Plain White T's poised to 'take control'

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11218813016202.jpg’, ‘Photos by Jonathan Hicks’, ”);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112188132310405.jpg’, ”, ”);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11218813707277.jpg’, ”, ‘Chicago's The Plain White T's opened for The Academy Is… July 8 in Freeport.’);

An exclusive interview with Chicago band’s singer/guitarist

Tom Higginson: ‘That’s been our goal ever since we started…take control of our own band and our own business.’

Unlike the band The Academy Is…, the band they were opening for in Freeport on July 8, the Plain White T’s (PWTs) are a group that has been around the Chicago scene long enough to see trends come and go. Led by energetic and sincere singer/guitarist Tom Higginson, the PWTs have been slowly chipping away at the wall of success since 1997. And while younger groups appear poised to break through that wall, the Plain White T’s continue building their following one fan at a time…and that’s just fine by them.

Jonathan Hicks, The Rock River Times (TRRT): Tell me about the latest record.

Tom Higginson, Plain White T’s (TH): It’s called All That We Needed. [laughing] It is full of hooks, melodies and lyrics that are catchy, memorable and meaningful.

TRRT: What are the best and worst parts of being on the road?

TH: I think it’s awesome. At first it was hard because we were going out on our own, booking our own tours, playing in front of…our first tour we ever did, there were two shows where I think we played for the other bands. Literally, there were no kids in the audience. We didn’t have a record out at the time, we were just doing it all ourselves. But the more you do it, the better it gets and the easier it gets. The worst thing about it is at first, being away from home kind of sucked. Now that we’ve been doing it, you miss your friends and family, but now we have friends everywhere. So when I’m home, I miss my friends that are in California or wherever. It’s a lot less lonely now just because you know people everywhere.

TRRT: How important is success?

TH: In the end, it’s not necessarily. I think it’s important for people to hear the songs, for people to appreciate and enjoy the music. That’s what we make it for. Art is nothing unless it’s shown, unless it’s seen by other people or heard by other people. Of course, that’s the goal. I just love music. It does something to me that nothing else does. So if I was to be able to have that effect on other people, that’s the goal. That’s what I consider to be successful.

TRRT: Does the idea of a major (label) make you nervous, knowing how it has negatively impacted other bands?

TH: Not really, because I think that by the time that happens for us, we will already have a pretty strong fan base. We already do to an extent. These shows are crazy – like you said – they’re all sold out. I’m sure that has a lot to do with The Academy Is… but even so, we’re gaining so many new fans every time we play. I think that by the time we are ready to go to a major, we’ll have the fans…the momentum…the buzz, the experience, instead of just going to a major label and hoping things work out .… It’ll be more like us pushing this train along and the major label jumping on the ride that we’re already driving.

TRRT: That’s a cool way to look at it.

TH: That’s been the goal ever since we started touring and signed with Fearless and everything – take control of our own band and our own business. Take it as far as we possibly can until the only thing left is for a major label to step in and put some money into it when you know it’s going to be a sure thing. You already have the fans out there that are going to buy the record and that are going to call and request your song and request your video. The more we do on our own, the less risk it is.

TRRT: Particularly for kids, the scene in Rockford leaves a lot to be desired. That’s why you’re playing in Freeport tonight and not in the third largest city in the state. How do we fix it?

TH: I think you need Rockford bands to come together and say, “Hey, let’s play shows in your garage. Let’s rent out this YMCA and put on a show there.” I think it needs to start from within. Right down to the bands and the actual music needs to start it, and the more and more kids get into playing in bands and get into trying to put on shows, then the more other people will come and other bands will come, and it’ll just grow and grow and get bigger and bigger. In high school, a bunch of us were in bands, and that’s what we did; we played in garages, and we played at parties, and we played at teen center shows, just anything we could, and eventually it grew into something.

TRRT: For the people who are going to pick up The Rock River Times and hear about you guys for the first time, what do you say to them? What should they know?

TH: I think something really cool about our music is talking about spanning generations. We always seem to get parents loving our band as much as their kids do. There are people that bring their moms to our shows, and cute kids will come up to us and say, “My mom hates all the music I listen to, but she really likes you guys.” I think that’s something really cool. We’re writing music that is good enough and just universal enough that it doesn’t matter how old you are, you’re going to appreciate it and get something out of it.

To learn more about the Plain White T’s, find out about upcoming tour dates or to buy their latest album, All That We Needed, visit

From the July 20-26, 2005, issue

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