Built in 1924, the Park Theatre on 848 Park Ave near Rolfe Square in Cranston has had a long history of entertainment. It originally started out as a place to see films while eventually becoming a …
Built in 1924, the Park Theatre on 848 Park Ave near Rolfe Square in Cranston has had a long history of entertainment. It originally started out as a place to see films while eventually becoming a prime venue to see live music, comedy and theatrical performances. A couple years ago it sadly became dormant, but fortunately a few months ago it reopened to begin a new era for the much loved establishment. One of the first major shows happening at the revitalized Park Theatre are the pop punk act Plain White T’s who’ll be taking the stage on September 2nd at 8pm. Folks might know them from their major hit “Hey There Delilah” that topped the charts back in 2007.
I had a talk with vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Tom Higgenson ahead of the show about the early years of the band, being the sole original member, the legacy of that major hit and a new album that’ll be out next year.
Rob Duguay: How would you describe the experience of starting out in the Chicago music scene during the late ‘90s?
Tom Higgenson: It was pretty amazing, it was really cool. I was coming up in high school and this was like the time where all these bands like Weezer, Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins and No Doubt, they all were hitting it big when I was first starting to love music, go to concerts and stuff. Chicago being such a big city, all of those bands came through town and played small venues as I was just starting to go to concerts and everything so it was kind of the perfect time to really be inspired. Like I said, any artist that I loved was always coming through Chicago so I got to see them and I always kind of dreamed that someday that’s going to be me. I’m going to be on those stages, I’m going to be in a band like that and stuff.
I just kind of set my sights on that and never really gave up. I kept working at it until it happened.
RD: That’s awesome, that’s great.
RD: Being the only remaining founding member of the band, how have you dealt with the lineup changes in Plain White T’s over the years? Has there been high amounts of uncertainty or stress at times?
TH: Definitely early on, it was a little bit weird when we lost our bass player after he quit. He was a founding member but it was when we first started touring and we were still figuring out what being in a band was all about. To be honest with you, it’s not for everybody. Living on the road, especially in those early days where we’d pay ourselves 10 bucks a day to eat for per diems and that’s it. We’d do a tour for two to three months and we’d be gone from our friends and from our families, then we’d come home and maybe have a few hundred bucks to split up between us. It was more about getting out there, playing in front of people and building up a fan base, so in the early days we had a couple of the guys quit because it wasn’t for them and it wasn’t really the life that they wanted.
It’s been this current lineup pretty much ever since 2003 or 2004 and then recently over the pandemic we had the final remaining founding member quit. He was unhappy for a while and with everything shutting down it was a good time for him to be able to reset his priorities and his life a little bit. To answer your question, every time it has happened it shakes things up but I’m always kind of an optimistic person and I always try to look at the bright side of things so I usually look at it as an opportunity. It’s like a brotherhood, when somebody quits you’re going to feel like “Oh man, I’m gonna miss that dude” because it’s like we’re family but you can take it as “Ok, well we can find someone even better to replace them.” In this case, when Dave [Tirio] just quit two years ago it was like “Cool” because he was kind of a bummer these past few years because he wasn’t happy so now the band morale is going to be that much better so it’s all good. I’m always trying to find the silver lining in every situation, for sure.
RD: That’s a good way to look at it. What do you think makes this current lineup of Plain White T’s stand out from prior lineups?
TH: It’s kind of the same lineup as it has been, we’re just short one guy and honestly it’s so funny. We just played in Columbus, Ohio a few weeks ago and an old high school buddy came to the show, he used to tour with us way back in the day. He came to the show, he hadn’t seen us in a bit and I had to ask him after the show “How did it sound without Dave in the band?’ and he was like “Woah, until you said that I hadn’t noticed a difference.” With that being said, I think it’s going to be like the same Plain White T’s that it has for the past 15-20 years so I don’t think it’s going to be a real difference without Dave there basically. If anything, it’s going to be more fun because everybody is in a good headspace, wanting to do it and wanting to be there.
RD: This year marks 15 years since “Hey There Delilah” hit #1 on the Billboard charts.
TH: That’s crazy.
RD: Yeah, so to reflect, how do you view the legacy of the song when it comes to you and the band’s career?
TH: That song has always had a life of its own. Ever since we put it out, it was the fans that told us it was a great song. We did a poll on Myspace back in the day on which song we should do a music video for and 98% of the fans voted for “Hey There Delilah”. It’s always been the song doing all the work for us and it’s crazy because through the years it kind of hasn’t stopped. Every few months there’s something about the song that happens, Post Malone releases a video of him singing it backstage and it goes viral or a bunch of people start using it on Tik Tok for some trend and it goes viral again. There was a talk about a TV show in the works at one point that never ended up happening but again, it still seems like the sky’s the limit for the song even though it came out so long ago.
RD: It’s maintained its presence in the pop culture nucleus in various ways.
TH: Exactly. People are still hearing it to this day, kids for the first time are hearing it. I think it’s holding up in a way that it might as well be new for them without it feeling dated or anything.
RD: It’s definitely one of those songs that has a lasting impact because musically it’s pretty much an acoustic folk song. Those always last, they always have a way of being timeless on their own.
TH: Right. There’s nothing in the production that sounds like it’s from a certain era or something. The song sounds like it could have been made in the ‘60s or the ‘70s or the ‘80s or the ‘90s, it has a vibe where you can’t really set a date to it which definitely helps in the longevity.
RD: Absolutely. It’s been a few years since Plain White T’s released their last album Parallel Universe in 2018, so can we expect some new music soon?
TH: We actually started to play some new material on some of these shows we’ve been doing so by the time we get to Cranston we’ll definitely be debuting at least one new song. We got a new album in the works, we’re going to start releasing new music later this year and I don’t want to say it like it’s all set in stone because things can change but right now we’re looking to have a new album out probably next spring or summer.
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