Hey There Higgenson: Exclusive Interview With Lead Singer Of Plain White T's
'The Scene' Speaks To Higgenson As Band Prepares For Friday Performance
Published: Saturday, January 18, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 23:01
Tom Higgenson, lead singer of Plain White T’s, has been busy writing and recording new music for his band’s upcoming album, American Nights. Before setting out on a full-fledged tour to promote the record, the group made a stop at Robsham Theater on Friday night, playing an intimate, acoustic show for Boston College students. Higgenson took some time to sit down with The Heights prior to the concert for an exclusive interview. He spoke about the band's evolving sound, what life is like on the road, the success of “Hey There Delilah,” and the possibility of teaming up with One Direction, among other things.
AI: To break into things, tell me about the band name—where did “Plain White T’s” come from?
TH: There’s a great story—not really. Back in 1997, when the band started, we kind of just needed a name. A lot of our songs were oldies-influenced, and they still are, for sure. So just thinking about that, I had a list of names, and Plain White T’s was one of the names on the list. We thought it was a pretty cool name, going with the ’50s vibe and everything. And we happened to see when were looking at names that in other bands’ CD booklets, in the photos, there was somebody in every CD that we loved, wearing a plain white T. And so we took it as a sign and went with it.
AI: Were there other contenders on that list that you were glad you didn’t go with?
TH: The next contender was Bank Billy, which was literally a note I had written myself—that I had to go to the bank, and I had to call Billy. So looking at the paper, I was just like, “Bank,” “Billy.” Pretty stupid. Glad we didn’t go with that. And then another one was Where’s Arnie, from the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. That was a kind of a cool name, but I’m glad we went with Plain White T’s—more fitting to the music.
AI: When did you know you wanted to be in a band? Was there a defining moment, when you woke up and said, “Hey, music is what I want to do with my life?”
TH: Yeah, well, my parents split up when I was 15, and I was always a smart kid, honors classes and things like that. So I was just going with the flow, doing well in school, thinking I was going to go to college. And after my parents’ split, for the first time, things got shook up in my life, and I had to think a lot about what I loved. I knew I loved music, and at that time, I was already writing songs. So I decided to take some more art classes and lay off the honors classes. And from then on, I made up my mind that I just wanted to make music.
AI: How would you describe your music, for someone who hasn’t heard it?
TH: I would describe it as very melodic with honest lyrics—honest lyrics mixed with catchy melodies that will get stuck in your head. But the kind of music you don’t have to feel bad about having stuck in your head.
AI: You’ve been making music for more than a decade. Do you think your sound has changed from its beginning to now?
TH: Well, actually, Tim, one of our guitar players, started writing songs. And he’s been singing the ones that he’s written, so I think that’s the biggest change in the band’s sound. You know, getting a different voice in there. But I also think it helps add a fresh dynamic to the band that obviously we didn’t have before. But other than that, the song writing is the same. Still, we never try to write the same song twice, and even on any of our albums, none of the songs sound too much alike.
AI: What would you say generally inspires your music? Where do you go for musical inspiration?
TH: Life. A lot of the songs are about girls, relationships—wanting one and not getting one. Just being happy with somebody. But really, just life. Like on our new album, the title track, “American Nights,” it’s just about where we’re at in life. Just going out, and trying to make the most of the night, which I think a lot of people can relate to.
AI: And what do you hope listeners will take from it?
TH: Hopefully they just find a piece of themselves in it. The best art, for me, is when I see something, and I can feel what the singer is singing about. Or if it’s a movie, what the characters are going through. That’s usually the best stuff to me.
AI: I feel obligated to talk about “Hey There Delilah,” since it was such a huge hit—Grammy nominations and everything. What do you think it was about that song that fans fell in love with?
TH: I don’t know. Right when I wrote it, I knew it was a great song. I didn’t think it was going to be a big hit because it’s so the opposite of a hit. It’s so small, stripped down and everything. But I was very proud of it—love the lyrics. And I think the story of me singing a song to a girl who wasn’t there that lived far away, in the end, was just a very relatable concept. Like I said, I think all the songs we write are relatable because they’re all personal, but that song had a lot of details and a lot of specific things. And as I was writing it, I wasn’t sure if that would make people relate to it more or less. Because in reality, I thought only girls named Delilah that lived in New York would feel like they were a part of the song. Obviously, though, that wasn’t the case.