Despite being from Massachusetts, Rachel Platten considers Friday's Mistletoe Meltdown concert at Towson University "a bit like a homecoming."
To the pop singer-songwriter, Baltimore is largely responsible for her career taking off. Mix 106.5 was the first radio station to take a chance on her single, "Fight Song," at time when Platten had no momentum or even a record label, she said. In January, a friend of Platten’s played the song for the station’s program director, Dave Labrozzi, who then spun it a few times on air.
"There was no reason for them to play the song," Platten, 34, said in a phone conversation from the road earlier this week. “But because of that, labels reached out. … It was very much because of that station and because of Baltimore that this song got out to the world.”
Platten’s empowerment anthem has seemed ubiquitous since its official February release. “Fight Song” reached No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles list and topped charts in the United Kingdom. It’s also been used on TV shows like "Supergirl" and "Revenge," and in TV commercials for Ford cars. Local fans can expect to hear it Friday at the SECU Arena, where Platten will join Robin Thicke, the Vamps and OMI.
After a period of struggling as a musician in New York City and a couple of albums that failed to cross over, Platten is enjoying a year filled with success. She signed with Columbia Records, toured with Colbie Caillat and performed on shows like “Good Morning America“ and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Taylor Swift brought Platten out as a surprise guest during her Philadelphia tour stop, which might be the most obvious sign of ascendance in the pop world.
“This year has just felt really magical,” Platten said.
Before Friday's show, Platten discussed cutting her teeth in New York, reactions to “Fight Song“ and her new album, “Wildfire.” The conversation has been edited and condensed.
You did the New York City grind for a while — playing gigs anywhere you could. How important was that time in your development as an artist? I assume it toughened you up.
Oh yeah, absolutely. I learned a lot from playing those late-night, 1-to-4 a.m. gigs with my band, and playing when no one was listening. One thing I really learned from my tour manager/drummer — his name is Craig [Meyer] — is that the party is always on stage. We bring the joy, and if anyone wants to take part in it, that’s awesome. We still have that motto even though the band has expanded now and the crowds have expanded. The fun comes from us. The love comes from us. You want to be a part of it? Amazing, but it isn’t reliant on anyone else.
How much have you changed since [2003 debut album] “Trust in Me” and [2011's] “Be Here”? Where do you hear the development most in your music?
I think the biggest difference is in the writing and the quality of writing, and how I’ve learned to simplify my concepts and make them more universal. They’re similar feelings, but there’s also a strength that I’ve learned from being resilient and from almost falling so many times, and almost failing and then having to pick myself up. I learned that I truly am a fighter, and that I cannot give up.
Vocally, I have learned to find my strength, and my voice has developed a lot since “Be Here.” I learned to sing with all of my body. That was an interesting thing. With “Be Here,” I was singing very much in my throat. My producer, Jon Levine, when we first started recording “Fight Song,” he said, “You are singing these incredibly powerful words that you have written but you’re not singing them like you’re powerful. Sing from your belly. Resonate with all of you.” That was a big deal.
What are some of the most memorable things you’ve heard from fans about their personal connections to “Fight Song”?
Oh my gosh, I read them all of the time. I’ll read this one for you that I just got sent [via social media]. “My daughter was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in June, and whooped its butt. One of the things that helped her push through the most difficult parts was your song. She listened to the song everyday and sings it at the top of her lungs when she does. It’s very beautiful to think the amount of motivation it gives her. It truly hits home, so thank you, Rachel Platten, for this awesome song. You might have saved Alexa’s life.” I get thousands of those messages every day and that is crazy to me. Like, what? A song that I wrote while I was going through something and needed to remind myself to believe in myself, that is changing people’s lives? That is crazy. What else could you do in life?
Some know the song from its use in advertisements. Are you concerned at all with your art being too associated with commercialism?
That’s so funny. No, I’m not. Maybe I should be. But no, in my mind every opportunity to get the song out there was an opportunity for it to connect with someone who needed it. If that meant it was going to take a commercial to really spread it, awesome. Every single time it got out there, I got more messages from people that said it changed their life. They were mindlessly doing dishes and all of a sudden the song came on and it struck something in them that they hadn’t felt in years.
Did you and Taylor Swift talk songwriting at all?
We talked about almost everything else. We’re friends now, and she’s a really wonderful person. She gives great advice, and she’s really kind. She’s really generous. But no, we’ve never talked about songwriting.
Your 2016 starts with a milestone: “Wildfire” will be released New Year’s Day. What was most important to you that this record captured?
I think honesty, who I really am. Being myself and showing every side of that, even the ones that I might not want to share, like ones I’m not proud of. Like when you’re in a fight with a friend and you’re feeling passive aggressive. I have a song about that. I have a song about being in love. I have a song about being supportive. There’s inspiring ones, and there’s some that show a little bit more fun and daring. It really is a range of who I am. They’re just like journal entries, in a way, and they’re very honest.
The release date also made me wonder: How will you spend New Year’s Eve?
Well, I’m going to be [performing] on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” So it’s going to be pretty special.