Really all you need to know is that this interview is with Zac, the youngest brother of Hanson. If seeing the word “Hanson” here means something to you, read on because you’ll probably be surprised by how much you didn’t know about this group and how far they’ve come since “MMMBop.” If Hanson doesn’t mean something to you, read on because you clearly have been living under a rock and need to become aware. Plus, this interview has a dance off challenge.
Bethany, PopWreckoning: You guys are about to start your “Use Your Sole Tour” and it is kind of like a themed tour. Can you kind of just talk to me about that theme and tell our readers what it is all about?
Zac Hanson, Hanson: Yeah. The reason we call it the “Use Your Sole Tour” is because we’re continuing our different walks that we’ve done as a tool to talk to people about what is going on with AIDS in the world and to fight extreme poverty, particularly in Africa. We’re continuing that and we’re partnering with a shoe company called Toms. We’ve been partners; we’ve been always supported through them. They’re taking a more active role in this tour. They’re really just wanting to be a bigger part of what we’re trying to do. That’s why it is called the “Use Your Sole Tour” because we’re still doing these one mile barefoot walks before every concert. We’ll be at colleges or in front of the venues doing these walks.
It is a tour obviously about playing music. We’ll be playing new music from our record that is going to come out in the spring of next year. It is also about doing good with your life and the opportunity to use your influence on the people around you and just do something good. It isn’t mandated, we just have the opportunity and we wish to feel empowered, too.
PW: How exactly do the walks work? Is it like each person shows up and for each person that does Toms donates x to poverty in Africa?
ZH: The walks are, for every person that walks a mile, they register at the end of our walk. We donate a dollar to one of five causes. One is Toms, who supplies shoes. One is to clean water wells. One is providing medication for anti-viral drugs for AIDS. One is donating to this technology company that helps connect the patient to the doctors through cell phone technology. One is schools to help educate kids and give them an opportunity to not fall into the same situations and to better themselves to become doctors and entrepreneurs and really treat them, teach them of the effects of AIDS and not fall into the same stereos that many people around them have.
As far as the giving of the shoes, that’s how we give money and get them. It is not as simple as just giving money, but the point is to tell people about it and show them what they can do and that there is a monetary value to their efforts. It is [worth] much more than a dollar when somebody comes out and they feel passionate about it and they use their influence to tell their friends and people around them. It is a way to show them that hey, you need to walk because it can have this effect.
PW: And you guys have been really active. You’ve even gone to Africa and you had a choir there sing on one of your songs. How did these issues become so important to you? Or was it just somebody saying you guys should pick an issue because you’re celebrities?
ZH: It was 100 percent not that. Through our entire career, we’ve purposely have not been in the public eye with the charities and things we’ve supported. What we have supported we’ve done quietly at the back of the room. A couple of years back, we had these friends from Oklahoma that developed this cell phone technology. They told us about it and they told us some of the effects it could have and then they told us they were going to give it away. And we were like wow.
It just seemed like something we wanted to be involved with and understand more. So we went to Africa. This was while we were making the last record, The Walk. We were there and we had been working on the record in Oklahoma. When we went we just decided that maybe we could do some recording there. That was where the whole process kind of happened for us. We ended up at several orphanages, hospitals and hospices and recording it and just trying to learn and figure out the course of AIDS: where it is, what we can do and what role one can have. Basically, the conclusion we came to was that we needed to take the same stance that our friends with the technology had taken.
We have tools, let’s start using them even if they aren’t that great and the end all solution that we wish they were. That’s why we recorded this choir and trying to get with our music and use the influence that we have to tell people about it and that it is an important issue. Ultimately, AIDS is going to change the world; it already has. It is up to us with how that is going to change the world if we as a generation take on this disease that is affecting millions and millions of people and creating orphans and broken families and killing parents and killing babies or is it something we as a generation will look back and say we should have done something about it.
I think one of the biggest thing with AIDS is that there is the medication to help people live healthy lives with the right kind of education and in some cases assistance. There are so many tools for people not to attract this virus. We can use what we have as a generation. We have all these tools and the ability to reach across the planet and take action immediately. We can do something immediately.
It is not something we need to wait for our government to do or somebody to mandate or a tax plan to give this much money to some organization. It seems like it is something that will really be affected by a natural grass roots approach to making a difference. We need to just do what we can, one step at a time. Maybe that’s just in your local community. Maybe that’s in giving your time and flying halfway around the world and working in a hospital and starting a clinic. It can be any of those things. The way we are going to make a difference is just by relying on ourselves to take a more personal motivation.
PW: Perfect answer. I love hearing that is just something that moves you and not just celebrity obligation because you hear about people like Jolie and Pitt going, which is fine and dandy, but how real is that?
ZH: Right. And to be honest, that issue almost…we really struggled with that for a long time. We never wanted people to think we were doing it because it is a popular issue and we wanted our face on the One campaign. There is nothing wrong with the One campaign. It is a great thing. But a lot of people don’t feel that is genuine and this is a very personal thing for us. It is not an issue that you can be that way with. It is people dying so you don’t want to joke or try to profit off it. It is a real world problem that we felt was important and something that we can make a difference in.
PW: And you guys are taking a really innovative and fresh approach with the barefoot walk and you are trying to walk a mile in another’s footsteps and understand what those people are going through and even trying to get others to understand that. I can only imagine the condition your feet are in from all those walks.
ZH: They have very large calluses. One thing I will say is that people need not fear needles, broken glass and razor blades on the streets. I hear that a lot, surprisingly. Everyone thinks that there are razor blades and needles and glass just all over the streets in every city of the country. We have very clean sidewalks, vying a few spots in the country, you are in very little danger. Assuming you don’t drag your feet, you’ll be just fine.
PW: Cool. We can move on from that one. Let’s talk about your DVD, Strong Enough to Break, which is out on iTunes, but you’re getting ready to actually release as a hard copy.
ZH: Yeah. Strong Enough to Break is a documentary made about the album Underneath, which was two albums ago. The documentary was never intended to be about the music industry. It was supposed to be about making music and showcasing us as a band: writing songs; showing fans what we do; giving people an intimate look at making an album. It really didn’t end up being that even though we set out to make that film; it ended up being trying to get a record made at all. So what we did with that film was after it was finished, we went to colleges and talked to music business students and people that were studying entrepreneurship and things like that. Just to talk to them about what the music industry is and where it is going and where it has been and what we think is wrong with it. That’s become the focus of the film.
We wanted to show people that our story wasn’t unique, but very common and what many, many, many bands are going through. It has been around. We put it out for free and it was on our podcast streaming on iTunes. People can find it on YouTube and find it in parts. We more so just wanted something people can find because it is very informational. It is entertaining, you can sit and watch it as a film, but it gives people a real honest and not affected look of what bands go through and some of the things that are really wrong with making albums in a major music industry today.
Finally, what we’ve done now, is release the film through Hanson.net. We’ve added a bunch of demos that were done during the process for the people that go, “What did this music sound like that the label was hearing?” They can hear 15 of the demos we did and hear a director’s commentary and extra footage. We talk about the film and give people a little more insight about why we were mad about this or what was going on at that time. We talk about songs and the extra footage.
PW: Do you think with all you’ve seen in the music industry and kind of growing up in it, do you ever consider what would have happened had you been trying to enter the music industry now and in this day and age?
ZH: Yeah. That’s a hard thing. It is not the best time to be in this business. In some senses it is a great time because there is an opportunity for something new to revitalize the music industry as a whole. It is not a business that is thriving with people succeeding and getting raises out the wazoo and bands are selling millions and millions of copies. That’s not happening. I don’t know if I would do it if we were just starting out now and we were younger guys starting off in music.
The reason we started off in it in the first place was because of the music. How could it not be a much harder time to be in a business than it was then? We came out kind of the last breath of a really healthy music business. Catalog sales were up of old records being reprinted from vinyl to CDs/compact discs. The issue of mp3s and Napster hadn’t really come about yet. There really was a corner on the market at that point.
Since then, there have been so many changes that were good and changes that were bad and since then changes that make it more difficult because the attention of the fan, the music fan or consumer, is much smaller. They have a rough time to focus on you because there are thousands and thousands of records being released every year.
PW: So you said your new album is coming out in Spring 2010?
ZH: Yeah. We haven’t set a release date yet. It is probably going to be late first quarter or early second quarter.
PW: But it is pretty much done? What can people expect from this new album?
ZH: As usual, it is Hanson. If you like The Walk or Underneath or Middle of Nowhere, you’ll probably like this record, I think. But as every record has been, it is an evolution, it changes and is a new thing to be excited about. We never feel comfortable sounding the same every time and we always try and push ourselves as musicians with each record.
This record is more piano-based, particular more than our last album, The Walk. It is focused on the play back and forth between guitar and piano and focuses on the line of what the piano is doing making it more of a pop record. Not pop in the way a lot of people think of it. I mean pop in the way of the Beatles, Billy Joel and even Ben Folds if you want to say that’s pop.
The way I look at pop is different than the way you might think. It is a record that is let loose a little. There is a sense that we’ve been here a long time and we’ve survived a lot of different situations and I guess I mean there’s more of the excitement of wow, we’ve done a lot and look what we’re going to do next. Not necessarily, whoaaa, we made it another milestone, I’m so tired, but we’ve survived. Not that kind of thing.
PW: Speaking of pop music, Taylor just did this side project as Tinted Windows. What did you and Isaac do during that time period and do you guys do side projects at all?
ZH: He did that record over about three years. He actually made it in little weekend stints while we were working on other Hanson projects. We’re always working on this or that, whether writing for the band or whatever. We have aspirations to do all kinds of things, so mostly just keeping wheels turning.
PW: Yeah. Plus you all have families now. How has that changed band dynamics now that it isn’t just the Hanson brothers, but Hanson brothers and company on the bus?
ZH: I don’t know if it has so much changed the dynamics of us as a trio. It just means there is less time in the day, and with good reason, there is less time in the day. You have other things to focus on and you want to get home at night.
It makes the tour bus a lot more cramped. You’d rather have your family on the road and be cramped than no family at all. It is good. It definitely, there is a little different reason to write songs a little bit and be inspired. It is just a good thing in life. It doesn’t necessarily change us as a band, it is just adding more to who you are and what you have to write about.
PW: As three brothers in the music business, what do you think of the Jonas Brothers phenomenon in pop culture?
PW: They referenced you guys in a song, too, something about popping and locking.
ZH: I know. I don’t know really know anything about them.
PW: Could you take them in a dance off?
ZH: Yes. I accept.
PW: You’d accept their challenge?
ZH: I’ll take all three of them on.
PW: Alright. Let it go on record. I want to see it. I want video rights to that.
ZH: I want to see it, too. Like I said, I don’t know any about those dance moves, but I will learn. Is it in Jamaica they do the battle dancing?
PW: I’m not sure. I’ve usually just seen it in movies with breakdance battles.
ZH: I will breakstep and battle and it will be crazy.
PW: Awesome. I do want to see that. For a final fun question: I don’t want to ask you something generic about “MMMBop,” but it did make you famous and put you in the limelight of pop culture, I guess out of all the pop culture references to you, is there a favorite or one that made you say, “Wow, we’ve made it?”
ZH: I think references on “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy,” those are huge. Probably one of my favorites, were a couple of the “MadTV” skits. They did one and it was supposed to be like 2017 and they did our new single and called it “Ling Ling,” you can look it up on YouTube, but that one I thought was incredibly funny. They got certain aspects of our personality really right.
It is a character, but there were certain things like little twitches where I was like, “Wow.” They really sat in front of interviews of us and watched and studied. They did their job well in that one. Also, doing the “Saturday Night Live” skit with Will Ferrell, it is hard to live that one down.
PW: That’s awesome. I’m glad you guys are so good-humored about it.
ZH: Yeah, whatever. Satire is the greatest compliment. I’m just glad people know who we are for our music. When people think Hanson, they think about our songs. They think “MMMBop.” There are a lot of musicians out there, particularly I think of the young Disney Channel stars now, and people don’t know them for their music. What does Miley Cyrus’ song sound like? I don’t know. I have absolutely no idea. No offense to the Jonas Brothers, but I have no idea of any of their songs. Absolutely none. I couldn’t sing a song if my life depended on it.
Thankfully, we weren’t a part of the Disney Channel, so people didn’t have any opportunity to know us for anything except for being a band. To be a young guy, I was 11, 12 when we accepted our first Grammy. To be a 12-year-old and nominated for songwriting is pretty awesome. We are super proud of that stuff.
“MMMBop” doesn’t represent what we sound like now or what we’re writing about now, but we’re still super proud of that song to play.
PW: It is a smart song and has great hooks.
ZH: It is funny—awhile back, somebody asked me about playing “MMMBop” and they said Mick Jagger said he would rather die than still be singing “Satisfaction” when he was 45. Then they were like will you still play “MMMBop” when you’re 45, which is like 22 years from now. The thing about that song in particular, because of what is about, if you read the lyrics to “MMMBop” it is all about how so many things in life are fleeting and you have to really hold on to what matters. Most people don’t know that about the song because they didn’t take the time to read the lyrics.
I think for all the fans of that song and for us, every time we sing that song, one more year goes by and we’re still singing it. That song has continually changing meaning of oh yeah, we are what mattered. The audience say that to us and we say it. Of the things that mattered in life you were one that I cared about, but that’s not what matters now, but it is something I’m going to shows for and still buying clothes for because you’re a band and still relevant to my life. It is like this ultimate, really cool compliment to still be singing that song now or even then.
PW: Thank you so much. You had great answers. I look forward to seeing the Jonas Brothers dance off. Start practicing.
ZH: I look forward to seeing it, too. Nice talking to you.