This year’s entertainment at the Ventura County Fair has been a tribute to the bland. With Suzanne Somers presumably extolling the virtues of Thighmasters via song, the only thing for modern music fans to get excited about is Chicago’s Plain White T’s.
The T’s hit big last year with the infectious ballad “Hey There Delilah.” Though the Top 40 radio demographic — a strange collection of soccer moms and office employees — probably thought it was performed by a solo artist, the Ts had been touring relentlessly for years, and their brand new hit song was actually released long before Disney-owned Hollywood Records got their mouse-fueled money machine behind.
The five-piece pop rockers are no strangers to Ventura, having last played a show here in 2004 at a less-than-glamorous makeshift venue. Drummer De’Mar Hamilton caught up with the Reporter to reminisce about that gig and explain the positives and negatives of having a Grammy-nominated No. 1 hit song.
VCR: The last time Plain White T’s played in Ventura, it was at an actual nursery. Now you’re back playing the biggest gig you can do in this town, the Ventura County Fair. That has to be a satisfying feeling.
De’Mar Hamilton: I remember that show! That was a long time ago. Wow. It was that place by the college and there was a rickety wooden stage. The fair’s the biggest show you can play in Ventura? When you put it that way it does seem pretty cool. We’re probably looking forward to it as much as we were about playing the show at the nursery. The crowds get bigger, but ultimately, you’re still the same band playing a lot of the same songs.
You’re one of the few bands in recent memory who released a major label debut that actually had a proper push behind it. With the industry in such a mess and no new rock bands seemingly able to break big, do you feel the success you’ve had is solely the a result of the major label’s backing?
Yes and no. They’re definitely a big part in terms of the size of the success we’ve had. It’s no secret they have the ability financially to get the music out in a way a band on their own just can’t, but we had put a lot of work in before they were involved. So that plays a part as well.
It seems there are a lot of songs out there released on indie labels or by unknown bands that you hear and think, “This could be a hit if it ever got on commercial radio.” “Hey There Delilah” seems to be a testament to that theory.
I agree with you. It wasn’t even on the original pressing of the major label album. It was a fan favorite. It was one of those things, if all the kids are singing this song at the shows and it’s clearly our most popular song, maybe this should be the single. Our fans really were the ones that made that song get a chance. It had already been pushed by our old label [Fearless Records] and never had the success that it did once the major got behind it.
Was it strange, especially as the drummer, to have the massive breakthrough hit for your band be a ballad that has no drums? Does Tom [lead singer and songwriter] come out by himself at the end and leave you guys side stage for the big one?
No. We all play it. The guitars cover the string parts and I had to make up a part, but it’s cool we still all get to play it.
So you guys aren’t in fear of being Goo Goo Dolled and forced to write slow songs for the rest of your career?
[Laughs.] I know what you’re saying. No, we’ll be OK. We’re still a rock band, and I think the new record proves that.
Don’t you secretly wish the hit had been a full-on rock song so you could really tear it up during all those TV show appearances and big outdoor shows like the fair?
Yeah, that would’ve obviously been great. But on the other hand, you’re just happy to have such a big song that gives you the opportunity to play the rocking stuff for a living. I’m not complaining.
Plain White T’s Aug. 7, 7:30 p.m. at the Ventura County Fair 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura www.venturacountyfair.org