"In music, there's such a thing as a breakout moment for a brand new artist, where they come out of nowhere and all of a sudden everybody is singing their song," said Taylor Swift, introducing one of her much-hyped musical guests on the Philadelphia stop of The 1989 World Tour. She was, of course, was referring to Rachel Platten, the 34-year-old singer-songwriter who exploded into the public consciousness this year with her anthemic single, "Fight Song." But those familiar with Platten's career know that it wasn't such an abrupt rise to fame.
In fact, Platten released her first album, Trust In Me, in 2003, following brief stints in Sly & the Family Stone and Prince cover bands. "I didn't say no to anything," she recently told InStyle at our N.Y.C. office. New fans may as well consider her upcoming third album, Wildfire (out Jan. 1), which features fist-pumping tracks like "Fight Song" and the just-released "Stand by You," her first, because in many ways, it is. "I feel like I've been plucked out of this reality I was living in and put in a new one," she added. Below, more about the singer's musical past, her unexpected comeback, and performing with Swift.
"Fight Song" blew up this year, peaking in the top 10 in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Slovakia, and the U.S. When did you originally write it?
"Right after [my 2011 album] Be Here finished its cycle. I got some attention off its lead single, 'A Thousand Ships,' and I thought I might get signed—then it all went away. I lost my label, my manager, and I thought, 'I’m probably too old to start over at this point.' Then I was on the way to the recording studio, trying to figure out a way to talk about the pain of being rejected, and "Fight Song" was born. It’s about me not giving up on myself."
And it came out, just like that?
"It took me a really long time to write the entire song. The chorus came out quickly—it felt like this gift that came wrapped in a beautiful bow—but the rest of the song was impossible. I wrote seven or eight different verses and bridges. It was a year and 10-month process."
Did you have any inclination that it would get so much airtime?
"Not at all. It's funny, I used to look out onto the Hudson River from my apartment in Greenwich Village, and one night, I had gotten back from a gig and I saw a little boat, and that’s where the line 'a small boat on the ocean' came from—it was initially 'Hudson' not 'ocean,' but not enough things rhymed with 'Hudson'! I remember imagining thousands of people with their fists in the air chanting. So there was this little hope that it could maybe be something."
That dream scenario really happened when you performed it onstage during The 1989 World Tour.
"It was everything I could ever imagine, and it wasn’t lost on me in the moment, either. I was like, 'Okay. This is my dream coming true right now.' I think it’s amazing that Taylor wants to promote other artists, especially ones that might not have been given as much of a voice. I’m really grateful to her."
What’s the significance behind the album name, Wildfire?
"When I met my manager, Ben Singer, it was three months after the crash from Be Here, and he said to me, 'You have been trying all these years to warm yourself to everybody else’s fire, you need to go build your own, and people are going to come to it.' So that became out motto: Do we have a fire yet? Finally, when 'Fight Song' was finished, we knew."
Both "Fight Song" and "Stand By You" have anthemic choruses and big, soaring hooks. Will the rest of the songs on the album follow a similar structure?
"I think what’s tying it together is how honest the lyrics are and how raw I was in showing who I am and all the sides of me. There’s a range of my personality. Sometimes, you’re in fights with people and you need to talk about it, and sometimes you’re in love and things are simple, and sometimes things are complicated and confusing. I wanted to show all of that."
Did you know that when you Google your name, one of the first things that comes up is "Rachel Platten hair"? Tell us: What’s the secret to creating your perfectly tousled beach waves?
"I think my best friend is dry shampoo and dry texturizer spray. I use Oribe’s Dry Texturizing Spray ($42; oribe.com) and Bumble & Bumble Prêt-à-Powder ($27; sephora.com). Then I use a wand and hold it vertically to vary the direction of the curls—you go away from your face and toward your voice with each strand. Then mess it all up with more texturizer spray!"
Watch the video for "Stand By You" below, and pre-order Wildfire for $6 on the iTunes Store.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.