In some of the most quantifiable ways, the Plain White Ts count as a veteran outfit. After all, the band formed in the
late 90s, when cofounder Tom Higgenson was still in high school, and the Ts had several independent releases already
to their credit even before Hey There Delilah became an international sensation and cultural touchstone in 2007.
But as far as the Plain White Ts are concerned, theyre just entering their sense-of-wonder years.
The need to hold onto or reclaim the marvels of youth is a determined thread running through the bands third Hollywood
Records release, Wonders of the Younger. Even the love songs that dont directly deal with the ostensible theme of mentally
dialing back the aging process have references to nostalgia, childhood lost, or innocence regained. (In Broken Record,
Higgenson references Billie Jean and sings, I knew it was final / Got in her daddys car and she was gone
like vinyl.) The message throughout is clear: They were so much older then? theyre younger than that now.
Higgenson had the album title and concept come to him in a place not usually associated with tender innocence: Las Vegas.
It was there, on a Valentines Day 2009 visit, that he was bowled over by a Cirque du Soleil show, O, and wondered if it would
be possible to capture the same anything-can-happen spirit on record. The entire show has pirate ships, clowns and carousel
horses coming up and going back into the pool, and at one point theres a piano that comes up out of the water, and it
was really epic, he says. I just loved it, and it gave me that feeling of being a kid and seeing Goonies for the
first time, or Indiana Jones ?so adventurous and imaginative and different. I left there wanting to make an album that
gave people that same feeling.
Higgenson, the groups principal singer and songcrafter, held onto that concept through the full year of writing that
followed. There are songs like the title track and Welcome to Mystery and Cirque Dans La Rue
that are a little bit more in your face with the idea of it. But even with songs like Boomerang that are not necessarily
all about being young or being a kid, I still had that theme in the back of my head.
That sense of adventure translated to the stylistic side, too. Any fans who go looking for the hard-rocking pop-punk the group
originally became known for as a Warped Tour favorite, or the acoustically based love songs that newcomers came to expect
after Delilah and 1,2,3,4, will find something to their liking here. But Wonders? represents a drastically
richer sonic experience than anything the Ts went for on any of their five prior releases. Trying to coast by on the
sound that had gotten them tagged as emo way back in the day?correctly or otherwise?could only have culminated, on a project
this thematically ambitious, in a sense of blunder. The leap forward theyve made in writing, arrangements, and production
on the new album might be compared with the kind of step up that fellow Warped alumnus My Chemical Romance made with The Black
Parade. Ironically, on an album that in some ways is deeply concerned with resisting the wiles of maturation,
the bands sound has grown exponentially more sophisticated.
The scope is a lot bigger than anything weve done before, Higgenson says. We definitely tried to get
out of our comfort zone. Not that we wanted to sound like a different band. But we wanted to push ourselves outside of what
the Plain White Ts are accustomed to?exploring different arrangements and striving to be more adventurous and exciting
lyrically, musically and thematically. It all has to give you that epic feeling that we wanted the album to have. Even the
performances that were doing and the video we made has to have that slightly surreal, slightly fantastic kind of vibe
Its funny because on our last album, Big Bad World [in 2008], we had the opposite approach. We wanted to strip
everything down and wanted it to feel like were in the room playing these songs for you. That was our vision for that
record, but on this album we wanted to push ourselves and make a really big and colorful recording.
Starting with the certifiably hummable first single, Rhythm of Love, in a departure thats undeniable, the
track is sung by its writer, guitarist Tim Lopez. On the bands previous disc, Lopez shared vocals with Higgenson on
two tracks, but this marks his first time doing a solo lead vocal anywhere outside of a backyard barbecue.
Rhythm of Love is in a great band tradition: Like Hey There Delilah, it was written to impress a girl.
Lopez explains the real-life story behind the single: It was written for this girl that I was dating while we were making
our last album out in Malibu. We have a lot of history; Ive known her since I was 11 or 12. I wasnt really
emotionally available to her at the time. I hadnt completely gotten over my divorce, so when the band left on
tour, I decided it wasnt right to try to keep the relationship going so we called it quits. It was only over the last
year or so that Ive realized what I walked away from. The song was an attempt to rekindle things and win her back. Shes
currently dating someone else, and Im happy for her. But in case it doesnt work out?who knows?
Rhythm of Love has a markedly gentle feel?gentler even, maybe, than Hey There Delilah, which was the
first drumless tune to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 since possibly the stone age. Its a distinct style change
than what weve done in the past, says Lopez, and not just because of his temporary frontman status on it. Just
with that island-y scratch guitar ? its the sound I heard in my head when it came to writing a song for her.
The album gets off to a faster start with Irrational Anthem, a sort of thematic overture for the record. Lyrically,
says Higgenson, I think it says exactly what I want the album to say. I think the line that sums up the whole
album is Let your mind go anywhere it wants to. Dont lose your imagination. Dont get so wrapped up in your day-to-day
life that you forget to dream or be creative, or forget to recapture those things or at least remember them. Thats the
beauty of life. Im a very nostalgic guy, so a lot of where my head lives is in memories. I spend a lot of my time looking
back and smiling at past things that have happened in my life.
Given the more colorful sound of Wonders of the Younger, you might wonder if the band members wish they could rename the group
after a more vivid or eccentric article of clothing. But Higgenson insists the moniker fits now more than ever.
Plain White Ts goes along with the theme of the album, he says. With a plain white T, there are no
limits there. You can wear it with anything. You can put anything on it. Its that blank canvas?kind of like your imagination
when youre a kid.