Hey There Chicago

Marcy Miranda

Few bands can say they have consistently been on the road for about a quarter of their lives. Then again, few bands have the same work ethic and dedication as the Plain White T’s.

The T’s have been rocking Chicago – and the country – for a decade, although all members are still in their 20s. Forming while most members were still in high school, the pop-rock quintet began extensive touring in 2002, taking their first full-length album “Stop” on the road with them.

“We’ve all done this for years and years and years,” said De’Mar Hamilton, the band’s drummer. The band’s current lineup includes vocalist Tom Higgenson, guitarist Dave Tirio, bassist Mike Retondo and guitarist Tim Lopez, though several lineup changes have permeated the band since its inception.

Despite having four albums under their belt – including their latest release, “Every Second Counts,” which has sold over 500,000 copies and was certified as a gold album last week – the band has just recently come onto the mainstream radar, permeating MTV and the radio with their single, “Hey There Delilah.” The song has made a regular appearance on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and is currently one of the most downloaded songs on iTunes.

First released as a track on the band’s 2005 release “All That We Needed,” “Hey There Delilah” was re-released as a single in 2007, when the T’s signed to a major label, Hollywod Records.

While there is a certain irony in having the biggest song of a band’s career hit the airwaves two years after its original release, the Plain White T’s never had any doubt that “Hey There Delilah” had the potential to skyrocket the band to stardom.”We’re just happy it has gotten the chance to (become popular),” Hamilton said. “We thought it could be this big.”

The push given by the record company is exactly what the song needed to give the band it’s first major taste of fame, Hamilton said.

“(For the label), it’s about taking a product that is good and marketing it well,” Hamilton said. The same philosophy can be used for the marketing of the band itself, as the new label has allowed for the band’s videos to appear on MTVu, Fuse, and Vh1, as well as providing the band with a “big change” while on tour.

“It’s not like we are struggling anymore,” Hamilton said. “When we go on tour, it’s different.” Band members have stopped worrying about the amount of fans attending their show, something that Hamilton admits the band used to do.

“Now, there are a good amount of kids that are going to be at a show,” Hamilton said. “It’s not guaranteed that they will be there, but chances are good.”

While many supporters of small, independent record labels equate signing with major labels as “selling out,” Hamilton defends the band’s decision to leave Fearless Records, an independent label based in Los Angeles. The band still gets a large say in the recording process, and it still has control over major decisions, he said.

For a small band that can trace its roots to the suburbs of Chicago, the local scene has always been a big influence on their music, Hamilton said. Having grown up going to the shows of fellow Chicago pop-rockers Fall Out Boy and The Academy Is…, Hamilton said they maintain the friendships they cultivated while all three bands were playing small shows.

“I went to high school with a couple of the guys (from The Academy Is…), and we continue to be friends,” he said. “We would always headline shows together. Those are relationships to maintain,” he said. Earlier this summer, the T’s played a number of shows with The Academy Is… on the East Coast.

Supporting local bands is still important to Hamilton and members of the T’s, but their grueling tour schedule makes it difficult to stay in tune with things going on at home. “Being on the road so much, I don’t even know the smaller bands (in the Chicago scene) anymore.”

As the T’s increasingly gain national recognition and increase their fanbase, things at home are also changing for the band. In 2005, the band realized one of its dreams when it played to a crowd at the Riviera Theater. The band has made appearances at other well-known Chicago venues, including the House of Blues, the Beat Kitchen, and the now-defunct Bottom Lounge.

“It’s been great,” Hamilton said. “For those of us from here, Chicago will always be our home.”

Reach Marcy Miranda at [email protected]