The hope in rock ‘n’ roll

Steve Aquino

In describing the music of his band, the Plain White T’s, lead singer Tom Higgenson often refers to the “element of hope” he says he tries to forge into every song he writes. For Higgenson, that’s where the power of music derives itself from — that hopeful solace buried in each song.

And that’s why it’s so fitting that Higgenson and the T’s — the latest rock band from Chicago to gain national attention after emerging from the city’s thriving indie scene — signed up for the 2005 Sub City Take Action Tour, an aptly named festival devoted to taking action against youth depression and suicide.

The T’s joined Sugarcult — the tour’s headlining band — Hawthorne Heights, Head Automatica and Anberlin for the second half of the tour, which began Feb. 20, and will stop at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., on March 2.

Since 2001 the tour has partnered itself with the National Hopeline Network, an anti-depression hotline serving teens and other youths, to raise national awareness about suicide and the mental health challenges teens face that could eventually lead them toward suicide. Since the inaugural tour, the festival has grown to include such sponsors as Hot Topic, Etnies and the major sponsor, Hurley International, a company which, according to president Bob Hurley, is dedicated to life — “the coolest thing of all” — and giving teens a medium through which to express themselves.

In the past the tour has featured such bands as Jimmy Eat World, Thursday and Hot Water Music, groups to which teens can easily relate the frustration and confusion that would otherwise be overwhelming without the escape music provides.

Originally, the Plain White T’s didn’t have plans to take part in Take Action 2005, but according to Higgenson, when Sugarcult, “good friends” of the T’s, was offered the headlining gig, the guys from Sugarcult offered the T’s a spot on the tour. Higgenson says this was exciting because the band had never done a tour with a theme like the Take Action Tour.

“That’s the coolest part about playing live,” Higgenson says. “I try to write personal songs, and then I get to play in front of people who feel the same way, it’s that much easier to be emotional. It’s real.”

That’s especially true for Higgenson when he plays on Take Action 2005, which will feature an audience that’s come to the show for more or less the same reason Higgenson started writing music — to help in the time of emotional dreariness.

Of course, the T’s weren’t always playing in front of huge crowds at legendary venues like San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium and Higgenson, himself from Villa Park, says that without Chicago’s indie-rock scene “we wouldn’t know how to be a band.”

Weinberg junior Jess Cohn, from the southern suburb of Hazel Crest, even remembers seeing the band perform “at a bowling alley” in the city. To Cohn, the music the T’s make is ideal for the Take Action Tour because even though they write songs with a melancholy premise, this feeling is not imparted to the listener.

“You don’t get sad when listening to the music,” Cohn says. “It’s not going to put someone in depression. It’s going to make you feel better.”

With that attitude, Cohn, who has met Higgenson on “three to four” occasions, is able to be proud of the band.

“It’s exciting, as long as they keep a level head about it,” Cohn says.

And for Higgenson, that’s pretty much all the band can do for now, especially after shooting their first video for the single “Take Me Away,” something that could possibly bring them even more attention.

“We’re still just doing what we’ve always been doing — heading out and playing and trying to get more people to love the band,” Higgenson says.

Medill freshman Steve Aquino is the PLAY assistant design editor. He can be reached at [email protected]