The singer-songwriter talks us through the music that shaped her artistry
Ford and Billboard are bringing you closer to your favorite artists with Ford Front Row. The final event the four concert series will be headlined by Rachel Platten in New York on October 15 at Brooklyn Steel. Before the night kicks f, we asked Platten to go deep with us on the music that changed her life. Platten learned how to cut her teeth in New York but was raised in Boston, and distinctly remembers her dad's favorite Billy Joel song “New York State Mind.” He'd listen to it wishing he had moved from Boston. “He played that a lot,” she says. “There was a bit sadness to it. I loved 'Uptown Girl.’ too. I'm a big musical nerd and that's just unapologetically fun.”
Platten's fate in music was sealed by family life. Not only did she grow up listening to her parents' records (Michael Jackson, The Beatles), she came from a big singing clan. “We'd go on road trips and play music on loop constantly. We'd all act out our own part in 'Leader the Pack',” she laughs. Her mom would play her Joni Mitchell. “There was so much heartbreak but also so much love in her vocal,” she says. She was fascinated by “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles. “I was mesmerized by all the changes and I'd try to figure out who wrote what section.” Of course, there was contemporary pop too. Madonna's “Like A Prayer” remains one her all-time favorite songs: “I made up about a hundred dance moves to that.”
When it came to building her non-dance skills though, it was the piano that caught her eye. “My mom played an upright. I remember being little and looking up at the keys and my mom's hands and wishing I could reach them.” As a teenager she'd start listening to confessional singer-songwriters: Tori Amos, Indigo Girls, Tracy Chapman. “There was a yearning to find connection, peace, truth-tellers.” The thing that utterly changed her perspective on her own art, however, was surprisingly hip-hop and rap, which she came to in high school. “Like everyone I was obsessed with The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill,” she recalls. “I'd dissect it until I could figure out how to match it.” She loved Nas, A Tribe Called Quest and Tupac Shakur.
Today those are the types performers who motivate her own creativity. “I don't listen to much that sounds like me,” she admits. “The things that inspired this forthcoming record are so different from girl pop. It was gospel, indie rock, rap, even classical.” She talks about the live performances that blew her away lately: Chance The Rapperand Childish Gambino. “Childish Gambino took my breath away,” she says. “The way he sings reminds me how artists used to sing in the Village. The party is onstage with his 15-piece band.” With Chance, she draws on a different inspiration. “He is blending genres, saying stuff that's important but in ways that cynical teenagers can digest. A song poured out me because him. He's so sweet but also tough, so earnest and yet cool. I know it's a crazy comparison but the way he connects with an audience is how I hope to connect.”
Off the stage, though, Platten looks to a different type maverick to lead her path. Bon Iver's 22, A Million became an obsession hers recently. “He took so many unbelievable chances on that record, didn't follow any rules, created sounds out things you'd never think could be on an album.” Regina Spektor is another boundary-pusher who particularly resonates because she played in the types New York dive bars Platten would learn her skills by herself. “Even though it's just piano and vocals, she's punk in the way she describes things,” she says. “There are so many artists right now that aren't staying within the lines.” With Platten, those artists are keeping great company.
Rachel Platten's Spotify Playlist