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Plain White Ts Tom Higgenson on Ready for Love, "Sign Me Up!"

Chicago natives Plain White T's have been making the ladies swoon since their 2007 number-one hit "Hey There Delilah" went platinum and lead singer Tom Higgenson made every guy feel dumb they hadn't come up with such sweetly simple metaphors for their own gals.

Two Grammy nominations and two more platinum singles later, the sentimental pop-punk rockers have proved that their intimate, infectious tunes have real staying power. On the eve of a summer tour in support of their latest release, Should've Gone to Bed, making one of the first stops headlining WRMF's Party in the Park at Mizner Park Amphitheatre Saturday, June 8, Higgenson sat down with us for a few minutes to talk about the inspiration behind the single (hint: ever heard of drunk sexting?), the band's fresh direction since guitarist Tim Lopez has taken a more active role writing and singing, and what his career path might've been had the whole rock star thing not panned out.

New Times: Where in the world are you right now and what have you been up to since your last project, the release of your new EP in April?

Tom Higgenson: Well, it seems like it was yesterday. It's only been about a few weeks now, a month, I guess. But since then we've been busy promoting it. We've done the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, we did a lot of press in New York, we did VH1's Morning Buzz, all promoting the new single, which is "Should've Gone to Bed," which is also the name of the EP. And right now, I'm actually at home, taking a little bit of a breather in Chicago before we start hitting the road and playing a bunch of shows through the summer.

What was the inspiration behind the single off the new EP? Was there any one incident that was particularly embarrassing or...

It's more of a nightly ritual for me [laughs]. Yeah, it sucks being single right now, because, even after writing the song, I still remain guilty. It's so easy when you're alone at night to just be like, "Man, I just need some kind of companionship," whether it's even a stupid text message to a girl or from a girl, you know, it's, I don't know. It's where I'm at in my life right now; it's kind of pathetic [laughs]. But yeah. You just text somebody random from the past and, you know, it's whatever. You get a little bit of a flirt maybe, or sometimes they don't even respond. Half these girls, maybe they have boyfriends now, who knows what the deal is? But that's the place I'm at. You always think, "Man, what's my problem? Why can't I just move on and get out there and meet somebody new?" That's where "Should've Gone to Bed" came from.

So you're actually as sensitive as your songs make out?

[Laughs] I guess you could say that, yeah. I don't know if sensitive is the right word, but we're definitely hopeless romantics, for better or for worse.

And is all of this just loneliness-induced, or is it you know, you have some help from your friend alcohol?

Alcohol usually fuels the fire, for sure. But, yeah, that's the worst. Then the texts get -- that's when you say the embarrassing things. You go a little too far when there's alcohol involved.

Well, we've all been there.

That's the good thing, huh? I'm not alone. I like to hear that.

Maybe you should go on that Ready for Love show next.

Yeah, you know what? It's not so bad, huh? Full of hand-picked girls by world-famous matchmakers? I'll take it. Sounds good to me, sign me up!

I have to confess, I've seen some of it, and it's actually not that bad. But, I don't know, do you think shows like that or The Bachelor really work? Can you actually find love like that?

Well, you know, writing songs for girls doesn't seem to be working, so I think if a reality show works for ya', hey, whatever it takes. I think nowadays, with the internet and with online dating and Facebook -- with all the outlets for meeting people and talking to people now, it's kind of like the Wild West. Like, whatever works works. There's no rules anymore for how you get to meet somebody, or how you stay in touch, or what kind of relationship to have. So, you know, it worked for Tim. He's still with the girl that he met on the show, so. He was really ready for love. It seems to be going strong for him so far, so, we'll see what happens.

Well, he does came off as super sincere on the show, so that's really nice.

Yeah, totally. I was nervous, because, you know, they can edit it any way they want to, to make him look like a total asshole or something. But he came across as just really being Tim. He's a really good guy, and that's what you got on the show.

On the note dating being like a wild frontier, my mom actually just sent me an article from the New York Times about other moms out there pretending to be their daughters on online dating websites.

Oh, my God, that's crazy. What if you fell in love with the mom and then the daughter was just like, you know, you didn't click with the daughter, but you really loved the mom? That's weird.

[Laughs] Yeah, I don't know.

That's like a movie script. We need to write that, I think.

They have sites like that, too, like JMom, where it's just these crazy Jewish moms looking to pawn off their kids. It's definitely all out there for the finding. But moving on, I wanted to ask about your guys relationship. Plain White T's have been together now for more than 10 years, right?

Yeah, it's been since 1997 when we started.

So, I wanted to ask -- you know, doing pop music -- where do you keep drawing the inspiration? How do you keep things fresh after so long?

I think that inspiration is always... Ever since the band started, the first song I ever wrote was a song for a girl, or a song about my life, or a girl that I liked, or you know, just where I was in life. And that was back in high school. And I think that nothing has really changed, you know? I still write songs from the heart about things going on in my life.

Obviously, the Plain White T's, a lot of our music that we're known for is love songs. And like I said, that hasn't changed at all. There's a song on this EP, one of my favorites, called "You Belong," and the chorus is, "You belong inside the songs I sing." It's just a song about seeing the girl, and before you even talk, you know, just being that sort of love at first sight kind of a connection. So definitely -- girls, and love, and the idea of true romance -- that always sparks inspiration for our songs.

I know that in the last couple of years Tim has sort of done more vocal stuff where he hadn't been before. What made that change happen?

Well, he's always written songs. Ever since he got into the band, he's always kind of contributed some songs, and he's just been getting better and better, and writing songs that the band has more and more connected with.

You know, the last record, obviously, he wrote "Rhythm of Love." That was a big hit on the last album. And he has two songs on this EP that's already out. He did a song called "The Giving Tree," which is one of our favorites that he's ever written. It's a really pretty, very kind of almost folky love song. I don't know if it's love -- it's kind of sad. It's about a girl, an ex of his, who kept coming back to him after having all these other failed relationships, and she was just a taker. She just kind of drained everybody that she dated, and he wrote a song with the metaphor of the giving tree. He was always trying to make her happy, but all she was ever going to do was take and take. It's a really pretty song, but it's really sad.

So Tim's just writing some songs that the band is loving, and really coming into his own as a songwriter. He's giving me a run for my money. I like that. I like a little friendly competition. [Laughs] I can't coast by, I've gotta out-write Tim. It's fun!

Yeah, I mean, is it just a lucky coincidence that your band has two lead vocalist heartthrobs in there?

[Laughs] Yeah, it's sorta cool. It gives the band a new feel, you know what I mean? I feel like it's going to be a new dimension, for all the fans that are already out there, obviously they've grown up with us, through all of our albums and everything, and I think they're going to enjoy getting this other side of life and love that Tim's going to bring.

You'll be here in South Florida pretty early on, on June 8, headlining this Second Annual Party in the Park in Boca. It's sort of right around when school gets out for the summer. What's one of your favorite memories from summer breaks when you were a kid back in school?

Oh, man. You know what's funny is back in like -- you know how there's some people who were back in high school, they hated high school, and once they got out of high school it was like, "Oh, I'll never go back," or like, "I'm so glad that's over"? I was the guy who actually loved high school. Like, when we were in school, just realizing, like man, I get to see my friends every day, there're girls that I like that I can talk to every day and sit next to in class and, sure, the work sucked, but it was always fun. Plus you get summers off. I just knew back then that this was cool and that -- I think that's why I probably joined a band. I was like, "I don't wanna work, I wanna be around my friends all day and I wanna take summers off if I want to." You know, it's either be in a band, or I would've been a teacher or something, so I still could've lived that lifestyle. [Laughs] Luckily the band thing worked out.

That's a good point. That's a good way to avoid getting a summer job, just start a band. Wrapping things up, since you're about to head out on tour, and you're still sort of feeling the loneliness from what I'm assuming is a recent breakup, what are you going to do to avoid all these late-night texts?

Well, you know, that's the great thing about that song "Should've Gone to Bed," is even though I'm regretting it, and I know I'm doing something stupid, I think part of the fun is knowing that I'm gonna keep on doing it for a while. The song, it's sort of like, "Well, I should've gone to bed, but I didn't," and I don't know if you really learned your lesson, or if the next time you're out having some drinks, you're just gonna repeat the same thing. I don't mind being that guy for a little while, until I find somebody new, and until that girl comes along and, you know, kinda sweeps me off my feet, so that I can sweep her off her feet. That's the plan.

[Laughs] Well that sounds like a good plan. I mean, they can't all be failures in the end, right? As long as some of those late-night texts work out for you.

Exactly. There's always that time in-between. And then, once in a while, a good one comes along.

97.9 WRMF'S Party in the Park at Mizner Park Amphitheater. Saturday, June 8th at 7:30 p.m.

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