Plain White T's
There are certain staples in American fashion - denim jeans, leather jacket, cowboy boots and, of course, a plain white T-shirt. The latter is not particularly glamorous but it is standard issue.
Still, why call a band Plain White T's? "We thought that in a way it stood for something classic, timeless, and always cool," claimed Higgenson. The band also noticed that some of their favorite musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson were often seen in T's. The hope was "the shirts wouldn't go out of style; maybe the band wouldn't either."
Lacking anything better (as often happens) the name stuck. Parenthetically, they were also influenced by The Beatles, who almost never wore T's. But if you're a power-pop with a touch-of-Punk-band, T's probably work.
Higgenson started as a drummer in a group called Harvey's Daughter (now there's a bad band name). When that suburban Chicago (Villa Park) outfit tanked he helped launch Plain White T's. As the band went through the usual iterations, Higgenson bounced from behind the drum kit to become the frontman. He also assumed principal songwriting duties.
Prior to that, in '99, Higgenson was involved in a near-fatal car accident that left him with a ruptured kidney and lacerated lung. But he gained a new attitude toward life that influenced his writing. The group's full-length debut, "Come On Over," was notable in that the '01 release was good enough to get them signed to Fearless Records. Both "Stop," which hit in '02, and "All That We Needed," three years later, were on Fearless. Between the two albums co-founding member, bassist Ken Fletcher, and guitarist Steve Mast, left.
"All That We Needed" was notable because it marked the first appearance of the single "Hey There Delilah." The song was also be featured on a subsequent "Hey There Delilah" EP and the group's next album. It became a Top 10 hit over a year after the album's '05 release.
With a hit record, the trick is to act like it's not going to be your last. Still, the temptation to milk-it, by both the group and their label(s), is hard to resist. Having the hit on an indie release then the major label debut is just standard marketing - labels want a sure thing. Building an EP around the hit is dangerous. In the public's mind the group runs the risk of becoming too strongly indentified with the song and that can spell death (at least commercially).
"Delilah is a real person," said Higgenson. "She was never a girlfriend, just an inspiration for this long distance love story."
Plain White T's moved to Hollywood Records (the label of Hillary Duff and Jesse McCartney) at least partially for the co-released (with Fearless) album "Every Second Counts" with, yes once again, "Hey There Delilah."
'08 follow-up "Big Bad World" yielded two pop hits, "1,2,3,4" and "Natural Disaster." The group also appeared on the Rock Band Live tour with Panic At The Disco and Dashboard Confessional.
Plans to release an EP in '10 were shelved in favor of a full-length album. The Plain White T's altered their sound for "The Wonders Of The Younger" to what they called a "live-in-the room acoustic California-pop feel." In another switch, Higgenson provided backing vocals on several tracks while Lopez sang lead.
Plain White T's Discography
2000 Come On Over
2005 All That We Needed
2006 Every Second Counts
2008 Big Bad World
2010 The Wonders Of The Younger
Plain White T's sound like Blink 182 but with a pop radiance rather than sneering, sarcastic vocals. No doubt repulsive to some, others will find the positive/hopeful sound to their liking. Even when Plain White T's are down or harsh on "Hate (I Really Don't Like You)" or Tearin' Us Apart"), they're not all that depressed or angry.
As often happens, a group releases a single that bears little resemblance to their core sound. There seems to be an inverse proportion rule - the further from the group's sound, the bigger the hit. The tuneful acoustic ballad "Hey There Delilah" is a stretch from the group's lean, power-pop.
"Friends Don't Let Friends Dial Drunk" with the line "only want to hang out when you have nothing to do" is both witty but not so damn clever. "So Damn Clever" has a potent guitar while "Figure It Out" puts them as close to Punk as they are going to get - at least on this set.
The "Hey There Delilah" EP has the title track and a live version, which is really just an audience sing-a-long. "Easy Way Out" employs some '80s Wave beats - especially the bass and drums while "Down The Road" shows the group at full-throttle. "Losing Myself" is a pop oriented uptempo song.
"All That We Needed" is the group's most consistently energetic set to date. "Revenge" catches them in a Punk mode. The songs "Take Me Away," "Lazy Afternoon" and "Sing My Best" are melodic gems.
"1,2,3,4" from "Big Bad World" is the band's best shot at a supplanting "Delilah," and though it's a good song, it comes up short. The Plain White T's are fall more successful with power pop songs "Natural Disaster" and "That Girl."
On the ballad "Rainy Day" they try to get away with the line "the sky is gray just like me" but redeem themselves with the tuneful and less tortured "Meet Me In California." Venturing from ballads or power pop the Plain White T's turn in an impressive performance on the Folk-Rock leaning "I Really Want You" - complete with vocal harmonies, harmonica and acoustic guitars.
"The Wonders Of The Younger" is a blend of Coldplay and Oasis, tripping on "Sgt. Pepper's" era Beatles.
As if to tease, "Irrational Anthem" opens with an acoustic guitar - you can even hear the fingers move across the fret board - as a self-important 'statement'. Mercifully, it turns quickly into a romp - and a good one at that.
Though "Rhythm Of Love" is 'take whatever' on "Hey There Delilah," Plain White T's rebound with "Boomerang," "Killer" (with the line "if I was a vampire…. would you put your neck on the line?") and the romantic yet urgent "Our Song." But "Make It Up As You Go," an irresistible upbeat, positive party song and the set's best Coldplay impersonation, "Cirque Dans La Rue," are the essential tracks.