The music scene isn’t and never has been an easy path. It isn’t all about pretty lights, pretty women and cruising your way to the top 100. Making it to the big league requires hours of hard work and persistence.
“Hey There Delilah” crooners Plain White T’s understand this. Their mellow pop-rock grooves and array of catchy songs pack tight passion-filled lyrics. It will take over Ziggy’s by the Sea this Thursday, July 10th, as Plain What T’s plug in for an electric and acoustic show.
The Plain White T’s first came together in Villa Park, Illinois, in 1997 while in high school. The band comprised Tom Higgenson (lead vocals, keyboard, acoustic guitar), Dave Tirio (drums), Steve Mast (lead guitar, vocals), and Ken Fletcher (bass guitar). They started out performing at local punk-rock shows in the Chicago suburbs.
“When we first got started, the places we played ranged from small school events to restaurants, local church basements to VFW halls, even these little teen centers,” Higgenson describes. “I mean, literally, any show we were offered we played.”
The band dug deep and eventually pushed their way out of the local scene. They started touring in the late-’90s and early aughts. They’ve been blasting out radio hits since 2006.
“We had gotten ourselves onto a small indie label, and started selling out little shows because we had a solid fan base from touring so much in Chicago,” Higgenson tells. “From there, with the new label, and a booking agent, we started playing more and more shows all over the country.”
Snagging an indie label isn’t all a band needs to break through the charts; a contract is only as strong as the band’s talent. During these years, gigs paid a couple hundred bucks—which barely covered travel expenses.
“We were definitely roughing it for a good six to eight years before stuff really started to happen, but we were roughing it in the best of ways,” Higgenson explains. “Almost every night on tour we were sleeping in our van, or crashing on the floor at someone’s house who we had met the night before.”
Consequently, Fletcher and Mast decided the unpredictability of musicanship wasn’t the life they desired. Two new musicians—Tim Lopez (lead guitar) and Mike Retondo (bass guitar)—replaced them. Shortly after Tirio decided to switch from drummer to rhythm guitarist, and new drummer De’Mar Hamiltion was added to the lineup.
In 2005, after releasing two previous records (one self-released), The Plain White T’s released their second album with Fearless Records, “All That We Needed.” Their simple, melodic song “Hey There Delilah” was re-released on an EP in 2006. The quiet little love diddy hooked listeners with its soft chords. In June 2007, over one year after the song’s release, it became the band’s first huge hit in the United States. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July. From July 3rd through the 28th, the song was the most played on the radio, and the number one downloaded song on the U.S.’s iTunes.
“When ‘Delilah’ blew up, [it] was definitely the biggest moment in our band’s history,” Higgenson recollects. “Even then we didn’t really realize how big everything was going to get. We were just caught in the tornado.”
After “Delilah” came out, Plain White T’s began playing two shows a day. They flew around the country and made their way through the media circuit. From sound checks to meet-and-greets, from concerts to four-hour drives to the next venue, their schedule was hectic.
“It was a crazy, insane, sleepless, flying, driving, crazy-ass summer, but we didn’t ever really say, ‘Yay! We are getting huge,’ it was more like, ‘Damn, we are really busting ass right now,’” Higgenson says. “It wasn’t ‘til a month or maybe even a year later when things started dialing down a little bit from the ‘Delilah’ swell. We were like, ‘Damn that was a big fucking deal, that was awesome!’”
The Plain White T’s barely took the time to bask in their success. They quickly began cultivating their next studio album, “Big Bad World.” Released in 2008, the recording contained the well-known tunes “1,2,3,4” and “Natural Disaster.” Both songs received a large amount of attention on the Billboard rock chart.
“What was really awesome was that we took off with ‘Delilah’ but managed to continue to get more music out,” Higgenson divulges. “[We] refused to become just another one hit wonder.”
This summer they’re continuing to evolve and grow. They’re even touring with other pop-rock notables, The Goo Goo Dolls and Daughtry.
“It’s an awesome tour,” Higgenson says. ”Everyone is really killing it. We have been playing in front of thousands of people almost every night so everything we had been working for has pretty much become a dream come true for us.”
With years of hard work, dedication, and an absolute passion for their music Plain White T’s continue to revel in catchy, nuanced tunes packed with authenticity. Their newest EP, “Should’ve Gone To Bed,” was released with only four tracks; two by Higgenson and two by lead guitarist Lopez. They will be releasing their newest album “American Nights” sometime this year.
Plain White T’s
Thursday, July 10th, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $20 adv. | $25 day of
Ziggy’s by the Sea • 208 Market St.