Tom Higgenson, lead singer and founder of the Plain White T’s, sat with a smile in his tattered Converse beside his bandmates as they talked about their new album, old memories and mechanical habits of the group before taking the stage Sunday at the Egyptian Theatre.
“I’m pretty excited; it’s been a while since we’ve played in DeKalb,” Higgenson said as he realized just how long it’s been. “Wow, so the band hasn’t played here since these guys were in the band.”
Higgenson gestured toward lead guitarist Tim Lopez and drummer De’Mar Hamilton who would both playing their debut DeKalb show in a few hours.
Touring for their new album, “Parallel Universe,” the band talked about the sonic shift in its music as well as the tour. Higgenson said there’s always a mix of emotional highs and lows during touring, expressing his excitement for the night’s show in particular.
“You're always excited, but then it's exhausting, [and] you miss people back home, but at the same time you're excited to be playing in front of new people and meeting people,” Higgenson said. “It's a lot of emotions but we're stoked, we just put out the new album a month ago so it's cool to get out there and play the new songs.”
Lopez explained the group often works like a democracy and the making of “Parallel Universe” was no different. While the album takes a darker tone and the lyrics seem matured, Lopez said the transition was organic for the five members making up the band.
Before considering an album, the band goes through an approval and rejection of songs brought in by different members. Lopez said sometimes someone comes in with a song and not everyone likes it so that song doesn’t make the cut for the album.
“There's plenty of times when [Higgenson] will write a song and get two thumbs up and two thumbs down from the rest of the band, and same with me, I’ll turn in songs that no one will like; it happens but the band doesn't always unanimously agree on direction and songwriting,” Lopez said. “This time around, this five really helped bring a unified effort together to form this album. Everybody was really excited about the demos and sonic direction, so it was awesome, and I don’t think there’s anything more than that besides the fact we were inspired, and we wanted to make a record like this.”
Lopez said the band made a choice to stray from their beaten path and found the new direction exciting.
The process began which a handful of demos which Higgenson said were narrowed down to 15 with only one eventually being cut, despite the original desire to have a 12-song album. He said the band felt each of the songs was so strong they decided to change their original plan and ended up doing more studio work than expected.
“I feel like most of [Parallel Universe] is autobiographical; it’s not looking into the future,” Lopez said. “I feel like it's the lives we've been living. People you're in love with, people you're lusting after, drinking too much, those sort of human things we all kind of do.”
Higgenson said a few of the songs he wrote come from acting out and going too crazy some of the time. “I Should Be Dead Right Now” comes from a night he and a friend were partying too hard and Higgenson woke up feeling terrible, only to turn to the guitar and lay ground for a new song.
“Bonnie I Want You,” the album’s second track, is one of the few times the album looks back on an event. Higgenson said the song came about when a friend mentioned Bonnie, a girl Higgenson dated years ago.
“‘Bonnie I Want You’ is about a girl I dated for a second like 15, almost 20 years ago, but somehow her name got brought up last year, and we were talking about it and it just brought me back to that time in my life, and I just sat down with a guitar and was inspired in that moment and that song came out,” Higgenson said before joking that Bonnie probably hasn’t even heard the song. “I don’t think she’s heard it yet. I haven't spoken to her in 20 years or whatever it's been, and I wouldn't know how to contact her so Bonnie, if you're out there, 'Hi.'”
While their lyrics may have matured, Higgenson’s boyish grin coupled with the group’s laid back attitude make them extremely easy to talk to. The ever-so-quiet Hamilton was teased to “shut up” by his bandmates as they forced him to answer a few questions about himself.
Hamilton shrugged his shoulders with a smile as he said he didn’t have a favorite song on the album and talked about how the band changed his personal style when he joined in 2003.
“I remember when I joined the band my influences kind of changed because I used to listen to a lot of screamo, but when I joined, these guys didn't listen to any of that,” Hamilton said pointing to Lopez and Higgenson. “They listened to the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, all this music I wasn't really that familiar with, so my musical taste started to change. I got really into the Beatles and went through this whole Beatles phase, and I remember we would listen to every single album while we were on tour.”
When asked the ever-daunting question, all three of the men balked at the idea of having to choose a favorite Beatles album. Higgenson fired off three albums, “Revolver,” “Rubber Soul” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” like a kid in a candy store, adding in everything the Beatles did was incredible.
Lopez listed Tom Petty as an influence in his writing, saying he brings a sort of country vibe to the group. Hamilton, coming from a different background than the others, said he brought a new dynamic to the group when he began drumming for them simply because of genre differences.
“I think joining the band made me realize there's something beautiful about being simple and not over complicating the song,” Hamilton said. “I really actually learned a lot about being a drummer and playing for the song and not soloing the whole time.”
Being together for so long, though they were not privy to revealing how old they were when the band formed, the men said they’ve had to adapt to the music scene over the years.
Lopez had the most to say about the subject with a passion rising in his voice as he talked about the “swipe culture” and how it affects the way consumers listen to music. He said
“You're onto the next thing so quickly, so you find a record and a single comes up in Spotify and you're like ‘oh cool song,’ [and] half the time you don't even go to see what else [a band does], so it's kind of destructive to the album as a whole,” Lopez said. “I think the average listener is going one song as a time and skipping around, and the body of work can get lost whereas, like us on this particular record, we really wanted it to feel like a large body of work that you would experience.”