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— by Corey Moss

Either the Plain White T's just had a fight before this interview, or the Chicago pop-punks like to joke around as much as their forefathers in Green Day and Blink-182.

"We actually quit the band just now," guitarist Tim Higgenson deadpanned, pointing to fellow guitarist Dave Tirio.

You Hear It First: Plain White T's
Chicago pop-punks sweat their way to this summer's Warped Tour.

Given, however, that the band is flying sky-high at the moment — with its Hey There Delilah EP hitting stores Tuesday and the Warped Tour on its summer schedule — we're going to assume Higgenson was making a joke about the revolving lineup in the group's early days.

That's ancient history nowadays, as Tirio and Higgenson have solidified a lineup that meshes (and also includes guitarist Tim Lopez, bassist Mike Retondo and drummer De'Mar Hamilton).

"It's all right, we don't really talk or anything, we just play music," Lopez deadpanned again, this time correcting himself. "No, it's great. We love each other a little too much. We're a little too touchy-feely sometimes."

The Plain White T's — named because so many of Higgenson's favorite albums feature the artists wearing plain white T-shirts in their photographs — formed in Chicago in 1997 but didn't get serious until 1999, after Higgenson survived a serious car accident. "I was driving my friend back to college in the band van," the singer recalled. "I don't remember anything, but I guess someone cut me off, so I swerved, ended up flipping over the van, and I guess I was thrown out of the van into the grass median and the van kept rolling."

Higgenson woke up the next day in the hospital but had miraculously broken only a few vertebrae. Still, he was in a back brace for three months and had to learn to walk again.

"It was one of those life-changing things," he said. "And that was when I started writing songs that meant a little more to me. Instead of writing songs just to write songs, I was writing songs that were a little more personal and actually meant something to me. And I think that was a turning point for the band, as far as the way the songs went. And when I got more personal with the songs, they probably meant more to the people too."

Since then, the band has slowly climbed from unsigned local favorites to nationwide indie darlings and one of Fearless Records' premiere acts (alongside Sugarcult and Rock Kills Kid). Through relentless touring and online networking (Plain White T's have nearly 3 million plays on MySpace), the band has built such a devoted fanbase that when a tour van was broken into a few a years ago, fans came to the rescue.

"We borrowed another band's equipment to play a show and we put out a little donation thing by our merchandise and we raised $100 just that night," Higgenson said. "So we set up a little P.O. box and we ended up getting a ton of cool cards and kids were drawing pictures of us. And this one girl sent us $20 that was her allowance for the month."

"Cheap parents, but generous kid," Lopez joked.

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"The cool thing was we got to go through them all and write thank-you notes to everybody," Tirio added. "So now when we see those kids at shows they come up and say, 'Oh, I sent you this when that happened.' It just brought everyone together."

Since then, the T's have been working with producer Johnny K (Disturbed, Simple Plan) on the follow-up to 2005's All That We Needed, due in September. They're releasing Hey There Delilah to tide fans over.

Plain White T's will take a break from recording this summer for half of the Warped Tour, their first time on the road with an actual tour bus.

"It gets hard in a van because you've got no place to cool off," Higgenson said.

"You're trekking your equipment across muddy fairgrounds, you don't get to sleep," Tirio said. "But they have showers, and food, so that gets you through it."


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 "Take Me Away"
All That We Needed
(Fearless Records)
   Photo: Fearless Records