It’s been years since the Plain White T’s kicked off their career in the Chicago suburbs, playing a mix of pop, punk, and melody-­‐driven rock & roll in basements and clubs across the metro area.

A decade-­‐and-­‐a-­‐half later — with several thousand shows and a string of platinum-­‐selling singles, including the mega-­‐hit “Hey There Delilah” (the 18th most downloaded song of all time), under their belts — the guys haven’t stopped heading back to the basement to dream up new sounds. There’s where the Plain White T’s put the finishing touches on American Nights, the band’s first independent album since 2001.

Independence. It’s what American rock & roll — and American nights — have always been about. Even during the band’s days with Fearless and Hollywood Records, the Plain White T’s thrived on doing things their own way. They’d hire close friends to produce their albums and ask high school classmates to direct their music videos. Now, five years after the release of Wonders of the Younger, they’re upping the ante by striking out on their own as an independent band, even putting the finishing touches on their newest album in frontman Tom Higgenson’s basement studio.

The result is American Nights, an album that focuses on everything fans have come to expect from the Plain White T’s — summery anthems, heart-­‐on-­‐the-­‐sleeve lyrics, acoustic love songs — while still breaking new ground. It’s an album about freedom. An album about looking back while still moving forward. It’s also the most collaborative thing the guys have ever done, with three of the band members contributing their own songs to the track list. Higgenson wrote six. Guitarist Tim Lopez, who sang the Top 40 single “Rhythm of Love” on Wonders of the Younger, wrote four. Guitarist Dave Tirio wrote one.

“We had complete freedom,” says Higgenson. “We didn’t worry about figuring out what our label wanted, or what would help us get onto the radio. We weren’t worried about doing too many acoustic songs or too many rock songs. We just wanted to do the ones that told our story. We wanted to be honest, because that’s always been what’s connected us the most to our fans.”

The future looks bright for the Plain White T’s. Even so, American Nights is an album that lives in the present, focusing on what’s happening now instead of what might happen tomorrow. “Pause,” the album’s lead single, urges the listener to live in the moment, while “Stay” finds its narrator prolonging the inevitable end of a relationship, looking to spend one final hour with his partner before the two part ways. The tempo picks up during the anthemic title track, where Higgenson hits the streets of his hometown with a pretty woman in the shotgun seat, and then cools down during Lopez’s “Love Again,” a breezy love song with a melody reminiscent of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” Those two bookends — the epic rock songs and the acoustic-­‐leaning ballads — have always been the Plain White T’s bread and butter, and they’re dished up in hefty servings throughout the album.

“After years, we finally get to make the album that we wanted to make,” Higgenson says. “That’s the most exciting thing for any artist: to have free reign to make an artistic statement. We’re rejuvenated and re-­‐inspired. We’re taking the reins.”

Plain White T’s