Songs typically tell stories, but every once in a while, they also harbor characters as lively as anyone on the big screen or as nuanced and complex as the protagonist of your favorite novel. A fair share of unforgettable people populate the catalog of Plain White T’s. You can practically see the girl in "Rhythm of Love" who "rises up like the tide," the feisty young lady who's "a legend in the late-night scene" on "Natural Disaster," or the “Bonnie” who inspired "Bonnie I Want You." And, of course, who can forget that eternal muse who moved to the Big Apple in "Hey there Delilah?"
During 2023, the multiplatinum two-time GRAMMY® Award-nominated band introduce a bevy of new songs (and friends) for us to fall in love with...
“All of the songs are about different moments, girls, or experiences,” Tom notes. “In reality, life is just a bunch of friends and situations. Love and people come and go. Over the course of the band’s history, I’ve taken those memories and put them into songs. When you write a song, you’re just trying to capture a moment. If listeners connect it to their own lives and stories, there’s nothing better.”
Formed in 1997, the Chicago, IL group—Tom Higgenson [vocals], Tim Lopez [lead guitar, vocals], Mike Retondo [bass], and De’Mar Hamilton [drums]— occupy their own curious corner of popular culture. They dropped back-to-back gold certified albums—All That We Needed (2005) and Every Second Counts (2006)—and enraptured audiences with timeless hits, including the platinum "Rhythm of Love," double-platinum “1,2,3,4” and quadruple-platinum "Hey There Delilah." The latter made history as "the first song without drums to vault to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100" in addition to garnering two 2008 GRAMMY® Award nominations in the categories of “Song of the Year” and “Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.” The guys attracted an enthusiastic global fan base over the course of eight full-length albums and countless sold-out shows. In 2018, they reached another creative high watermark with Parallel Universe. Met with critical acclaim, Billboard raved, “Plain White T’s have been turned completely inside out but are just as strong as ever.” Throughout 2021 and 2022, the band wrote and recorded in earnest, crisscrossing the country between Nashville, Chicago, California, and Austin.
Taking their time, they tapped into the essence of Plain White T’s.
“We were trying to hark back to sounds we’ve used in the past with a freshness,” Tom goes on. “This one came from a really authentic place of understanding who we are and what we do. I’m more excited than I’ve been in a long time. As musicians, we’re always trying to outdo ourselves or go somewhere we haven’t gone before. Somehow, we figured out how to go to a fresh spot and still sound like Plain White T’s.”
The first single “Spaghetti Tattoo” evokes this spirit through eloquent songcraft with sparse accompaniment. Gentle acoustic guitar brushes up against Tom’s delicate delivery as he recounts a date play-by-play from a series of DM’s to “Conversations about a spaghetti tattoo on your arm” to goodbyes outside of the restaurant. It culminates on the breezy chorus, “Don’t know where it’s gonna go, but it feels good not to know.”
“It’s one of the most straightforward story songs of the bunch,” the frontman goes on. “I took some liberties, because I don’t think her favorite movie was Dumb & Dumber, but I need it to rhyme with ‘The Drummer’,” he laughs. “She did breakup with a drummer. After a breakup, she legally changed her middle name to ‘Spaghetti’ and got the tattoo. It was the funniest fun fact on a first date, so I had to put it in a song.”
A laidback beat underscores an unexpected source of inspiration on the chantable “I’m Fired Up.”
“I was listening to a ton of hyperpop with my son,” recalls Tom. “The song reflects the feeling of coming alive again after the last two years, but doing it in a nonchalant way. You don’t want to get too excited, because we’re still kind of uncertain, but I’m feeling pretty good. The hyperpop kicked me in the ass.”
Mike adds, “It has such a loose vocal thing going on. For the last 20 years, pop music has been so autotuned. To have this be so loose was refreshing. I love it!”
Co-written with Lil Aaron [Lizzo, Demi Lovato, Kim Petras], “You Plus Me” hinges on an instantly irresistible refrain, "We’re the perfect problem baby, you plus me.” Tom reveals, “It just tells a cute romantic story. It’s where a lot of our strengths have been in the past. For a while, I strayed away from it, but part of this chapter was getting back to who we were. After these last couple years, I’m also ready to put myself out there and be vulnerable.”
“It could’ve been on the Juno Soundtrack if we wrote it 15 years ago,” laughs Mike.
Then, there’s “Girl From Pasadena.” You’ll feel like you’re in the car with Tom driving from Malibu to meet her…
“It’s about a girl I’ve been hanging out with from Pasadena,” he says. “It’s an homage to being excited about a girl again. She helped awaken all of these great feelings inside of me I’ve been missing.”
“Happy” glides along on a percussive bounce as it glues bright lyrics to an understated minor chord melody.
“It admits, ‘I’m down sometimes, and I don’t want to be’,” Tom states. “I want to do things that make me happy like cruise down PCH, hang out with friends, and call the girl who just gave me her number. It’s an overwhelmingly positive song, but it feels a little sad because of the music. So, maybe I’m not quite happy yet, but I’m giving it my best shot.”
In the end, Plain White T’s continue to welcome everyone into a wonderful world without comparison.
“This band is my whole life,” Mike leaves off. “I have my family, and I have the T’s.”
“It’s the same for me,” Tom concurs. “Obviously, we’re a family too. We’ve been together as a band for 26 years. It’s our identity, joy, passion, and everything. We love this music as much as ever, and we can’t wait for you to hear it.”