‘If you’re lucky enough to have some hits and to have people who want to come to your shows, to not play the hits… It’s a bit pretentious, and kinda like a f*ck you to your fans. That’s not what we’re about’. We spoke to Plain White T’s about their new album American Nights, Hey There Delilah, and going to see Bob Dylan live:
You’re independently releasing your new album American Nights – why?
Tom Higgenson – To make a lot more money and to hopefully have a lot more freedom!
Did releasing it independently mean that you took a different approach to writing and recording the album?
‘It didn’t really change our writing process – we always just try to write sincere and honest songs. It did mean that the recording process was a little bit different, because we got to choose the songs we recorded. What usually happens is that you write a song, and then the label, the A+R guy and the producer all chime in with their thoughts on which songs should be recorded and which songs would work best on radio. When it was up to us, it was a case of just recording the songs we liked and deciding from there which songs we wanted the fans to hear. It was pretty cool to have the freedom to do whatever we wanted.
What’s your favourite song on the new album?
‘I think Stay is my favourite. That song’s been around for a while, and we’ve all always loved it, but we tried recording it a few times and it just never sounded right. We then tried a new version, and that’s the one you hear on the album. I just really love the way it turned out.
Tim G. Lopez – I don’t know! My favourite out of the songs Tom wrote is You Belong.
Tom – Thank you, Tim! My favourite song of Tim’s is Low Again.
Was it your decision to release Pause as the first single from American Nights?
Absolutely. We could’ve picked any song, but we chose Pause. We were actually approached by the Lipton tea company – they have this ‘Be More Tea’ campaign, and they decided that we would be a good fit for their new advertising campaign. We ended up deciding that Pause was the right song for their campaign, and the fact that it would be seen by so many people just meant that it was a logical choice for the first single.
‘It was a song that was written on the road last year, and it was going down really well with people.
‘We were kind of working with the model of ‘Hey, we’ve just written a song – let’s play it live tonight’. We’d never really done that before, and it always got a really great reaction. The fans were also asking us about that song every night we played it, so it was easy to pick it for the first single.
Have you had the chance to play many of the new songs live?
‘We’ve just started to play them. We played SXSW in Austin last week, so that was the first time we really got to play a lot of the new songs. We’ve been playing Pause and American Nights for a while, but now we’re playing about half of the new album when we play a show. It’s great!
If you could only play one Plain White T’s song to somebody who’d never heard you before, which would it be?
Dave Tirio – Hey There Delilah!
Tom – Haha! Obviously that’s a great song, but if I had to pick one song that I wanted us to be known for? That’s tough. We’ve only got eighteen years’ worth of music to choose from… I’d pick Pause.
What made you want to start making music in the first place?
‘We were all massively into music in high school. We were at a concert in Chicago every weekend, and every day after school we were jamming in somebody’s basement. I guess that it was just a natural progression for us to go from covering songs in our basements to writing our own.
Let’s talk about songwriting – do you tend to write from your own personal experiences?
‘Absolutely. The songs are all basically snapshots of our lives. They’re all about certain situations – a moment in our lives, a girl you’re with, or sometimes even a girl you want. We just write about anything that’s relevant to us. We never really have a goal with songwriting. You never want to write the same song twice, so you’re always trying to push yourself to make something that’s a little bit different to what you did before. It always ends up sounding somehow like the Plain White T’s, though.
Did you ever expect Hey There Delilah to become such a huge hit?
‘No. The fans led the charge on that song – we all always thought that it was a cool song, but it was just another song to us. It was actually the last song we recorded for the album. The fans really gave that song life, and they just wouldn’t let it die, which was pretty amazing. We were very lucky. I mean, we all still love the song. We play it every night and people still sing along, which is amazing. It means so much to a lot of people, and whenever you make any kind of art it’s great to see it connect with people. I still love it.
Do you still enjoy playing ‘the hits’ live?
‘Definitely! You know, I went to see Bob Dylan recently, and he didn’t play a single song I knew. The one ‘hit’ he played was The Times They Are a-Changin’, and he did a country version that you couldn’t even recognise. I mean, I know you’re Bob Dylan, but that’s not cool…
‘It was almost an insult to both his fans and himself, to not showcase his legacy and play the songs he’s known for.
‘If you’re lucky enough to have some hits and to have people who want to come to your shows, to not play the hits… It’s a bit pretentious, and kinda like a f*ck you to your fans. That’s not what we’re about.
Which song do you wish you’d written?
Tom – I think Yesterday by The Beatles is my favourite song. It’s so simple, and so beautiful as well.
Tim – God Only Knows by The Beach Boys.
Dave – Who Let The Dogs Out! What a great song.
What’s your favourite song to play live?
‘I’ve really enjoyed playing Stay live. Heavy Rotation, too. All the new songs, really – you’re always really excited about playing the new songs in general, but I think that the songs from the new album are especially fun to play live.
Any plans for some UK live dates?
‘Not yet! We’re just about to head out to the USA to play some album release shows, and after that we’re going to do our best to get back out to the UK. I’d say that we’re aiming to be over here in early Autumn, but we’re just not sure yet. We’ve had some of the best shows we’ve ever played over here, but that was eight years ago, so we definitely want to get back out here and play it again.
Describe yourself in three words?
Tom – I don’t know! This is tough… I’d say sweet, optimistic and dreamer.
Tim – Reserved, total, badass.
Dave – Shy, pessimistic and nervous.
De’Mar Hamilton – Smart, handsome and awesome.
Mark Retondo – Smarter, handsomer, awesomer…
While you’re here, you should check out Plain White T’s’ new single. It’s called Pause: