The retro group looks to the future in its music and fundraising for needy Africans.
BY ED CONDRAN
Wichita Eagle correspondent
Every year at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, fledgling artists pop up on street corners to display their talents and, hopefully, attract attention. It was no different in 1995.
That year, a trio of blond boys was among those performing on street corners. The band of brothers called themselves Hanson, and they proved they didn’t just have the pipes, but also passion and determination.
“I remember singing for anyone who would give us a minute at SXSW,” drummer Zac Hanson said in a recent phone interview. “We did anything we could do to move our career forward. We sang at Pizza Huts and, well, anyplace, to further our career.”
Two years after singing for whoever would listen at SXSW, Hanson hit the top of the pop charts with the infectious single “MMMBop,” which led to worldwide commercial success. Hanson was nominated for three Grammy awards in 1998.
“It was unbelievable how well things went,” Hanson said. “It was beyond our wildest dreams.”
But as the group was working on the follow-up to its platinum debut disc in 1999, its label, Mercury Records, got absorbed into Island/Def Jam.
“Ninety-eight percent of the staff left,” Hanson said. “It was the worst promotional experience we’ve ever had. We needed to call our own shots.”
The brothers — including Zac, now 23, vocalist-keyboardist Taylor, 25, and guitarist Isaac, 27 — began recording under their own label. The group is touring behind “The Walk,” its second indie disc.
Not much has changed sonically for Hanson, which will perform tonight at the Cotillion. The group has matured. The songs are clever and well-produced. But what makes the disc noteworthy is that the Hanson songs are as catchy as ever. “Running Man,” “I’ve Been Down” and “Tearing It Down” are anthemic gems.
Thanks to their soaring harmonies and memorable choruses, Hanson sounds more like a retro pop act.
“We come off like a throwback,” Hanson said. “We sound more like a contemporary country act than a rock act. You can’t find harmony in rock or pop anymore. It’s too bad, but that’s the way it is today.”
Hanson also is active in efforts to provide shoes to needy African people, a mission sparked by a 2006 trip to South Africa. The brothers have a partnership with American footwear retailer TOMS Shoes to donate a pair of shoes for every pair sold. So far, 50,000 pairs have been donated.
The campaign has attracted more attention, however, for sparking the Walk Around the World Tour. Before every show, including the one in Wichita, Hanson invites fans to stroll a mile with them barefoot, so they have an idea what African children go through each day.
The brothers, who will meet with those interested in joining them in front of the Cotillion at 3 p.m. Friday, is donating a dollar for each mile they walk.
“It takes 24,902 miles to walk around the world,” Zac Hanson said. “That’s our goal and we’re going to make it. We’re trying to raise money and very importantly, raise awareness for the cause. Sure, what we do is about music, but it’s also about something much more important.”
The band is back at full speed, he said, after coping last year with brother Isaac’s lifesaving surgery for a pulmonary embolism.
“All is good with him these days,” Zac said. “My brother bounced back and we’re all fine.”
If you go
Where: Cotillion, 11120 W. Kellogg
When: 8 p.m. Friday
How much: Tickets $25 at Select-A-Seat outlets, the Cotillion and plant employee clubs, unless otherwise noted. Charge by phone and information, 316-722-4201.