Ben Platt on his debut album, Sing to Me Instead: 'I definitely wanted to make music that sounded like me'
For over a year as the title character in Dear Evan Hansen, Ben Platt bared his soul to audiences eight shows a week. You might think the next natural step would be finding a light comedy to star in just to take a load off, but instead, Platt is choosing to double down.
“Throughout Evan Hansen, I became somewhat desensitized to exposing my emotion on stage and putting myself in a vulnerable position as far as performing is concerned,” he tells EW. “To find a way to scare myself again and do something new and appropriately dangerous is really exciting.”
That new, scary thing is his debut album, Sing to Me Instead, which drops March 29 from of Atlantic Records. “[It’s] a sort of exposure that is very intense in comparison because there’s no safety net of ‘these are someone else’s thoughts and feelings and this is someone I’m inhabiting,’ and if you don’t like what I’m saying, you can chalk it up to the piece or the character.”
EW is exclusively premiering the video (above) for the album’s first track, “Bad Habit,” which Platt says is about the addictive nature of some relationships. “It’s sung from the perspective of someone looking retrospectively at a relationship that they have gotten out of and realizing that it’s someone they can’t seem to escape,” he explains. “There’s an attraction and comfort to someone that might not be the right person for us, but there’s an [undeniable] connection where you can’t help but go back again and again.”
Platt says the song is the ideal beginning for the album, which tracks the highs and lows of a romantic relationship from start to finish. “As the tracks progress, you go back to the beginning of the relationship and see where the complications come from and what was the good and bad and what brought the singer to this place of feeling this addiction so deeply,” he adds. “There’s reveling in the goodness of it and there’s the vindictive break-up of it all; there’s the feeling as it dissolves and trying to hold onto it – all the different stages I created from an amalgam of the relationships I’ve had in my life.”
A life-long lover of music, Platt has always dreamed of writing and recording his own pop album, but he didn’t have the courage to make it a reality until the wild success of Dear Evan Hansen. “Singing has always been my favorite activity, and it has always brought me the most joy,” he muses. “What came later was the confidence to write and co-write that music myself. Going through the Evan Hansen experience, both from the logistical standpoint of seeing how something is crafted and also from the standpoint of a very emotional experience and a lot of life lessons learned, it put me in a position where I had the knowledge of where to begin and I had feelings I felt were worth writing songs about.”
The result of those efforts is a 12-track record, on which Platt helped write every song. After a series of trial and error sessions with a multitude of collaborators, he wrote all around the world — London, New York, and Los Angeles. He came away with around some 40 songs before locking in on the 12 that made the final cut. “I really went into a cave and worked with Atlantic to narrow it down to the strongest 12 and the ones I felt fit within one feeling and one narrative, and told one story, sonically and material wise,” he explains.
In some ways, the album is a departure from Platt’s Tony-award winning musical theatre stylings. “I definitely wanted to make music that sounded like me, Ben, the person, because this is the first time that I’m attempting to present myself free of character,” he says. He cites the “narrative and emotionally-focused” techniques of singer-songwriters like Carole King, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell as inspiration alongside the soul and rhythms of artists like Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles.
Above all, Platt hopes to strive for purity of storytelling and performance in his songs, something he says he learned from Adele. “She just gives a beautiful song and beautiful stories,” he gushes. “I’ve tried to use that as a compass because it’s really inspiring to have faith in your songwriting and in your voice and in your interpretation and letting that be the focus and not trying to cover it with fancy stuff.”
Still, Platt hopes his Broadway fans will still find plenty to love in his album. After all, he still relies on many of the principles of storytelling, emotion, and performance he learned from his roots in musical theatre. “I tried to really only write songs I felt were about something that required singing. Because I grew up in theatre, my philosophy in writing a song has always been, you only really do that when speaking doesn’t suffice,” he explains. “When there’s something complex or inarticulable, you need to musicalize it.”
Nowhere was that more present for him than when it came to shooting the music videos, including this one for “Bad Habit.” His performance is both more personal and a result of his finely-honed acting techniques. “It was nice to have acting ability and craft to call upon as a way in and a way to feel comfortable and a vehicle to express the personal experience,” Platt says. “I definitely revealed more of my own interpretations and instincts than I would were I playing a character but performance is always in the back of my mind.”
It seems, then, that acting and singing are inextricable from each other to Platt. Certainly, he hopes this music career is something that takes off in parallel to his acting success, not in lieu of it. “I wouldn’t really be doing this if I didn’t have a real passion for it, and I believe very deeply in what we’ve created and how the music has turned out, and of course, I hope that it will lead to a larger career as far as music is concerned and this can be the first of many records,” he stresses. “I would love for this to become something that’s a real pillar of who I am, but of course, I would love to continue to act as well.”