World of ‘Wonder’

Cirque du Soleil inspires latest Plain White T’s album

The title came first for the latest Plain White T’s album, The Wonders of the Younger. T’s songwriter and singer Tom Higgenson had just watched Cirque du Soleil’s “O” in Las Vegas when the phrase popped into his head. Higgenson says he didn’t quite know what the term meant, but he knew it was going to be the creative catalyst for the Chicago band’s sixth album. He says the performance by the contemporary circus group took a strong hold on him. “Something about that show really moved me. It made me feel like a kid again,” Higgenson says. So Higgenson began working on songs, with the images of the acrobatic feats, clowns, mimes, pirate ships and carousel horses featured in the show guiding the feel he wanted to put into the music. The Wonders of the Younger came out on Hollywood Records in December 2010. “Some of the songs I was writing were written very specifically to that theme,” he says. Higgenson wanted to couple nostalgic images of youth with an adventurous, grander scope. He wanted something that was both dark and bright, “an album like a roller coaster ride,” he says. “I wanted to make an album that gives people this feeling,” Higgenson says. To help shape the mood of the record, Higgenson decorated his studio space in the manner of a haunted, gaudy mansion, like something out of the board game Clue. He then asked his band mates of things that reminded them of their childhood, then found those items to place around the band’s workspace. Higgenson would use some wordplay to put the theme into some songs, like referring to himself as a toy on “Boomerang,” which is about Higgenson coming back to the same girl again and again, despite the couple’s romantic woes. Other tracks introduce added layers and arrangement like playful piano parts to give a circus feel to the music. When it came down to deciding the album’s track listing, it wasn’t about the best songs or commercial potential. Songs like “Airplane” and “Killer” made the cut because they carried the album’s theme better than tracks that were left by the wayside. “These songs will never be on the radio, but that’s OK because they feel the way we want them to feel,” Higgenson says. As a songwriter, that approach brought a new angle to the process and brought a new freshness, too. The band was being artistic for no other reason than the sake of the art they were creating, Higgenson says. “It was a bit of a challenge, but at the same time it made it more fun than it has ever been before,” he says. It’s a new stretch from a band that hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in July 2007, with the massively popular “Hey There Delilah.” Higgenson says he’s still grateful for the success that the song found. “It’s a once in a lifetime thing,” he says. The band followed that up in 2009 with “1, 2, 3, 4”,,” which also charted on the Billboard Hot 100. That song’s success was also appreciated, as it kept the band from being written off as just another one hit wonder. “‘1, 2, 3, 4’ was a big F-U to all the non-believers,” Higgenson says. The lead single for Wonder, “Rhythm of Love”, has also gotten radio play and it keeps growing. However, Higgenson hopes the next single, “Boomerang”, will do even better; the band has yet to have a big hit with one of its more upbeat, band-oriented songs. “When that chorus hits, it comes in pretty slamming, but it still has that vibe that people expect from Plain White T’s,” he says. Still, Higgenson is just happy that there are plenty of people out there who have felt a connection to the band’s music already. “If we have a song that’s just me and an accordion and it connects with people, we’ll put that out,” he says. Plain White T’s w/ Parachute and Miggs play The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St., Saturday, Jan. 29, at 9 p.m. Tickets are sold out. Visit

posted at 12:35 pm
on Wednesday, January 26th, 2011


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