Singer-songwriter Rachel Platten had been making music for more than 10 years before landing her first hit, “Fight Song,” last year. These were years spent struggling, playing to empty clubs, performing in cover bands, opening for lesser acts. Platten, 34, used to tour in her mother’s car, then graduated to a van she bought — she was very proud of the van.
Last month, Platten began her first headlining tour — which comes to Liberty Hall in Lawrence on Wednesday. An with the tour came her first tour bus. “I think the bus driver thought I was insane, because the first time I walked on the bus, I had tears in my eyes,” Platten says in a recent phone interview. “I’d imagined that moment, and it seemed impossible a year ago that it would happen, but I still imagined what it would be like. I had imagined sitting on it. I walked on it and I was like, Oh my God, a dream just came true. And he was like, ‘Lady, what the hell is wrong with the bus?’”
Platten grew up in Newton Centre, Mass., and moved to New York City after college in the early ’00s, where she found it hard to distinguish herself from thousands of other well-meaning female singers with guitars.
“I was trying to figure out what I wanted to say to the world, what kind of songs I wanted to write,” she recalled. “I also had no support. I didn’t have management or a label, so I didn’t know how to release a record, and I didn’t want to release anything that wasn’t going to be great. I had demos, but I was very aware, ‘These aren’t good enough yet. I don’t want these out in the world.’”
In 2011, after a songwriting trip to Sweden and London, Platten assembled and released her debut, “Be Here.” The album, issued by indie label Rock Ridge, contained a minor hit (“1,000 Ships”), but Platten and her team had expected more. “We had a little success, and it all fell away,” she says. “My manager left, walked away. I knew I needed to go do work, and that work is writing. I needed to really write, not just write 12 songs and call it an album, but to do what I did. Write 250 songs, and figure out, what am I doing? Who am I as an artist? What do I want to give the world?”
Rock Ridge and Platten severed ties, and she spent years trying to dig herself out from the wreckage of her early career. She wrote “Fight Song” as a form of self-soothing: It’s uplifting (“This is my fight song / Take back my life song”) and anthemic and life-affirming and girly, a younger sister to songs like Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” and Katy Perry’s “Roar.”
In 2015, 12 years after she started, Platten signed to Columbia Records. The label released “Fight Song” in February 2015, and her major label debut, “Wildfire,” in January. “Wildfire” just went gold, propelled by the once-in-a-career success of “Fight Song.” (An atta-girl from Taylor Swift, a fan of the song who brought Platten onstage to sing it last summer, also helped.)
For Platten, the song is deeply personal: She found herself at one of the lowest points in her life, and wrote her way out. For millions of listeners, there’s a rare sense of ownership. “Maybe it’s in the refrain,” Platten says. “It does instantly make you feel like you own it. It’s really amazing to see, especially live, people dancing wildly and jumping up and down. There’s people crying and hugging each other. It’s very beautiful.”
“Fight Song” has become a staple of TV show background music and sporting events and charity walks. It has also been adopted by Hillary Clinton as an unofficial campaign anthem (there are videos of the candidate dancing to the song onstage at rallies). Clinton doesn’t need Platten’s permission to use the song, and Platten, who isn’t famous enough to be able to afford to alienate anybody, is diplomatic about its new life.
“What’s amazing about the song is that it has been used for sports and politics and people fighting diseases, and trying to lose weight. I’m proud that the song connects with people all over the world.”
Tickets to her Lawrence show Wednesday are $19 in advance through libertyhall.net.