Rachel Platten was in rehearsals for her spring headlining tour when she called for a phone interview recently, and there was no mistaking the excitement she was feeling in seeing her live show come together.
“We’re ready to bring the party and have a lot fun around the country,” Platten enthused. “We have this motto, my drummer (Craig Meyer) and I have been playing together for 10 years, and we always say to each other, even when we played to like 20 or 30 people at a time, we would always say, ‘The party’s on stage. If anyone else wants to join, awesome.’”
It’s a safe bet that Platten and her band will have many more than 30 fans turning out for their shows this spring, considering she has notched two number one singles on “Billboard” magazine’s Adult Top 40 chart — “Fight Song” and now “Stand By You.”
But there were years when Platten was struggling, taking any gig she could get and seeing plenty of sparse crowds.
In 2003, Platten, 34, moved to New York City to pursue music full-time. What followed were years of local gigs and a self-released, little-heard 2003 debut album, “Trust in Me,” before she decided to make a second album, “Be Here.”
That album gave Platten her first taste of mainstream success when the song, “1,000 Ships,” was released as a single and climbed to No. 24 on “Billboard’s” Adult Top 40 chart.
Initially planning to self-release “Be Here” and book her own tour, Platten hired a publicist for the project. That’s when she got a break.
“From that publicist — this happened in like several weeks — she heard the record and she goes ‘This is really good. Can I send it to the label I work with?’ — which was an indie label called Rock Ridge,” Platten explained. “They heard it and within a couple of days (they said) ‘we want to put this out.’”
Shortly after that, a radio promoter heard “1,000 Ships,” felt the song had potential and soon the song was climbing the charts.
But after the song stalled at No. 24, the momentum Platten was seeing was gone and she found herself trying to re-boot her career.
Looking back Platten said two things kept her from capitalizing on the chart run of “1,000 Ships.”
“Things were happening very quickly. I don’t know if I honestly appreciated or grasped what an opportunity it was at the time,” she said. “And the second part of it was I didn’t feel like I deserved it in some way.
“It just fell away very quickly. The label went away, my manager went away and the song died and that was it,” Platten said.
“That was really, really hard when everything fell away. All of a sudden I was like ‘Oh God, I had this shot and I lost it. I blew it.’ And I’m 30 years old. There’s no way I’m going to have another chance. That’s pretty much impossible.”
Despite the odds, Platten soldiered on, hiring a new manager and writing song after song while building her confidence and her sound.
One of her compositions was “Fight Song.” It got picked up for airplay by a Baltimore radio station, Mix 106.5, and soon record labels were noticing Platten as well.
By last May, Platten had inked her deal with Columbia Records, which made “Fight Song” the title track of a four-song EP and released it as a single.
It topped “Billboard’s” Adult Top 40 chart and reached No. 6 on the magazine’s all-genre Hot 100 singles chart, while inspiring scores of people with its self-empowerment message.
Patten had arrived, and as she watched “Fight Song” take off, she recorded her full-length debut album on Columbia, “Wildfire,” which was released on Jan. 1.
The sound Platten created on the album is a good fit for today’s commercial pop. Songs like “Stand By You” (the current hit single), “Beating Me Up” and “Speechless” have arena-sized production, big pop hooks and enough emotional depth to feel a bit deeper than the usual top 40 fare.
She gets some variety with the funky “Hey Hey Hallelujah” and the stripped back piano-based ballad “Better Place.” Now she’s on tour, playing a set that leans heavily on material from “Wildfire” and offering more than the chance to see Platten sing.
“I am doing a lot of choreography, too, which is really fun, actually,” she said. “I’m still playing instruments, but about half of the show is going to be dances, which is crazy because I was a horrible dancer last year. I found out recently that I totally love it and I think it helps the song come to life even more. I’m also able to express the words visually in ways that I didn’t really think I would be able to. It’s definitely a part of the show. I’m not talking serious like Beyoncé moves, but I’m going to be my own version of moving around the stage.”