Who would have thought, the group behind such upbeat, poppy hits such as such as “Hey There Delilah” and “Rhythm of Love” once nearly got thrown out of Epcot for smuggling beers into a green room fridge?
It turns out the Plain White T’s have just as much fun performing music and fans have listening to it. That’s partly thanks to an affinity for beer. Lots of it. Whether they’re on the road or on stage, chances are good you’ll find a High Life in the hands of the group’s five members.
One of those is De’Mar Hamilton. The Chicago native has been the band’s drummer since 2003. We met at the Map Room in Chicago to knock back a beer or two. And, yes, he was wearing a plain white t-shirt while we did so.
What are you drinking?
I got the Deschutes. No, I didn’t get that. OK, I got the Duchesse de Bourgogne. I don’t know if I said it right. Red ale blended from eight- and eighteen-month-old beers and aged in oak barrels. It’s pretty good. I’ve never had anything like this. It’s sweet but sour but very drinkable. It’s almost like juice. Beer juice.
Which beers do you usually drink?
Definitely not this. No, they don’t come in a chalice. I usually stick to the American classics. Maybe not all American classics, but also Mexican classics. I just like simple beer – pilsner, lager, cheap is fine. It’s so funny because I used to be so against PBR, but now I drink it with no problem.
Why did you beer preferences change?
I think it’s age. When I was younger, I went though the whole IPA phase. I drank a lot of IPAs all the time. Maybe too much, you know. Then I stopped drinking beer for a while. When I started again it was Coors Light. Those beers were just fine. I still dabble. But now, I’m kind of trying to try things.
How did you get involved with music?
I got involved in music because of church. My dad was a musician. He played organ and piano. My mom was a singer. So I started very young playing drums in church. I think I was just born to do it. I was about 14 was when I discovered and joined a punk band. I didn’t even know what punk was. I just thought, let’s give this a shot. That’s the start of me entering the industry in a way. That band led to another Chicago band, Knockout, which led to Plain White T’s.
And when did you start drinking beer?
I think my first ever taste of a beer was probably a Red Dog. I don’t even know if that beer is made anymore. It has a red dog on it. I would like to try that beer now. I bet it’s so terrible. I think that’s the first one I ever had a sip of.
It’s funny how people say, your first sip, no one liked it. I don’t think I did, but I can remember, specially, when I had my first IPA. It was a Sierra Nevada and I remember a friend gave me part of a six-pack. And I remember thinking this is so bitter. But I thought the people who gave it to me were cool, so maybe they were on to something. To go back and drink that beer now, it tastes like water.
What are you drinking when you’re on the road?
Beer, with us, as a group, is funny. We don’t go on stage without having a beer. So, in the shows where they don’t provide alcohol – like a college show or something, where there’s no beer allowed – we always have beer. We always carry it in.
We did get caught at Disney World, which is crazy, because some lady went into our room and opened the fridge and was like, ‘They have beer.’ It’s funny because, we play at Epcot sometimes, and you can’t drink on stage or in the back because employees are there. They can’t have alcohol, but right outside it’s all alcohol. So, now, what we do when we have to play there is, in between sets, we run out and chug these big beers.
So beer is pretty important, even today at sound check, I walked into the venue and everyone had a beer. Then I sat in the dressing room and was like, ‘I shouldn’t be having a beer, I haven’t even eaten today.’ So, we drink beer a lot. Our rider has two beers on it: Miller Lite and High Life. And the High Life’s on there because I’m sick of Miller Lite.
Why those beers?
Those beers are drinkable, easy and light. Something about classic beer like that, like a Budweiser, what more do you need? It’s perfect. When we did put IPAs on the rider, back in the day, the bus would just be filled with IPAs. No one would drink them. People would get mad and be like, ‘Can’t we get normal fucking beer out here?’ We’d have some porter, some crap. It’s so true. We hated that. So, we cut it out, no more micro-brews, none of that shit. Then it was just Miller Lite.
As a Chicago native and Chicago band, when you not drinking your Miller Lite, what local beers are you drinking?
I really liked Three Floyds. It’s so funny, now I think about having this beer and I’m like ‘eh.’ Zombie Dust, I used to love that. Gumball Head, back in the day, it was Gumball Head non-stop. Remember how you couldn’t get it and it would sell out and shit, it was this crazy thing? It’s so funny, now, I don’t really like Gumball Head. Why was I so obsessed with this thing? There’s another brewery, Two Brothers, I like their stuff. The only other ones I think of is Goose Island. Are they still cool? Sofie is the shit. Matilda. Any of those, I’m in.
How does the beer scene compare in Los Angeles?
There are a few [breweries]. Golden Road is decent. The beer scene in L.A. is OK. It’s just OK. There are some breweries, but not like Chicago, Philly and Colorado where it’s beer, beer, beer. Just breweries everywhere.
When you tour, are you able to explore other cities’ beer scenes?
Sometime we do get to explore a little bit. A couple days ago we were in Ft. Collins, because we were playing New Belgium’s Tour De Fat. They were like, ‘Hey, why don’t you come to the brewery and we’ll give you a tour?’ It was great, it was amazing. I always shat on Fat Tire, but it’s like the first beer that you drink when you start going for micro-brews. I feel like it’s the entry level – everyone’s first non-normal beer.
To have a Fat Tire, from there, fresh, was more of an experience. Also, trying all their other beers, I was impressed. So, yeah, we get to do that a little bit. I have friend who works for a brewery outside of Philly called Neshaminy Creek. They make amazing beer. It was nice when I got to go there, I got to go on that tour.
How is different performing at a beer festival like Tour De Fat compared to other festivals and concerts?
It’s really not that different except you just can ask for beer on stage. ‘Hey, this is a beer fest, why don’t we have beer up here?’
It’s simple yet effective yet very tasty. You will always go back.”
What are some of your favorite places to perform?
The big cities like Chicago, L.A. and New York, I don’t have fun playing those places. Playing in Columbus, Ohio or something is more fun. I think because [big cities are] a lot of pressure. It’s a hectic day, there’s a lot friends, there’s a lot of things going on. I also love any time we get to travel outside the country and play Paris or London. We got to do some really cool Navy entertainment tours and traveled all over the world. The coolest was when we got to travel all over Japan. Getting to experience and play music in those kinds of places that you never thought you’d go is cool.
If you had to pick a beer to pair with you music, what would it be?
Budweiser. Budweiser, done.
Because it’s timeless. It will never go out of style. That’s how we honestly view our music. That’s why the name of the band is Plain White T’s. A plain white tee is iconic and classic. We would like our music to be that way. We think about that when we write music, because we want it to feel that way. I think we somehow managed to achieve that, which is cool. Man, I would say Budweiser, the king. It’s simple yet effective yet very tasty. You will always go back. Who’s like, ‘I don’t like Budweiser?’ Nobody.
As a band that’s been together for 20 years, how has that experience changed over time?
I think there was a period in the beginning when it was a struggle. I still feel like now, it’s still a struggle at times and that’s why we’re still together. We’re always continuing to claw at everything we have to do. It’s ok because we’ve always been the underdogs, but we just try to stay. We had a manager who said to us, ‘If you want to be successful, just don’t break up.’ That’s all we have to do.
For me, I’m inspired by The Rolling Stones, U2 and these bands that have been bands forever. That shit’s achievable. What’s changed is, now, it’s a little easier. Because we’re older and more mature, we’re all more respectful, but we still enjoy doing it. This is how we provide for ourselves and I feel like I’m shocked that it has lasted this long. That makes me never give up. Just keep on doing it. We can. There’s no reason why not.
What are your plans, as a band, for the future?
We’re getting ready to make a new album. We’re trying to find a producer. Also, we need to get more songs put together. We have shows to keep us busy. Our guitarist actually, he was here today, but had to go home because he’s having a baby. It’s crazy right now. But it’s good, because they’re happy, and we can start getting into the studio.
Can you drink beer and play the drums at the same time?
I can’t physically do that at the same time. I can one hand and drink a beer, yes, but I don’t often try to do that. There are a lot of times in a set when I don’t have to play one part of a song, so I definitely drink my beer.