Tom Higgenson of Plain White T's: "I Never Thought ['Hey There Delilah'] Would Be a Hit."

Although originally conceived as a pop-punk outfit, Chicago's Plain White T's have evolved into a more mainstream, alternative rock band. Having a number one hit will do that to you.

2007's "Hey There Delilah" was the single that exposed the band to the world. Light, sentimental and catchy, the song became a staple of FM radio and eventually sold over four million digital copies.

Thankfully, Tom Higgenson and crew didn't just start cranking out carbon copies of the song. Instead, the band has continued to grow and experiment with its sound. 2010's Wonders of the Younger found lead guitarist Tim Lopez taking over vocals on several songs, including the hit single "Rhythm of Love."

Speaking from a tour stop in Houston and in anticipation of tonight's show at the House of Blues, Higgenson was nice enough to talk with DC9 about the group's progression from indie band to mainstream hit makers.

How did having a hit with "Hey There Delilah" change the band?
Obviously, it brought us from being an indie band to being more of a mainstream, known-around-the-world band. It was what we wanted ever since we started the band. We dreamed of that. We didn't want to be a small band. We wanted to connect with as many people as we could with our music. That song gave us the opportunity to do that, to reach all those goals.

When you first wrote the song, did you feel like you had something special?
You know, I knew it was a great song and I just thought our fans would love it. I never thought it would be on the radio. It was just my guitar and some drums, and it sounded like a lullaby. It didn't have a great beat or the big loud guitars that you expect to hear on the radio. I never thought it would be a hit. Guess I was wrong.

You were in a serious car crash in 2001. Do you have any lingering effects from the accident?
You know what? I need to get in better shape. I broke my back and had a lot of internal injuries and, ever since the car crash, I think I haven't stayed as fit or been as active. I think I am more out of shape than I need to be. I need to start working out and build up the strength that I have lost since the accident.

Why did [rhythm guitarist] Tim Lopez assume more vocal duties on the band's last album, Wonders of the Younger?
He just started writing really good songs. That's about the gist of it. He came into the album with some demos, and he had not really done that before. He would come in with a song here or there, or we would write together in the studio. This time around, he came in with full songs and a few of them were really amazing -- one of them obviously being "Rhythm of Love." In the studio, we actually debated who would sing that song. We tried it a couple different ways, but in the end, it's just more honest coming from him. It's about a girl he dated.

Some critics have said the album represented a change in your sound. Do you agree?
You know, it's funny. I mean, I guess we explored sonically more than we have before. But for me, we always have some change-ups. That's what many bands do. You never want to lose what makes you unique, but you always have to experiment and try to push yourself and grow artistically. I think that's what this album did for us. We will always have the things people love about the band.

One writer said the album was "aggressively tuneful." Is that what you were aiming for?
Aggressively tuneful? I like that. I think what he is trying to say that it is catchy in an aggressive way. The songs get into your head. I think that's what that means. If so, I will take it.

2005's All That We Needed has always been a fan favorite. Was that album a tipping point for the band commercially?
I think that was our big album on an indie label. The whole world didn't get to hear that album. It was for our original fans. It had a good feel to it. The next album, Every Second Counts, was on a major label and had a couple of hits on it.

Do you still play songs from the early albums?
Yes, what we are doing now is letting the fans vote on our website. We play songs from all of our albums. Every night, we want the fans to help us out. We know they want to hear songs they haven't heard in a while.

You originally started out as a drummer, correct?
Yes, drums are my first instrument. I got a set of drums for Christmas my freshman year in high school. I used to practice for hours and, after a year or so, I got really good. But then I wanted to learn other things. I wanted to learn other instruments in order to actually write songs.

If you make a solo album, would you play the drums on yourself?
Hell yes, I'd play the drums! The funny thing is that I play so much differently than our drummer, De'Mar Hamilton. Sometimes, at sound check, I'll jump behind his kit and I won't be able to play because things are set up so funky. It's not even fun for me.

You guys appeared on an episode of iCarly. Does appearing on a kid's show lessen the band's rock credibility?
Yeah, sure it does. I don't think there are any rules anymore. A band like Phoenix can get big from being in a car commercial, and having a song on a video game is what breaks more bands these days. The people at iCarly wanted us to be on the show and it was a good opportunity. It's a pretty cool show, too.

Plain White T's performs with The Summer Set, The Downtown Fiction and Alli Gillis tonight, October 12, at House of Blues.

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