Anyone can be successful. It's what you do with it that matters. For power-pop/alt-rock band Plain White T's, their dreams were answered by a strummy long-distance love paean, "Hey There, Delilah." Calling it a hit is like calling Jupiter a planet. They've been trying to escape its shadow ever since. They're hoping their latest, Wonders of the Younger, led by its equally fetching acoustic ballad, "Rhythm of Love," will help them step ahead.
Though the Chicago-born band seemingly came out of nowhere in 2007 with "Delilah," their success was hard-earned. They'd formed a decade earlier and had already released several albums. Indeed, even the song experienced a long climb. It was initially released on 2005's All That We Needed and turned into a huge Myspace hit with more than a million listens long before Disney subsidiary Hollywood Records signed them and re-released it on 2006's Every Second Counts.
"Just watching the numbers online, they just saw it as an easy win," says lead guitarist Tim Lopez.
Lopez joined the band during the support tour for 2002's Stop. The band shared a manager with the Plain White T's, and when the T's guitarist left, the manager suggested Lopez. He went to an audition, played them one song, and was invited to join.
"At the time it wasn't the most appealing gig. I think they were $60,000 in debt," Lopez recalls. "I wanted to do it because the band traveled like crazy. I had never really gotten a chance to heavily tour, and I wanted to say I had done that before I cashed it all in. It was difficult times ... but it was a good time to join. I got to live in the van and grind it out with the guys for a couple years before 'Delilah' really hit. Earning your stripes is important, and it makes you appreciate it like crazy."
The bar set by the twice Grammy-nominated "Delilah" has been hard to live up to, leading some to peg them as a one-hit wonder. Their 2008 follow-up Big Bad World didn't do nearly as well, and though the single "1, 2, 3, 4" sold over 1.7 million downloads, that's still half of what "Delilah" did.
"We went from our first major-label release, which was a pretty highly polished pop-rock record, to a more stripped-down, live-sounding album," Lopez says, contemplating their misstep. "Sonically, it wasn't the right-sounding record for the time."
But they didn't get discouraged. They returned last December with Wonders of the Younger. Inspired by a trip to Cirque Du Soleil while in Vegas, T's founder Tom Higgenson conceived of an album that reaches back thematically to the innocent joy and adventure of youth. It's more richly textured and eclectic than anything they've released. Lopez contributes his first two lead vocal turns, including their latest hit, "Rhythm of Love," a beach-flavored acoustic number reminiscent of Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours."
The song was penned for a girl Lopez had a crush on in elementary school and dated later in his 20s. As fortune would have it, the toll of touring broke up the relationship, and the song was his failed attempt to win her back. Ironically, the inspiration for "Delilah," cross-country runner Delilah DiCrescenzo, was also not won over by her song.
"I'm never very good with timing, and I wrote it and played it for her once she was in another relationship," Lopez laments.
But he's buoyed by the response to the song, which he hopes marks a new milestone for the band. "I feel like our band lives in a certain niche of the market ... but I feel once we get a couple more people through the door and they see the live show, it'll change some things," he says. "I think we're starting to finally knock away that one-hit wonder title."