In addition to bringing Plain White T's by our sunny springtime pop up session on a rooftop in Midtown, front men Tim and Tom sat down to tell us a little bit about songs new and old, riffed on playing in a natural, acoustic setting, and discussed the creative and somewhat competitive motivations that drive the band's songwriting.
Time and space didn't necessarily bend, but The Plain White T's certainly found what might be an alternate reality on their eighth full-length offering and return to Fearless Records, Parallel Universe. Of course, the band's endlessly hummable signature melodies still shine at the center of this galaxy, but their Universe morphed into an otherworldly atmosphere of ethereal electronic pop strengthened by lush guitar tones and synth transmissions.
Questions most definitely will arise...
Is it human or robot? Is it of this world or isn't it? Was it born in 1980 or 2020?
Either way, frontman Tom Higgenson assures, "It's The T's."
"But it's also kind of not," he grins. "It goes right along with the sound we've had for twenty years, but it's a little bit different. It's what you know, but it's fresh at the same time. That's why Parallel Universe was such a perfect title. To be honest, this is the first record where we were like, 'Fuck whatever we were or people might think we are. This is what we love right now.' We didn't have to compete with anybody but ourselves. We just decided to make the best music we possibly could."
Given their accomplishments to date, it might seem like a tall order. Since emerging in 1997, the GRAMMY Award-nominated multiplatinum Chicago quintetHiggenson [vocals], Tim Lopez [lead guitar, vocals], Dave Tirio [rhythm guitar], Mike Retondo [bass], and De'Mar Hamilton [drums]has amassed an enduring, engaging, and enigmatic catalog, spanning two gold-certified offerings All That We Needed (2005) and Every Second Counts (2006) and unshakable anthems such as the double-platinum "1,2,3,4" and platinum "Rhythm of Love." Among the discography, "Hey There Delilah" went quadruple-platinum, topped the Billboard Hot 100, and earned a pair of 2008 GRAMMY Award nominations in the categories of "Song of the Year" and "Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal."
Along the way, the five-piece logged countless miles on the road in front of sold out crowds in nearly every corner of the globe. After a whirlwind tour cycle supporting 2015's American Nights, the guys hunkered down and began writing the ideas that would eventually comprise Parallel Universe.
Following successful 2017 writing sessions in Nashville with longtime collaborator Chris Tompkins [Carrie Underwood, Florida Georgia Line] and new friend Brandon Day [Big & Rich], Tom and Tim decided to rejoin Day in Malibu, CA for a follow-up which sparked an undeniable chemistry and led to five songs being written in five days.
The first single "Your Body" illuminates said chemistry. Fusing minimal glitchy blips, lithe guitars, and an unshakable hook, it cracks open the album's world for the group as Tom croons, "I don't know no body, like I know your body."
"A lot of the songs look at love and life from a different perspective," he elaborates. "This one is about a girl who I probably know more than anybody else on the whole planet, yet we're not really together. When I see her dating other dudes, I chuckle in my head, because I know this guy won't know her like I know her. I'm the reigning champion of her love life. I don't know anyone's body like I know hers. It's a clever lyrical take."
The effervescent "Light Up The Room" proves bright and brilliant with its danceable grooves and massive refrain. "Musically, it's something we haven't done," says Tom. "Lyrically, it hints at a sci-fi theme. It's got that line, 'Wearing rings like she was Saturn.' It's really vivid."
"Bury Me" tempers warm production and a hypnotic harmony for what he describes as, "the most romantic song here...but it's a little twisted. Is it bury me in blankets? Is it bury me sexually into you? Is it bury me because you lose yourself when you love someone?"
Then, there's "Call Me." It hinges on stacked future-facing beats and a wild drop before giving way to the lovelorn question, "When you gonna call me?"
"I dated this girl briefly in Malibu," he recalls. "It was a very healthy, yet unhealthy love-fast, burn-out hard thing. I channeled that feeling."
The vocoder-driven "End of the World" shuffles into a funky verse highlighted by lyrics like, "I found Jesus the other day, he was eating hamburgers in a Chevrolet"inspired by a brilliant, yet undiscovered A&R mind...
"That was my eight-year-old son's idea," laughs Tom. "Before I left to Malibu, I asked him what to write about. He thought for a second and said, 'Jesus,' before adding, 'Hamburgers.' My mom told me he'd been talking about it all week, so she asked if I'd written it yet. I was like, 'No, what the hell kind of song is that going to be?' Turns out, it was one of my favorites! The last day, I grabbed my acoustic guitar, and it just happened. Some lines related to the state of the world, but it's a really beautiful moment for all of us on the album."
In the end, those kinds of moments define Parallel Universe. For as much as it might look a little different, it's The Plain White T's through and through.
"We set out to create something that made us happy, and we did," Tom leaves off. "We didn't worry about expectations. We just did something different. We shook everything up. Not everything has to be a pretty Instagram filter. We weren't afraid to get raw for the first time. The Plain White T's mean everything to me. With the new record, I'm as stoked as I was 15 years ago when we first started putting out records." - Rick Florino, April 2018