The Tony Award winner on early beginnings, Pitch Perfect and his debut solo album Sing To Me Instead.
Chances are you’ll know who Ben Platt is. If not by name, then definitely by his voice. The 25-year-old LA based artist made his name coming up through the musical theatre circuit, scoring roles in Book of Mormon and Dear Evan Hansen, the latter of which pushed him into the spotlight and earned him a Tony award for Best Actor in a Musical back in 2017. He hit more commercial success with his starring role in the box office smash Pitch Perfect, alongside Anna Kendrick, and his voice was hailed as a standout of the entire series.
Now with his debut solo album Sing To Me Instead, he’s now showing off his skills performing his own original material, we met Ben following his show at Hammersmith Apollo to hear how it feels to be breaking out as just himself.
Hey Ben! Most people know through you on the stage, through Evan Hansen, and from Pitch Perfect. How has that experience been?
Really bizarre! Both of those two characters, especially Evan, are socially anxious and reserved and a bit nerdy. Not saying that I’m not those things also, but I think people generally assume that that’s exactly how I am, so what’s been nice about doing this new chapter and my own music is getting to decide how I want to portray myself and to show my actual self rather than this other character that someone else has created for me. It’s very easy to hide behind other people’s material and that’s what I’ve done kind of my whole life, and it’s really nice and it feels really safe and warm, you get to disguise yourself as a kind of skill which is fun. This is like the complete opposite of that!
So have you always wanted to explore pop music? Was it something you grew up listening to?
Theatre was always the first thing. Growing up, my parents played me lots of different musical theatre albums in the car. I grew up doing community theatre and all my cousins did so we’d sing in stuff together. I was listening to pop music with my siblings but singing, it was always theatre first. As I got a little older I sorted to get more interested in soul Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Donny Hathaway and Carole King and Adele and stuff, and just these really incredible songwriters.
When did the idea to start creating your own album form?
I think the first time I started writing earnestly from my own perspective was when I was working on the Evan Hansen cast recording at Atlantic, and I sing a large majority of that record so I was working pretty closely with people at Atlantic, and they started mentioning whether I’d thought about going out on my own and creating my own music and being my own artist. I think I’d always been somewhat afraid of that. As I said, I grew up relying on the vehicle of other characters to perform and that sort of veil and safety net, but their faith and encouragement helped me sort of sit down at the piano and try writing purely as myself as opposed to rewriting as someone else, and I liked how it felt and I liked what came out!
What were some of your inspirations for record? It seems very centred around love and relationships.
Definitely. Because I come from theatre, I come from the philosophy that you only sing about things that need to be musicalised, when it means enough to you and is deep enough for you and complex enough for you that you think you’re gonna process it or understand it better if you put it into song, I find it hard to write about going out or dancing in the club, that’s not quite my MO. Those experiences largely ended up being past relationships, and about my family, and about things I felt like I could write about.
Is it scary just being 100% you now?
A bit. I think as soon as I ripped the band-aid off and released the first couple of songs and saw how people responded to them, it was resonating and people were likening them to experiences in their own lives, I was so relived. Leading up to that first release was really scary. It’s such a private thing and I’d never had that experience of putting something that’s my own and very vulnerable out, even though I’ve played characters that are very vulnerable, it’s very different.
How did you approach it differently?
I tried to rely a lot more on instinctual feeling and gut feeling. I wasn’t using any tactics. Because I’ve been doing theatre for so long a lot of it is strategy and when we perform it’s very pragmatic and there’s a lot of forethought. For this, I’ve tried to be the most go-with-the-flow as possible which isn’t normally my MO. I’m a very anxious Type A kind of person, but it was a good lesson in following my feelings and my ears and my instincts.
It’s very stripped down. What was the reason for that?
I just feel like in pop music there’s a lot of that, there’s a lot of stuff that has a lot of layers and imposed sound, it’s so rare that we get an Adele or a Sam [Smith] which is very much stripped back and the storytelling is out front, and I feel like my strength has always been in the vocals themselves and the emotionality in the story, so I felt like the best way to show that was not to throw a bunch of stuff on that.
What do you want people to take away from the album?
All the feels. Hopefully a better idea of me as a person and that you’ve got to know me a bit better after listening to it. Hopefully there’s things on there that will help you process things that you’re going through if you need that, or put words to things that you haven’t been able to articulate. There’s a lot of horrible shit going on everywhere so hopefully it can be an escape too. It’s the type of album that you can fall in to and listen and escape for a little while.
And you’re now only one letter away from an EGOT!
Only the O away! It would be a lovely by-product but it’s not the kind of thing that I’ve ever planned. If it comes together, great. If not, I love my three letters that I already have!