Plain White T's are back with a circus-inspired sound

For its new album, Plain White T's looked to the circus for inspiration. The French-Canadian circus, no less.

Before he started writing "The Wonders of the Younger," lead singer Tom Higgenson had gone to see "O" by Cirque du Soleil, a show that revolves around a million-gallon pool. Acrobats pull all sorts of synchronized stunts under and above the water.

Higgenson was awed.

"It flooded me with memories of my youth — it reminded me of movies like "The Goonies" and "Back to the Future" and that feeling of 'wow,'" he said. And so he decided to craft the new album around that feeling.

"The older you get, you lose touch of those things," he said.

In support of the album, the band has been on a headlining tour since late January. On Friday, they perform at Rams Head Live.

Not many rock bands would seek inspiration in fanciful clowns and contortionists, much less admit to it. But for fans of the band, Cirque du Soleil seems like a natural fit.

From its first hit, "Hey There Delilah," the Illinois five-member group has the image and sound of an emo-rock boy band: romantic, soft-focused, perpetually in waistcoats.

Though the first album was released in 2000, it didn't produce a major hit until 2007's "Delilah." With its easy melody and hook — "Oh, what you do to me" — it was effortlessly infectious, an earworm in fact.

For a while, you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing "Delilah" cooing from the speakers. The song was ubiquitous, giving the band a solid touring platform.

Though the song was also mocked for some of its hackneyed lyrics — "Times Square can't shine as bright as you," Higgenson croons in the first verse — the singer defends the band's aesthetic.

"We try to come from a place of inspiration; we talk about our lives and what we are feeling and things that are inspiring us," he said.

He also said it's more than just maudlin romance.

"We do it in a way that's catchy and that you can sing along to but also that has a certain emotion behind it," he said. "It's not just a catchy pop song, it has a meaning and it has a reliability factor. [Fans] can feel like 'this is my song.'"

Higgenson said the new album also stems from genuine feelings. Guitarist Tim Lopez wrote the lead single "Rhythm of Love" after he wanted to reunite with an ex-girlfriend only to realize she had moved on to someone else.

"He wrote the song to capture that feeling," Higgenson said.

The album took about four months to record, and resulted in 14 songs. Higgenson said the group was trying to experiment more.

"We try to shake things up from album to album," he said.

For instance, bassist Mike Retondo collects antique instruments, and the band members included some of them in the recording.

Another change in the new album is that guitarist Lopez sings lead on a couple of songs he wrote, instead of Higgenson. "I sang it in the studio a couple of times, and it just didn't have the same emotion, the same punch," Higgenson said. "He just sounded more sincere singing them."

Fans of the band's sound will find plenty to like here, despite the unfortunate alliterative album title. The lead single is a pretty, hazy ballad that goes for sentiment not usually found outside of Hallmark cards.

"My heart beats like a drum," Lopez sings in the lead single. The girl in the song has "blue eyes deep like the sea."

Higgenson said fans are slowly catching on. The show at Rams Head, which should last an hour and a half, will balance the new material and old.

"If you've seen the band before, you're in for a treat," Higgenson said. "We thought about the whole thing more. We thought about the thing more as a show rather than just [to] play songs.

If you go

The Plain White T's perform Friday at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. Call 410-224-1131 or go to