Plain? The Plain White T’s are a far cry from plain. Take a journey inside their personal diary of this multifaceted group to see how they evolved to what they are today. In the year of 1997 in the suburbs of Chicago, three high school friends gave birth to The Plain White T’s. Higgenson, a drummer, and Fletcher, a bassist, once part of the band Harvey’s Daughter, joined forces withTirio. Higgenson switched to lead singer and songwriter while Tirio took over the drums. The journey continued with a slow start, gaining small but devoted fans throughout local clubs. But in 1999, Higgenson was in a car accident, injuring his kidney and lung. The near death experienced changed his and the bands future. He had a new focused purpose and dedication to writing songs and need to succeed. Three years later The Plain White T’s signed their first record deal with Fearless Records, and the family grew bigger, gaining Lopez on guitar, Tirio switching to guitar and giving drums to Hamilton, and Retondo on base. In just over a decade they have released six albums, been on numerous tours including the Nintendo Fusion Tour and Warped Tour three times, and performed amongst Hawthorne Heights, Sugarcult, Jimmy Eat World, and AFI. In 2007, they reached two Grammy nominations with Hey There Delilah, which became the number one hit in the U.S. and topped the charts in ten different countries. Not surprisingly, in 2009, they charted the billboards again with 1, 2, 3,4. As their history shows, this complicated and extraordinary band, now consisting of Tirio, Hamilton, Retondo, Lopez, and Higgenson, is clearly anything but plain.
Listening to the sounds of Plain White T’s makes one feel as if your are reading about the closely related love and hate of every relationship, making a connection from their personal rollercoaster of emotions to those ideas that are universal to their fans. Higgenson writes of his melodramatic tales of hook-ups, break-ups, and loveless nights. I Should’ve Gone To Bed tells the tale of calling his ex after a night of drinks, “So I down my cup and then I hit you up saying way too much.” He dives deep into the emotional territory with uplifting songs as in Write You a Song, confessing his feelings, “That’s how you’ll know that my love is still strong.” They also have mellow, almost soothing, acoustic ballads of the heart, as in Hey There Delilah and The Rhythm of Love, that would make any girl looking for romance fall head over heels. Along with the teenage anguish ride, the pop rock Plain White T’s deliver an energetic spunky beat that is a combination of a dash of Simple Plan, a touch of All-American Rejects, and mixed with a little Boys Like Girls. Not all diaries come with melodies. This is one emotional ride you have to experience – the complex and intricate Plain White T’s.
The Plain White T’s are now on tour and will be for at least the next year. When not performing, you might catch one checking out the latest flick, putting on the green, playing video games, or picking up interview. I chatted with Tom Higgenson, the lead singer of Plain White T’s, to fill in the blanks of how they got their start, what to expect from their music now and in the near future, and advice for up and coming bands.
You began playing drums in high school bands and switched to singing and songwriting when forming Plain White T’s. What was your first musical memory?Wow. Actually, I did drums for my first instrument when I was a freshman in high school. I asked my parents for a drum set for Christmas, and I got it. They were cool enough parents to encourage me, loving and playing music and everything, so they got me a drum set. I started out with that, and I remember I’d basically come home from school or whatever, go straight downstairs to the drum set, and put on my favorite albums from Pearl Jam and Weezer. It’s like I learned the basics and then I just was obsessed with it. I’d go down there every single day and just play along with these albums and everything. I really taught myself how to play drums. I guess that’s like my first real memory of playing an instrument and everything. Before that I wrote. Me and my buddy, Tom, we had a little rap group called TNT, called Tom and Tom. We did an original rap song at the 8th grade talent show. That’s probably my first actual memory of performing on stage. It was pretty awesome.
When you got your start in Chicago, did you start off with covers or with your own original tunes?
When we started as the Plain White T’s it was all original stuff. We would play covers every once in awhile back in the day, but it was all original songs when we started. Before we started the actual band, me and all of my friends would go down to my basement and just play music together, cover Weezer and Green Day. My basement was like the place to go. The group of friends would jam and play songs and stuff. But when I started writing my own songs, that’s when it was like, “Okay, I got to start a band to do these songs.” That’s what the Plain White T’s became.
We‘ve all been there, making that late night phone call, especially after a late night of drinks. What do you want fans to take away from your latest EP and song, Should’ve Gone To Bed?
Should’ve Gone To Bed is obviously autobiographical. I’m recently single. So a lot of times I’ll go out with my buddies, and we’ll go out to a bar and go somewhere where there’s drinks. So we’ll have some drinks, and by the end of the night, I’m so shy that I usually don’t end up talking to any girls or anything. By the end of the night, I’m getting a little buzz and I turn to the phone and, “Ew, I wonder what so and so is doing. and send out a stupid text messages which are obviously the worst thing you could possibly do at two in the morning when you’re a little bit wasted. So that’s kind of the fun of being single and going out and having a good time. It’s like you kind of make some mistakes, you do stupid things, but it’s all in good fun. It’s not like I’m doing anything wrong. It’s a little bit embarrassing the next day, but that’s about it. So as far as fans go, we always try to write songs that are very honest, very personal to us, and it seems like the more honest we get about our lives, the more fans can relate to it. Everybody goes through the same things so for that song, I’m telling my story, but I know a lot of people can relate to that, and that’s really want we want. That’s the goal in all of our songs. All of our music is to put something out there, that someone can hear and say, “Wow, that’s me.” If they can identify themselves in our songs, then we know we’re doing a good job.
Most of your music is centered around your love life. Cirque Dans La Rue is a rather dark song. Where did you get the inspiration to write this song?
The whole last album, Wonders of the Younger , I went to a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas called O, and I was so blown away. This was before any songs were written for that album or anything. I was just so blown away by the show that I walked out of this thinking, “Okay, I want to make an album that gives people this feeling that I have right now after seeing that.” A lot of songs on that album, Irrational Anthem, Welcome To Mystery, obviously the title song, Wonders of the Younger, and then Cirque Dans La Rue are very thematic about kind of going on a little adventure in your mind and experiencing these things you’ve never seen. I tried to really take people to a different place with some of those songs. Cirque Dans La Rue was the closest to an actual Cirque du Soleil show as I could get in a song. It’s about going somewhere, seeing the clowns, seeing the acrobats, seeing all these crazy things, and being able to escape for a little while - escape reality.
You became nationally known after releasing Hey There Delilah and have other hits including 1, 2, 3, 4 and Rhythm of Love. Which was your favorite to write and record?
Oh, geez. That’s tough because it’s like every time you have a new song, you love it. I think that 1, 2, 3, 4 was for me because Delilah - everybody loved Delilah. It was such a big song; it was number one in like thirteen countries or something like that, so crazy big that a lot of people, I think, might get a little intimidated by that trying to write a follow up to it. Where do you go from there? You know what I mean? So for me, I was very proud of 1, 2, 3, 4 because I wasn’t really thinking about Delilah. I was just writing songs like I always do. 1, 2, 3, 4 kind of had that simplicity that Delilah had. It was inspired by my girlfriend at the time, and that one came out pretty much exactly the way I heard it in my mind. It came out on the record which doesn’t always happen. I was definitely really, really proud of that one.
With six albums under your belt, what are your future plans? Can fans expect another album soon?
Yeah, we have the Should’ve Gone To Bed EP like you said. It’s out now. It’s only being released as a digital release through iTunes and Amazon and stuff, but on this tour, we made a limited pressing of the EP on CD. I don’t know about you, but when I love a band or love a song, I want to own the actual copy. We figured for our fans, we got to make a real CD in case people want to be able to actually hold it and look at it and maybe get it signed or something. So we have real, real physical copy CDs of EP on this tour. We have an album coming out I believe at the beginning of September. We just finished it up before leaving for this tour. So we have a full length album done, coming out in the next few months and a brand new EP out right now.
Plain White T’s was formed in 1997, sixteen years of dedication. What have you learned? Do you have any advice to bands just getting their start?
You know it’s funny because it’s a different time now. When we started the band we were in high school. It was 1997. There was no Youtube. There was no Facebook, anything like that. All of these social medias, Twitter, none of that existed, so we just really had to do it ourselves. We had to go out there, and we had to win fans over by playing live and win them over with our music, with our show and everything. Nowadays, there’s a lot more outlets, like I said, for people to reach fans with social media, but I see that connection and that passion for what you do still has to be there or else you’re not going to get very far. I would just say to anybody coming up, it’s like what we did was just believe in ourselves, never give up, and put everything we had into every song, every show, and we still do that to this today. It never changes. We love what we do, we do the best we can. That’s advice you can give anybody, for anything, not just music. If you love math and you’re going to be an accountant, be the best accountant there is. Give it your all and do what you love.
Plain White T's
w/ Decker, The Wind and The Wave
20th Century Theatre
Wednesday July 24th
7p Doors / 8p Show