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Q&A: IM Fancies the Plain White T's

To kick off the 500 Festival, Indy is throwing a party. The Rev Your Engines concert on Monument Circle tonight features headliners the Plain White T’s (9 p.m., Sat., free), the pop-rock crooners whose recent hits are by now as familiar and well-worn as, well, your favorite white T-shirt. Their heartstring-tugging ballads “Hey There Delilah,” “1, 2, 3, 4,” and “Rhythm of Love” have each gone platinum.

See the interview here:

A few hours before the show, IM caught up with the band to talk Colts, karaoke, and how it feels to be the subject of a question on Jeopardy.

IM: In songwriting, what are some of your cultural, personal, or other influences?

Tom Higgenson (lead vocals, acoustic guitar): I went through a breakup over the past year. A lot of that’s kind of coming into the songs.

Mike Retondo (bass, backing vocals): About ten years ago, you wrote another breakup record. Isn’t that weird?

Higgenson: I have one relationship every ten years.

IM: You were recently the subject of a question on Jeopardy. How was that? Did you watch it, or did you just hear about it?

Dave Tirio (rhythm guitar, backing vocals): I watch it, like, every day. The funniest part is the way it was answered. It almost had a little hint to our fan base, in a sense, or people who at least know who we are. The first guy who buzzed in was probably in his thirties. And he said the answer with, like, a smirk on his face. Like he had some inside story about it. He was like, “What is ‘Delilah?’” And Alex was like, “Oh, no. I’m sorry.” And this sixty-some year old woman, maybe seventy-year-old woman, buzzed in: “What is ‘Hey There Delilah?’” . . . Two people knew it, and that was nice.

IM: What music are you listening to right now?

Higgenson: De’Mar [Hamilton; drums, backing vocals] and I just drove up listening to the new Jack White album. I love the new fun. album, and I’ve been listening to a lot of Skrillex. Those would be my three modern picks. There’s a band called Passenger as well—amazing.

IM: What’s your all-time fave karaoke or car-e-oke jam?

Higgenson: I never do that. But we played a show in Dallas, and this opening band that we were with was going to do karaoke, and I went with them. And this group of girls was doing “Hey There Delilah.” So they pulled me up. Every time we play live, there’s a couple parts of the songs where there’ll be one idiot that goes into the wrong part, or goes into the chorus here. As I was singing it, all the mess-ups that people do, I put in there. So I just kind of made myself look like a big ass, and everybody loved it. So that’s my song. I like doing my own songs and screwing them up.

IM: Now that MySpace isn’t the go-to social network it was a few years ago, what do you think is important for bands on social networks to be doing?

Higgenson: I think the most important thing is to write good songs. That’s what we’re really focusing on. While we’re doing that, if we have something cool to say, we’ll put it on Twitter or Facebook.

Tim Lopez (lead guitar, vocals): You could go away completely as far as social media, and come out with a great song, and be right back on the top. It’s cool and all, to stay involved with fans.

Higgenson: That’s the cool part, is that the bigger we’ve gotten, the more social media has come into play. We used to play shows and then be able to go out by the merch table and talk to the fans. Since we got to a level where we can’t really do that, just because it’s…

Retondo: Pandemonium!

Higgenson: It’s nice to have an outlet to be able to still stay in touch with the fans and connect on that level.

Retondo: I was just thinking about this. I think you can connect with your fans all day long on Twitter and social media stuff, but if you’re not connecting with them through your music, then you’ve got nothing. You’ve just got a bunch of friends.

IM: Do you think that people are on their phones too much at shows these days?

Tirio: One hundred percent, yes. I think they’re on their phones in life too much. Not just concerts, but if you’re at a sporting event taking a photo of something, what if it’s the home run that wins the game, and you just saw it in your view finder, and you didn’t really get to feel it or enjoy it?

Higgenson: I’m on the fence about that. Because I feel that same way. When we’re playing a show, especially, and you see the whole crowd is watching you on this little screen when you’re actually right there. It’s kind of annoying. But at the same time, I kind of feel like an old person that’s like, “Oh, in my day…"

Retondo: Dude. It’s just going to get worse for us, too. We’re going to feel even more and more like that as we get older.

Higgenson: But that’s what I’m saying. I kind of feel like, hey, that’s what they do now. Who cares? Just roll with it.

IM: You guys are sports fans. Any condolences for us Colts fans?

Tirio: You’re starting over at a pretty good spot, getting the number-one pick again.

Retondo: All [the Colts] have to do is play better than any of the other teams they play and score more touchdowns, and then they’ll be good.

Photos by Brandon Bowen / Left to right: Higgenson, Retondo, Tirio, Lopez, Hamilton