Tim Lopez went from living in a van with his bandmates, traveling around trying to make it, to being a certified pop star looking for love on a major network dating show. But even now, he hasn’t forgotten the lessons learned bumping along in that humble vehicle.
“There’s something about constantly fighting to stay on top. We worked so hard for our first song, and when we got a taste of that success, we never want to have that fade,” says Lopez, whose former van-dwelling band Plain White T’s jumped into the public consciousness with the catchy “Hey There, Delilah” and followed that up with equally sublimely hummable hits.
“You work your whole life, and stumble on a song people want to hear,” says Lopez, whose band comes to Mizner Park Amphitheater on Saturday. “There would be nights where it would be a merch girl and five guys in a van, sleeping in truck stop parking lots with the heat blasting just to stay warm. It was not glamorous. Living in a van gives you respect for what it took to get you there.”
Although “Delilah” became a huge hit in 2007, a year after its release, Plain White T’s are no overnight success, having burned a lot of nights in indie clubs, and in that van. They were formed a decade earlier outside Chicago by a group of high school friends, including lead singer Tom Higgenson. Lopez joined the band in 2003, around the same time Higgenson wrote the band’s breakout song after meeting national track star Delilah DiCrescenzo and was inspired to create a wistful (and completely imagined) story of a long-distance love affair between a New York student and a dedicated man paying “the bills with this guitar.”
“We were just grateful, and anxious to follow it up,” Lopez says. “There was a fear of following it up, and never being able to replicate it. Not everyone can write a number one hit, and this was a massive hit.”
Having that massive hit made it easier to write a new one, because “before we would have to write an entire album on the road, and be gone on tour 11 months. At that point you don’t have the luxury to take a break,” he says. “At that time Tom was writing the majority of the songs holed up in hotel rooms or in a room at the venue. With more success, it affords you a little more luxury to tell the label, ‘I’m not finding all those same inspirations on the road’ so you can concentrate on the next album.”
Plain White T’s did indeed follow up that hit with equally sweet, acoustic hits, “1-2-3-4” and “Rhythm of Love,” the latter written by Lopez. He admits that after “my first attempt at following up a successful single, I got into a sophomore slump. I struggled with it a little bit, with a little bit of writer’s block. But I wanted to contribute. I just sat staring at a blank wall thinking ‘What the hell do I write about?’ I felt like I needed to have a guitar in my hand.”
It was clearly time for a break, which is where “Ready For Love” came in. Produced by actress Eva Longoria and hosted by celebrity couple Guiliana and Bill Rancic, NBC promoted it as an alternative to the usual TV dating show. Its bachelors were all successful, attractive guys, including Lopez, who submitted to the advice of professional matchmakers who hand-selected women for each of them. The most obvious question is why a cute guy with a successful band needed to meet women on TV. But Lopez, an amiable and honest sort of fellow, has an answer.
“It seemed really fun!”
Well, there’s that. Continue.
“It’s not like I could have told my bandmates ‘I’d like to date some girl for a while, so I‘d like you guys to stop working for three months,’” Lopez says. “I really liked the idea of a matchmaker. When I went home over the past year and would go to bars with my buddies, the idea of meeting someone … the allure was there. I would go out and be the shy guy. You’d point to a girl and say ‘She’s really cute’ but then just sit there sipping on my Miller Lite and not even talk to her.”
Lopez admits that at one point he’d even filled out the incredibly long eHarmony questionnaire, but never followed up on it. Basically, “I knew I was looking for something pretty serious, but just wasn’t coming across the right girl.”
Lopez loved being on the show, even though “NBC didn’t love it too much,” cancelling the broadcast and relegating the leftover episodes to its Web site. If you check it out, you’ll see Lopez finding love, although “I’ve been sworn to secrecy not to tell her name. But it was all worthwhile. It’s all gravy.”
WRMF’s Party in the Park with Plain White T’s, Ginny Blackmore and Churchill:
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Mizner Park Amphitheatre, Boca Raton. Information: WRMF.com