Anyone with a working car radio and the desire to hear music that comes from the heart holds a soft spot for the Plain White T’s. The band’s rise to the top started in 2006 when “Hey There Delilah” first debuted. Tom Higgenson wrote the acoustic love ballad about a girl that he was introduced to at the House of Blues in his hometown of Chicago. Her name was Delilah DeCrescenzo. “I’m going to write a song about you”, he told the 24 year old track star not long before writing the Grammy nominated love song that’s reached millions of listeners and climbed to number one on the Billboard charts.
Since “Delilah”, the Plain White T’s have produced hit after hit— “1-2-3-4” reached platinum status in 2009, while “Rhythm of Love” followed suit in 2011. The band’s music has been used in a number of commercials and television programs, including Esteee Lauder, Hallmark, 90210, One Tree Hill, and Parenthood. The band has consistently remained in the spotlight over the past decade, touring with everyone from Motion City Soundtrack to Rob Thomas to Panic! at the Disco. This past Thanksgiving they even performed their eponymous track “American Nights” off their seventh studio release during the Macy’s Day Parade.
Given the massive amount of success the Plain White T’s have achieved since they initially formed back in 1997, it was quite satisfying to sit down with Tom Higgenson and learn that the fame hasn’t gone to his head. Tom was down to earth, humble, and easy to relate to throughout our interview and the conversations that followed— he was exactly the person you hoped would be responsible for some of the most candid and inspiring songs of the last two decades.
During our interview we talk about the challenges that come with leaving a major label (The Plain White T’s left Hollywood Records due to creative differences surrounding the American Nights record). We also joke around about Miley Cyrus, talk about Tom’s adoration for Alanis Morissette, his first time seeing Weezer play his favorite venue in Chicago, and the one thing that’s holding the band back from playing Lolapalooza.
Read our full interview with Tom Higgenson, the singer, songwriter, and guitarist of the Plain White T’s below.
Hello, This is Lia Gurin & Kayla Dupras of LIKEYOUSAID. Today we are joined by the lead singer of the Plain White T’s. Just for the record, could you state your name?
Tom: My name is Tom, Tom Higgenson.
And what do you do in the band?
Tom: I am the lead singer, like you said. [Laughs.] I’m expecting some hard questions tonight.
Like Hilary Clinton.
Tom: Yes, cut through.
Your fall tour was called the Guantanamo and Beyond Tour and your tourmate Matt McAndrew shared that you actually had the chance to visit the troops in Guantanamo Bay at the start of it all. How did this whole experience come about?
Tom: That’s right. Once a year we try to do a little tour for the troops through Navy Entertainment. We have been to The Persian Gulf, we’ve been to Japan and Italy, all around the world, playing for U.S. troops. When we heard about Guantanamo Bay we said, “Hell yeah, we want to go”, because when are you going to get to do that? We started the tour two days after we did Guantanamo Bay so we decided to name the tour Guantanamo and Beyond.
That’s amazing. And what’s it been like touring without a manager?
Tom: It’s kind of rough. The touring part of it’s not bad. It’s kind of like, what are we going to do after this? We’ve had a couple, I don’t want to say horror managers but we’ve gone through a few managers in the last couple years and so the next one we find will hopefully be the one that lasts the rest of the career.
The Plain White T’s formed in 1997, which was pretty prime for the grunge/punk movement… What were some of the bands you were listening to in the early days?
Tom: When we started out, we still do, we loved bands like Weezer, Green Day, the Lemonheads, Pavement… The Smashing Pumpkins… There’s this venue in Chicago called The Metro. It’s legendary— one of my favorite spots. It was my dream to play there and my first show I saw there was Weezer on The Blue Album.
Wow, you’re lucky.
Photo by Kayla Dupras
Tom: Back then we were going to shows every week, every weekend was a concert. Alanis Morissette, that’s a big one.
How is Alanis live?
Tom: She’s fucking amazing. She was my favorite back in the day. I saw her probably 11 times on that one album cycle.
Would you guys play with Alanis Morissette today?
Tom: You know, we met her last year and of course I had to geek out and say, “Alanis, you were one of the reasons I write songs and wanted to play music” and she was super sweet about it. While we were on stage, she brought out tequila shots and took them with us. To have someone like that and meet them and they’re fucking cool and buying you shots, and liking the fact that I was a fan, appreciating my fandom, it was just a really cool moment.
“Hey There Delilah” was such a pivotal song for the Plain White T’s. It was released on your third studio album, All That You Needed, the song went five times platinum and reached the number one spot on Billboard charts. It’s kind of a big deal. Did “Hey There Delilah” change your direction as a band?