Hanson have always handled their detractors with grace, humility and a sometimes shockingly bona fide turn-the-other-cheek mentality. Case in point: In 2005, a long eight years after the release of the ludicrously ubiquitous pop single MMMBop - from Hanson’s 10-million selling third album, their 1997 major-label debut, Middle of Nowhere - there were still those who saw the upside of being a hater.
The student council of McSherrystown, Pa.’s, Delone Catholic High School, for example, in an effort to raise funds for Hurricane Katrina victims, decided to “annoy the money” out of their student body by playing MMMBop continuously between classes on the school sound system. Called “Stop the Bop,” the psychological warfare would only be discontinued once the fundraising goal of $3,000 had been reached. And then Hanson got wind of it.
Rather than circle the band wagons, brothers Taylor (vocals, keyboard, guitar), Isaac (guitar, piano, vocals) and Zac (drums, keyboard, vocals) instead matched the more than $3,000 raised, and then gave each of the 659 students at the school a copy of their 2004 album, Underneath.
It’s a wonderful tale of open-hearted altruism on one hand, and possibly cynical marketing genius on the other. Which is all fine and good. But when the band gets dissed big time, don’t they ever just want to throw down the gloves and kick someone’s a—?
“Ohhh,” laughs Zac, the youngest of the three brothers. “Um, yes. I mean, I’m a dude - of course I want to do that! I’m actually sort of known in the band for being the one that gets in fights. It’s not public things. I don’t go fight Jay-Z or punch a photographer or anything, but if somebody’s going to get in trouble with a police officer or a federal agent on an airplane, it’s me. Because I’m gonna be the guy that’s like, ‘I don’t like this rule, I’m gonna push it.’”
Could brothers Taylor and Isaac step up if need be?
“I think Taylor would do it for the experience, and I think Isaac would be like, ‘It’s too much work to go to jail, and I just pressed my suit, so I’m gonna sit this one out.’”
The brothers Hanson - who all still live, with their respective spouses and children, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they grew up - are a study in single-minded perseverance. Hanson released their first two albums independently, and another five on major label Island Def Jam Records, but were never able to recapture the marketing magic of Middle of Nowhere, which yielded five hits, including MMMBop. Disillusioned, in 2001 the trio started their own independent label, 3CG Records, releasing another three records, including their most recent, 2010’s Shout It Out, and have never looked back.
Shout It Out, and its infectious bordering on contagious lead single, Thinking ‘Bout Somethin - a signature Hanson mix of old soul and pristine pop - takes its cues and pays it dues to rhythm and blues pioneers of the past, folks like Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. To the extent that, in a tip of the fedora to The Blues Brothers, the band reinvented that movie’s classic jive stroll dance number for the video of Thinking ‘Bout Somethin.
“We love The Blues Brothers,” says Zac. “It’s one of the first movies that really connected with us because it’s this amazing combination of bad humour, great music and, well, car chases. So for young guys it was just this perfect thing. (The video) is us recreating one of our favourite scenes from the movie, where Ray Charles starts playing Shake a Tail Feather on the Rhodes. We just sped it up a little bit and it connects almost perfectly with our song.”
Speaking of young guys, Hanson have been performing together for 20 years this year, and they’re still freshly, weirdly post-adolescent (Isaac is 31, Taylor weighs in at 28, and Zac is 26). Perspective check: When the brothers first started playing together in 1992, Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit was still charting around the world. Teen spirit, indeed.
“Yeah, we’re still pretty young,” says Zac. “We’ve been a band for 20 years, and this year I’ll be 27.” An age at which many bands start (or in the case of the aforementioned Nirvana, end).
“What can I say? When we were beginning, we liked these young artists. I mean, how old were Chuck Berry and Elvis and Michael Jackson when they started? They were teenagers and tweens and that was our reference. We were looking at these guys who started extraordinarily young and we just said, ‘Why not?’”
Fair enough. But you were six.
“I was six, yes,” he laughs. “And in truth, I probably didn’t realize I was joining a band at that point. I think I just thought that, ‘Oh, this is fun, I can play GI Joes or I can stand up in front of an audience and they’ll all cheer for me. Realistically, I don’t think I joined the band until I was about nine. You know, consciously. Prior to that I was sort of just there.”
Which brings us back to MMMBop, the music not just of their youth, but that of many millions of fans at one point. It’s a scaled-down but still-loyal tribe that affords Hanson continued recording and touring success. Even if it means having to play, and make like you’re enjoying it, MMMBop every night, right?
“Um … yes,” Zac says, almost convincingly. “The truth is a lot of fans expect us to play MMMBop, but we do it because we want to play the songs that people enjoy. We realize that the connection with the band is based on this music that’s part of their lives, and when you don’t play those songs you’re sort of telling them that that part of their life isn’t important. And that’s turning your back on your fans.”