It's been a telling year for Chicago rockers Plain White Ts. After almost a decade of toil the quintet finally found success in 2007 with a little known EP track Hey There Delilah, a song highlighting the punk-pop outfit's seldom-displayed acoustic underbelly.
Re-issued as a single and added to 2007's re-released Every Second Counts album, Delilah's tale of post-teen infatuation struck a tender nerve with fans, reaching # 1 on the US Billboard charts, sparking more than a million downloads from the iTunes Music Store and earning a 2008 Grammy Award nomination for Song Of The Year and Best Pop Performance By A Group with Vocal.
"We're not going to completely change our sound just because Delilah got some attention," says bassist Mike Retondo of the group's sudden success. "If you go back to our older records there's always been up-tempo songs and there's been like acoustic-y ballad-type stuff."
Plain White Ts' current status stands in stark contrast to their early days. A serious accident almost derailed the band shortly after their formation in the late 90s when founding singer-guitarist Tom Higgenson sustained a punctured lung and lacerated kidney in a car crash. The frontman's determination to continue however is a lasting symbol of the band's collective grit.
"He played with a back brace several times," says Retondo.
After an independently-funded debut plus two albums on indie label Fearless (At The Drive In), PWTs rewarded themselves by signing to EMI's Hollywood Records, a move that despite bringing the band a broader fan base has neither swelled their egos nor their pockets.
"Nothing's really changed in the way that we've always done things," says Retondo. "When we started we played the smallest clubs to like 25 people - we were just five guys in a van driving around. Back then we were on a small label and it was just up to us to go out there. Now we've got more and more people coming out to the shows."
In the lead up to appearances in Australia for this summer's Warped-style Soundwave festival, the Illinois five piece are headed for Europe and the UK in the new year having recently completed a domestic US tour with Fall Out Boy and New York rock-hip hop chameleons Gym Class Heroes, a mark of their musical dexterity. "This tour's a little bit different for us but we're glad to be on it," says Retondo, a huge fan of Hoffman bass guitars, made famous by Beatle Paul McCartney.
PWTs hope to continue stretching the boundaries on their forthcoming fifth album, eschewing a city studio for a more relaxing environment, according to Retondo.
"We're taking a little time after the holidays to retreat away from the world and write songs and work on things," he says. "We're not sure where we're going to go but the idea is that we don't want to be in a stale recording studio that you rent. But we're not sure where we'll go but this time we want to go somewhere with some character that will inspire us."