Rachel Platten Is Still Fighting, Making ‘Waves': Interview
“Fight Song” is an anthem for anyone trying to beat anything, and explores how much of life is about the small battles—something pop music has always touched upon.
For Rachel Platten, however, “Fight Song” was about the actual fight to get her songs heard. Having spent her formative years on the New York singer-songwriter scene, Platten had already released an album and scored a small hit on the Adult Top 40 chart before suddenly losing her manager, her label and having to start all over again. When Wildlife came out five years later, it was the stuff of songs like “Stand By You,” a growling devotional aimed at the underdogs (and a track which ended up in a public service anti-bullying campaign). Written while Platten was still “wondering if [she] was even going to try to continue,” the songs on Wildlife were dopamine-charged sugar rushes of positivity, impossible to listen to without jumping out of your seat and bellowing the lyrics.
Waves, her follow up, is a different beast. On opener “Perfect For You,” Platten turns phrases like "calm down" and "don’t come at me like that" into daggers. When she turns romantic as she does on “Collide”—a song dedicated to her husband Kevin Lazan—her voice almost feels too intimate, as if we’re being invited to peer at Platten’s emotions laid bare. At its most euphoric moment, lead single “Broken Glass” recalls “Fight Song” but suggests there may be more to the struggle. The title brings to mind last November 2016's unbroken glass, an election Platten was tied in more ways that one: “Fight Song” was the unofficial anthem of Clinton's campaign, but later a version was used, against her wishes, at Trump’s Inaugural Ball. The music video for “Broken Glass” stars an all-woman troop of cyclists and was released alongside an essay Platten wrote for Refinery29 about the electric energy she felt while attending the Women’s March in January.
Waves is a heavier record, the kind of pop music made by someone whose head is entirely inside the game. We spoke to Platten about the energy behind “Broken Glass,” how she feels about her hits and what she’s listening to right now. Plus, find out how YOU can win tickets to her TODAY Show concert on Friday, October 27!
Lifelong biker here, so I’m dying to find out how you put the video for “Broken Glass” together.
I live on the west side of LA and my bike is the main way I get around if I’m staying around Venice [Beach]. I love being on my bike—the speed and the feeling of the air rushing past you makes even boring errands feel like you’re a little kid, ya know? So I wanted my music video shoot day to be a blast and what could make it more fun than a bunch of badass chicks on bikes?
The work of your backup bikers is particularly superb, can you tell me about working with them?
We flew in artistic cyclists from Germany who were insanely talented. The first time I saw them practicing stunts I completely forgot to keep singing along. I was just staring, jaw on the floor. They were the kindest, most humble but also tough and confident women, and they patiently taught me a couple of tricks. In the behind-the-scenes footage, you can see me riding on the handlebars with Sara. I was like, screaming at the cameramen, "Quick! Capture this before I bite it!” Sorry, guys.
The punch of "Broken Glass" feels like a timely update on "Fight Song." Has its use in the past year changed how you feel about the song?
Hell no. I wrote those words and those melodies for myself at a desperate time in my life and they still belong to me, just as they now belong to anyone else who has embraced them. My art is no more mine than it is yours once I release it into the world, but that doesn’t take its original power or meaning away from any one of us.
In your essay on "Broken Glass," you talked about how you wrote the song for the people around the world facing adversity, hoping they would use the song to help them see the other side of it.
I was at the Women’s March, it was electric. After so much pain that so many people felt from the events of the year, it was amazing to be side by side with other women and girls and awesome men, supporting one another, not competing or putting each other down. That was my muse.
You have a new album coming out this week. Tell me how you approached it differently than Wildfire.
I have never felt so free creatively. I wrote every single one of these songs without getting in the way and I let whatever needed to come through me just come. I didn't judge my art or feel the need to please anyone but me and that freedom allowed my inner artist to run wild. I played with colors and sounds and rhythms and I didn't adhere to any rules... I honestly just had so much fun making it.
I have never been more proud of anything I've created in my life. With Wildfire, I was trying to catch up to the massive success of “Fight Song.” I was on tour the entire time I was making it so it was a version of me that was, honestly, kind of exhausted, popping into the studio, listening to mixes in buses, airplane bathrooms, green rooms and doing my best to create while a little spun around. On Waves, I took an entire year off from touring and I just wrote songs and played.
What's the best album of 2017 so far?
I loved Rainbow from Kesha so much. She sounds like she felt similar freedom in her creation and the album feels deeply personal but also wild and fun. I'm lucky enough to call her a friend and it's cool to hear firsthand just how much she controlled every aspect of that album. She's a badass.
Last song that made you cry?
“Losers” by Belle Brigade. I fell in love with that song six years ago and recently rediscovered it while making a throwback playlist for Spotify. It perfectly encapsulates what I battle with and sometimes fall prey to and sometimes rise above. Feeling jealous of people around you and comparing yourself to someone else and not feeling good enough and finally saying "I am done with this shit." I am good as I am.
What's a song that you wish you had written?
“Issues” by Julia Michaels. When that song came out I was so blown away by how she brought back that Regina Spektor sound but also mixed her own punk I-don't-give-a-s--- kind of flow and emotion. Her writing is just so smart and concise and cute but tough, and that song is perfect.
What is something you like to listen to that would surprise your fans?
Gospel music. I sang in a gospel choir back when I lived in the Village and I fell in love with Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary especially. Music [like that] reaches into your soul and is way deeper than anything we like to put labels on. I can't help but feel so moved and connected and fired up when I listen to gospel.
Who is an artist you feel is really underappreciated right now?
Let me give you three because I was recently back in the Lower East Side and got to see some of my best friends playing music at a tiny club and they straight up blew me away. Hannah Winkler, who has a project called Human Natural, Martin Rivas and Bski are all insane talents. Check them out!
Enter below to win two (2) VIP tickets to see Rachel Platten perform on the TODAY Show in New York City on Friday, October 27! Contest closes on Wednesday (October 25) at midnight.