Plain White T’s aim for more vulnerable sound with new album

The thing about being around for 21 years as a band is that evolution isn’t only inevitable, it’s necessary.

And the thing about naming your new album “Parallel Universe” is that those evolutionary possibilities are endless.

“The new album is the Plain White T’s, but it’s not,” said Tom Higgenson, the Elmhurst-based frontman for the band. “It’s not what you would expect from the Plain White T’s.”

The Lombard-born group ­­– Higgenson, Dave Tirio, Tim Lopez, Mike Retondo and De’Mar Hamilton — is dropping its new album as well as playing a free release show at Chicago’s Reckless Records Friday, Aug. 24. The show will feature an intimate performance as well as a chance for fans to meet and get their albums signed by the band.

According to Higgenson, they took a different approach with “Parallel Universe.” The band worked with multiplatinum producer and audio engineer Matt Squire, chosen in part because he had produced one of Higgenson’s favorite albums, Panic! At The Disco’s “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.”

“He was a really well-versed electronic musician. Anything we could think of, he’d just dial up,” he said. “He was always dialing in cool, unique things, and some of it we were like ‘Oh no, that’s weird!’ And other things we’d be like, ‘That’s amazing! Let’s work with that.'”

“We’re all into such different kinds of music, and there are so many amazing things happening in music right now,” Higgenson said. “We didn’t want to keep ourselves in our own little box.”

The band, arguably best known for taking over mid-2000s radio with the hit “Hey There Delilah,” is showing a maturation on the new album.

“You never want to write the same song twice,” Higgenson said. “Rather than just going back to our bread and butter, the cute sensitive love songs, on this record it’s a little less puppy love and a little more of a realistic take on what love means ­– just being a little more vulnerable, just being more honest.”

One of the Plain White T’s first forays onto the scene was the substantial 2002 full-length album, “Stop,” a likable and relatable punk-influenced look into the stumbles and tumbles of young romance.

“‘Stop’ is definitely my most diarylike,” Higgenson said. “I was raw and honest with the songs. I was going through this relationship and its ups and downs, and every turn we’d take I’d write a song about it.”

“In that sense, I think this new album is a little more in touch with that,” he said. “I wanted to write what we’re feeling. If we’re honest about what’s going on in our lives, it’s going to connect somewhere.”

So, let’s go back to “Delilah” for a minute.

Earlier this month, entertainment media was buzzing around news that the members of Plain White T’s are creating a television series based on the hit song. The series is still very early in development.

“I’m definitely going to be involved in the creative process,” he added. “But I’m hoping that someone wants it as a musical so I get to write a few more songs directly for that. That would be the most fun for me. I’m a sucker for that stuff.”

Higgenson is in fact a sucker for that stuff, having written the song “BFF” for “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical.”

In addition to his Broadway ties, the new album and television show, he also keeps busy with his side project TLB (with brothers Darren and Eric Vorel and T’s bandmate Tirio) and works to mentor up-and-coming artists through his own label, Humans Were Here, which he started in 2017.

The best advice he can offer young musicians: “Put the time in and write something that matters to you. When the Plain White T’s started, I was just writing my first songs. It was like ‘Cat, what rhymes with cat? Hat! Awesome! That’s the song.’ But after I got into a car accident, it made my writing more real, more introspective. I wanted to tell my story and make songs that mattered to me, that I could look back on and say ‘Oh, yeah, I remember going through that in my life.’ And that’s when it really started connecting with people.”

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Plain White T’s “Parallel Universe” release show

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24

Where: Reckless Records’ Wicker Park store, 1379 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, reckless.com

Tickets: Free; see the event page on Facebook for updated information and to RSVP.