Guitarist Tim Lopez speaks on album, tour, honesty and appeal
In anticipation for this year’s UBG Big Event on November 19, I spoke with headliner Plain White T’s’ guitarist/vocalist Tim Lopez. Fresh off the release of the emotionally cathartic video for their latest single “The Giving Tree” (directed by Jason Koenig), Lopez spoke with me about the band’s forthcoming album, musical evolution, and more:
Vidal: Your newest single, “The Giving Tree,” is obviously a very personal song about heartbreak. What are you hoping people are going to take from this song and from your upcoming album American Nights in general?
Lopez: I wrote the song solely for myself at first, and, you know, it’s odd that a lot of times when songs are really personal, they do end up kind of reverberating and working with everyone else just as well. It’s just a very human thing that everybody goes through, with lost love or whatever it is – or falling in love for that matter.
The song, when I wrote it, I wasn’t really thinking, “What are people going to think of this song? Are they going to be able to enjoy it as well?” I was just going through something where I had been through a very difficult break-up. And when the relationship ended, I really was fighting to save it. So I really felt like I was giving everything that I could, and on the opposite end, she was taking in our relationship. And I really didn’t feel like I was getting any of that effort back. So that’s where the initial metaphor for the children’s book The Giving Tree came from …
The more we play it live, the more I can see it is really hitting home with some people. Apparently, in one way or another, people have all kind of experienced that, where they felt like they’ve given to something and not really gotten in return. You know, it’s something that you’ve got to learn to live with in life.
As far as the new album goes, the batch of songs we have this time around are really great. I’m really excited about getting this album out there, and starting to tour and play all of the material in front of our fans.
It’s a very American rock record. [Lead vocalist Tom Higgenson] and I, we do the majority of the writing. Our tunes are coming from different places. Tom is single, and he’s looking for a relationship right now. He’s got some tracks on there that are about him exploring single life again, and then there’s me. I recently began a new relationship, and have some songs about getting adjusted to being in love again and all that.
Vidal: And that’s what a lot of rock ‘n’ roll is about.
Lopez: [Laughs] Love and loss, usually.
Vidal: A lot of your older singles, such as “Take Me Away,” “Our Time Now,” had a lot more of a pop-punk, up-tempo feel. While I don’t feel like you guys have dropped that, a lot of your newer singles, especially from your recent Should’ve Gone to Bed EP, have gravitated toward a more laid back, acoustic-driven sound. Has this been a conscious decision or a natural evolution?
Lopez: You know, I think that the band – since its beginnings – has always had an acoustic outlet or two on every album, all the way back to [2002 sophomore album] Stop … Ever since [2006 mega-hit “Hey There Delilah”], the types of tracks that are really resonating with people are our acoustic love songs. It’s not that we have taken the band out of the rock realm. There are definitely up-tempo rock songs on the current album, but what seems to work for us on radio and with the masses is the acoustic love song. Maybe it’s just because they’re very, very honest moments in our songwriting.
Sometimes, when you’re sitting there and you’re bashing it out on an electric guitar, and everything’s really rock ‘n’ roll, it’s tough to get all that sentiment. With the energy of the music come an energetic lyric and a different style of song. But we haven’t left behind the rock ‘n’ roll roots at all …
[The band’s sound] has just grown up as we get into our 30’s. Obviously you want to love your own material, and you also want your material to live on forever. So you start seeking out, “What is a timeless sound for me?” And you just try and find yourself in your writing.
Vidal: On the subject of your stylistic maturation, a lot of people at this college show likely remember “Hey There Delilah” from their high-school years. Naturally, your lyrical material has gotten more mature as the band has grown up, and the audience has grown up with you. What are you guys doing to bridge the gap with an audience that’s also gotten older?
Lopez: It’s tough, because you can’t spend too much time thinking about what your audience is looking for. It’s not out of disrespect for the audience, and what they’ve come to love about your band, but every artist has to grow. Obviously, you don’t want to leave your fans behind. But I feel like what we do best is write purely from our own experience, from the heart. I feel like we never lose, doing songs that way. We can stylistically change now and then, but as long as the song sounds pure, then I think people will gravitate towards it. That’s what always kind of works for us.
Vidal: Now about the show on November 19th. What do you guys think is the importance of making musicians such as yourselves available to Midwestern college students who might not have the access to see such live music otherwise?
Lopez: I don’t think we prioritize any city or demographic or anything like that. I feel like stopping in every small town is just as important as hitting the major cities. Music is for everybody.
Getting a chance to play in front of your guys’ college is going to be an awesome opportunity, and we love college shows. At those gigs, there’s more of a chance to hang out with the students, and not just get off stage and go back to a bus. We get a chance to mix it up, and we’ll probably be hanging out all day around the area. It feels like you’re more in touch with the audience when you’re at a show like that.
Vidal: What can our readers expect from the show?
Lopez: I think the misconception with our band a lot of times is that we’re, you know, a “soft rock” band … We’ll take our moments for acoustic songs, and play the songs that have done really well for us, but you can expect a high-energy rock show. We just try and bring the albums to life.