(this interview originally appeared in issue #3 of Modern Fix Magazine in 2002).

– interview by tom maxwell


This is the deal. I was supposed to interview this pop-punk band called the Plain White T’s about four months ago. Their music is often thought of as sappy love-song indie rock with some crunch. Their rise in popularity has been very steady, which is primarily due to their persistent touring schedule and incredibly catchy sound. So anyways, a few months ago I was supposed to call the lead singer Tom on the phone. Me being the lazy bastard I am, I procrastinated, they went on tour and I was up a creek without a paddle. When their label (Fearless) called me up a couple months later and asked me to meet with the band in Ventura on a Sunday (when I had to go to work the next day in Bakersfield at 8:00 AM), I said sure. Then the band didn’t show up for the show and I was shit out of luck, again.

Finally, after a Bakersfield show on a warm summer night, and after much tribulation I bring you Tom Higgenson of the Plain White T’s.

(As the street cleaners drive by at 11 pm on a Thursday night in Bakersfield).. You know in Bakersfield we got the cleanest streets in the nation. I’ll tell you what, right here dude, this is Bakersfield at work. We are the sickest town in the world. To what do you attribute your success?
Tom H.: We just love what we’re doing. I just think if you have passion about something and you just do it and not worry about success, just do it because you love it and do your best at it, that’s when success comes. If you’re happy with what you’re doing then you’re successful.

How much do you think your tour with Jimmy Eat World when they were about to break helped your band?
It was incredible, that was like the best week we’ve had as a band. We did, I think, 4 shows with them. It was just crazy because they are one of our favorite bands. We drove all the way from Chicago just to play a show with them in Hollywood and we wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t love them and we take advantage of situations when we can. It was incredible, though, because it showed us what being a band could be.

So would you say that Jimmy Eat World is a band that you guys really look up to?
We love those guys. I mean there are a lot of bands out there that we’re into, but yeah Jimmy Eat World is just a great band. They make music for the right reasons and I think they’re honest and I don’t know, they’re just awesome.

I felt that your best song on “Stop” (their latest album) was, “Please don’t do this” which is a song that you actually played tonight. It seems to be a song about a girl who chose another guy over you and it’s a pretty catchy song. Shit, I’ve sung it in the shower plenty of times. Is that song and others like it on the record based on personal experience?
Oh yeah, everything on that record is all real, it all happened to me. Obviously, some of the songs are a little more negative towards girls and in that song it’s pretty much that I’m the victim. But it’s not really like my life is like that, but you tend to write songs more when you’re feeling down and bummed than if you’re feeling happy. When you’re happy, you’re happy and when you’re bummed you need to release stuff.

So is that kind of where all your songs come from, just when you’re depressed or whatever?
No, a lot of the songs, like “Fireworks”, are happier, and like I said, if something comes and I’m experiencing something and I want to write it I just do it. If I think of something that would be an important song I write it.

Is that what kind of sparks the new direction, just that you had different things going on (commenting on the different themes of the new songs from the show that night)?
Yeah, what I want with music is that I always want to be honest and being personal and you know, almost like a diary where I can look back on my music ten years from now and be like, yeah, I remember that, I remember living that. So basically when something happens in my life that affects me in some deep way that’s when I’ll turn to the guitar and put it down to music.

Okay, catch me up, your next album will be out when and what will it be like?
It’s going to sound a little more hip-hop oriented (both Toms laughing). No uh, it’s going to sound like “Stop”, hopefully a little more mature. We’re trying to go a little more musical and a little more exciting. A lot of the songs on “Stop” are musically chords with some lead kind of things over them. I think the new stuff we’re writing is more intricate and exciting. As far as the songs go, it’s pretty much the same kind of stuff.