now. It's dangerous to be quiet and more important to stick up for one another and to see that we're all a big family. A lot of our family members are hurting and you can't ignore it. That's just as bad as being the one saying something offensive. I'm human and I want to respond but I'm also an artist and often people don't want their artists speaking up. So it's a tricky position. All I can do is speak from the human side of me. I've watched the events of this year and been saddened and shocked but also inspired by people sticking up for each other. That's made it into my music.
Tell me about the follow-up to Wildfire…
I have an album coming out this month, I'm almost done. I can't tell you what it's called yet. I just left the studio last night and thanked the songwriting gods for all the unbelievable inspiration. It's human, raw, honest, emotional, dark at times because my life was tough this year. It's also joyful because I was high on life at other times this year. I let whatever was in my heart that day come. I got out of the way of the songs. That's what I'm most proud of.
Looking forward to this show, what is it about playing in New York that you love?
Oh man. It was my musical home. I didn't go to music school. New York City was my school. I learned from all the incredible players I played with. They'd make me mixtapes and say: “Learn Prince right now, study everything in his catalog, go learn how to play gospel, go to some churches and figure it out.” I soaked up everything. New York is like coming back to my alma mater and going, 'Look what I've done, are you proud of me? I'm proud of you, New York.'”