Plain White T's Take a 'Pause' and Go Indie

Craig Rosen

On April 1 at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET, Yahoo Live will live stream Plain White T's' concert from the Gramercy Theatre in New York City. Tune in HERE to watch!

In their new single, "Pause," Plain White T's singer/guitarist Tom Higgenson sings about taking the time to step back, put things on hold, and enjoy life, singing, "'Cause I don't wanna miss this moment / And I can't get it back when it's over." Higgenson knows this from his own firsthand experience. In 1999, he had a near-death experience in a car accident.

"I flipped the van five times and was thrown out of it," he recalls. "I ended up waking up in the hospital the next day with a broken back and had to learn to walk again. It was a crazy time, an almost tragic moment, but honestly that was one of the best experiences of my life, because I literally had to stop. I had to basically stay in bed for three months, and I just kind of reconnected."

It may be strange to think that such a tragedy was a positive experience, but Higgenson found the light in the darkness. "It was a great experience because it brought everyone in my life together," he says. "I was constantly surrounded by friends coming in after school and my family would be over every day. My parents got divorced when I was 15 and they were remarried and everything, but when the accident happened it made them have to hang out together for me. It was just a really great experience for everyone around me. It brought a whole lot of love to everyone in my life. It was definitely a reminder that, 'Hey, life can be over at any time. You got to enjoy it while you can.'"


Strangely enough, that experience wasn't necessarily the obvious inspiration behind "Pause," the first single from the new T's album, American Nights. "Funny, I never made the connection with 'Pause' to that accident," Higgenson says on the phone from Berlin, where the band was touring last month. "But subconsciously, in my everyday life, I'm sure I kind of live with that without even knowing and have a natural instinct to enjoy life a little bit more because of that accident."

You could say it was the desire to enjoy life to the fullest led to the band's split with longtime label Hollywood Records prior to the release of American Nights, and return to their indie roots. Although the band enjoyed the greatest success of their career at Hollywood — the label that released their 2007 chart-topper "Hey There Delilah," the 18th most-downloaded song ever — the T's found themselves butting heads with the label execs during the making of American Nights.

"We were frustrated because we had a great history with them and they kind of let us make the albums we wanted to make and we've always had success with them, but for this album, for some reason, there was a bit more of an agenda," Higgenson says. "They were pushing for songs that the band wasn't 100 percent on. It was kind of like, 'You don't want us to record this song that everybody loves, but you want us to do this one that one of the five guys don't like at all?' It was a really annoying process."

According to Higgenson, the band eventually caved to the label's demands, but then the album was delayed. "They kept pushing it back and pushing it back," he says. "We couldn't get on a big tour, because we didn't have any momentum with a new album coming out. If you're not able to tour, you're not able to make a living, so it was like, 'What the hell do you want us to do?'" Higgenson says a clause in the contract allowed the band to walk away from the label with the completed album. "So we ditched the songs that not everyone in the band was enjoying," he adds, "and we recorded five songs in six days to wrap up the album and they ended up being our favorite songs on the album."

The guys are now enjoying their newfound freedom, free from label interference. "It's pretty amazing not to have to answer that," Higgenson adds. "We can write a song we like that we think the fans are going to connect with." Of course, the band is traveling into previously unchartered waters on the business side. "We really have no idea what we're doing, so I'm sure we're going to make some mistakes along the way," he admits. "It's a trial-and-error process, but it's super-exciting. It's definitely reinvigorating for the band. It's an opportunity for us to just kick ass and guide our own ship. It's kind of what every artist wants."

Of course, it remains to be seen if any songs on American Nights will have the impact of "Hey There Delilah." Having such a huge hit can feel like an albatross for some bands, who are intimidated by their past success, but the Plain White T's are having none of that. "It's pretty amazing," Higgenson says. "People are always asking about that song 10 years later. It's just one of those songs we got lucky with and it really connected with a whole lot of people. We're really proud of it. I still love it and still love playing it. It's not one of those songs, 'Oh, I hate playing that song.'

"That's what kind of the goal is for art in general," he continues. "Making that connection. The whole point of putting of yourself out there is hopping to make that connection, hoping to change somebody's life and make somebody's day a little bit better. To have a song a song that does that. That's the goal. That's what we want. It's not like we're out there trying to redo 'Delilah' every time. We're just writing songs that matter to us and hope that they connect with people."

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