Hands sweaty, heart pounding, Rachel Platten stands backstage at the International Soca Monarch Finals, about to take the stage for the very first time to sing in front of 80,000 people. This is moment that would forever change her life. “When I stepped on [that] stage, it was like I was struck with a bolt of electricity,” recalls the pop artist. “I had that aha moment of ‘Oh God, this is what I’m supposed to do with my life!’”
In that moment, Rachel discovered her true calling, but making it a reality would take a bit longer. “All you need to know between now and then is that it was 10 years of accepting any and every gig, believing when there wasn’t much to believe in, and lots of cereal with no milk,” she says.
In the next decade, groundwork would be laid for “Fight Song,” the first single from her Columbia Records debut. “Fight Song” is an uplifting anthem that perfectly embodies Rachel’s own vulnerability and power, with a “don’t give up” message that resonates across all audiences.
Growing up in Boston, Rachel recalls harmonizing with her family to finely crafted pop songs – from Sam Cooke to The Beatles – that dominated her parents’ vinyl collection. As a teenager, Rachel gravitated towards, and began to become affected by, hip-hop and female singer-songwriters. “My CD collection was Tori Amos and Patti Griffin but then A Tribe Called Quest and Nas.” The commonality between the two seemingly different genres: confessional and vulnerable songwriting.
As a kid, Rachel dreamt about music as a career but never really thought it could happen in real life. “I grew up playing classical piano and I knew I could sing but I had no model to follow creatively. The idea of growing up to be an artist seemed impossible.” However, the electricity she felt on stage a decade earlier inspired Rachel to start chasing what she once thought was an impossible dream.
After finishing college, Rachel immediately set out for New York City where she took up residence in the very apartment building on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village where Bob Dylan once lived. Naturally, she found a band on Craigslist and started performing in clubs around the city. The next few years consisted of paying dues through a mix of temping during the day and getting fired a lot, gigging until 4am, and lugging an 80-pound keyboard to her fifth floor walk-up night after night. Despite the struggle and the setbacks, Rachel loved being on stage, even if at times nobody was listening.
Rachel, however, was able to hold her own. She is equal parts magic and pragmatic. An International Relations major who walks around with a fistful of crystals in her pocket. She commands a room with her infectious smile, laughter, and her ability to make a stranger feel as though they are the only person in the room. And she’s gotten here through a talent that is driven by determination and her empathy to connect with people.
When it was time to branch out beyond New York, Rachel sat in a coffee shop on MacDougal Street, made up an email address, and contacted small coffee shops around the country as “her agent.” People wrote back and she soon booked her first tour. After that, she teamed up with a talented young manager, Freddy Wexler, who broadened her horizons and sent her on a writing trip to Europe to work with several songwriters and producers. After this trip, she pulled her demos together into an album and signed with an indie label that released her single, “1000 Ships.” Despite some moderate success with the record, her single, and management, the indie record deal had all run its course.
“I felt crazy sometimes that I still believed in myself when there were no signs that I should.” During this time, a conversation with her soon to be manager, Ben Singer, helped reignite her passion. “Ben helped me realize that I had to start my own fire and my songs would be the sparks.”
After two years of writing, Rachel would find her first big spark with “Fight Song.” She turned inward by telling her own story through it. Turns out it was just the message people needed. “The reactions were honest, and intense. People have been sending me the most beautiful stories of how they refuse to give up,” she recalls. One such story included an incredible woman named Christine, who adopted “Fight Song” as her battle cry against a cancer. After hearing how much “Fight Song” had inspired Christine, Rachel taught 150 of Christine’s friends and family the song for an emotional surprise performance. Sadly, Christine would later succumb but her legacy of love, hope and courage stays with Rachel today.
The fire that “Fight Song” ignited has connected not only with music fans but also Columbia Records. Now planning her major label debut, Rachel is touring the U.S. with Andy Grammer, performing a number of songs from her cache. Songs like “Lone Ranger,” a nod to her gutsy road warrior side; “Congratulations,” a passive aggressive jab that she wrote through angry tears after a fight with a friend; and “Better Place,” a stripped down song with a classic melody that should be the wedding song of 2015.
Ask Rachel what she wants people to take away from her music and she says, “I’m in love with the idea of connecting people. Bringing people together is to me, the most important thing we can do in this life. I feel like that’s my mission with my music. I think that’s why I’m getting this chance right now.”