Plain White T's
Tom Higgenson was somewhere in Maryland.
The Plain White T's vocalist/guitarist hadn't been outside of the tour bus yet when he picked up his new iPhone for a recent interview.
"I don't want to brag or anything, but it's pretty bad-ass," he said about his phone.
Not to diss my Droid, but I was pretty jealous (of the phone, not Higgenson's hectic schedule).
Higgenson said his tour itinerary and smartphone help orient him while on the road. The mobile device has many functions.
When he's bored, he keeps up with friends or sports scores.
When he has a question, he's got Google in his pocket.
When he has an idea for a song, he records a voice memo.
Things are a lot more high-tech these days than when Higgenson formed the band with high school friends in the late '90s.
The group released its third album "All That We Needed" in 2005 and hit the road with fellow Midwest rockers Motion City Soundtrack. Two years later, a single from the CD, "Hey There Delilah," blasted the band from virtual obscurity to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song, which easily became lodged in my head for a week, earned two Grammy nominations.
About a year ago, the group released its latest CD, "The Wonders of the Younger." The Chicago quintet stopped by Penn State York's Pullo Family Performing Arts Center last Friday and will wrap up its tour Saturday in North Carolina. But like most artists in this 24/7/365 world, they have to constantly produce web content whether they're on the road or on break.
Last week, the band posted a Halloween track, "The House on Shady Lane," on its website plainwhitets.com.
Higgenson said they plan to do more free downloads during the holiday season and as the band starts its next album.
Not to be redundant, but I had to ask Higgenson what I've asked several bands in the past few years: How do you sell albums at a time when more and more people are downloading music?
I'm kind of fascinated with the way the industry is evolving in front of our eyes. Why not ask the people who are living it?
"We're constantly thinking about (that)," he said. "We always tend to go against the grain. If people are going for singles, we're going to put out a concept album. We're going to have some fun . . . experimenting. (We'll) definitely rethink what we're doing with the next album cycle."
Like Hanson, which I interviewed before its Chameleon Club show last month, Plain White T's is big on social media and fan interaction. The T's had fans vote for two songs for the band to play each night during its recent tour. Live streaming studio sessions are also part of the band's push.
"It's fun because it's all about creativity," Higgenson said. "If you do something that's never been done before or people can relate to (it will get attention). It's a good time to be an artist."
One way the band is reaching a larger audience is to combine its love of music and sports.
As a Philadelphia sports nut and self-proclaimed music buff, I welcomed this turn in the conversation.
Plain White T's performed after a Boston Celtics game, during halftime at a Chicago Bears game and during the seventh-inning stretch at a Chicago Cubs game.
"Chicago is a pretty strong sports city," said Higgenson, who roots for the city's NBA team, the Bulls, and its NHL team, the Blackhawks. But he admitted that guitarist Dave Tirio forces the group to keep up with other teams, too. While in New York recently, it planned to catch a Jets game.
Since the group doesn't play favorites, it gets asked to play events like this year's San Francisco 49ers home opener. This fall, it was also invited to visit MLB headquarters.
"To me, the coolest part . . . was the review room," he said. "Every stream of every single game happening at that single moment was coming in to that room."
If there was a question about a call, the guys in the room - not a feed in the stadium as Higgenson assumed - would send the footage.
Right at that moment, the similarities between sports teams and bands hit me. They both play in front of arenas of fans. The stakes are high. Failure is common. Athletes and musicians train for hours.
Many musicians are attached to sports promotions, but it seems like the Plain White T's are taking that to the next level.
Unless they go the way of Hank Williams Jr., it seems like a smart move in a fickle music industry.
PopEye is a bi-weekly column focusing on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To reach writer Erin McCracken, call 771-2051 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plain White T's: plainwhitets.com
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De'Mar Hamilton - drums, backing vocals
Tom Higgenson - lead vocals, guitar
Tim Lopez - lead guitar, vocals
Mike Retondo - bass, backing vocals
Dave Tirio - rhythm guitar, backing vocals