One listen to Hanson’s first hit, “MMMBop,” and it would’ve been safe to assume that then-tweenage brothers Taylor (singer/keyboardist), Isaac (guitarist) and Zac (drummer) were going to be nothing more than a prepubescent pimple on the chin of pop culture—persistent, annoying, but gone in the morning. Guess the joke’s on us: 12 years later, Hanson are still around, making girls of various ages squeal with their signature blend of soulful garage-rock and boyish good looks. How many bands of that era can say the same? (We’re looking at you, New Radicals.)
But that doesn’t mean it’s been all rides in G5s and bottles of Cristal for the tight-knit trio. After disappointing sales of their sophomore album, “This Time Around,” Hanson were involved in a lengthy legal battle with their label, Island/Def Jam—the events of which were captured in the documentary film “Strong Enough to Break”—before eventually being dropped in 2003 and starting their own label, 3CG Records. Through 3CG, Hanson released their next two albums, “Underneath” and “The Walk.” Yeah, that’s right—Hanson knows the meaning of DIY better than half the punk bands on this year’s Warped Tour.
Somewhere amidst the musical madness, each of the bros managed to get married and have a bunch of babies. (Taylor’s in the lead with four, for those keeping track.) The band hosts annual songwriting retreats at their Oklahoma headquarters and even lends out members to participate in side projects—like the alt-rock supergroup Tinted Windows, which featured Taylor, Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha, Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger and Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos.
The brothers Hanson boast some pretty impressive philanthropic work, too. They launched their Walk Around the World campaign last year, which encourages fans and do-gooders alike to take a step in the direction of AIDS awareness by doing something as simple as taking a walk. “We’re a generation that has all these tools and we’re not necessarily using them,” explains Taylor. “Let’s use them! Let’s use the ability to organize quickly, to give money directly, to ask for accountability…. We’ve done so little in the grand scheme of things, but I’ve been so blown away by the amount of people willing to jump on it and take ownership.”
We recently caught up with the overly fertile Taylor Hanson to discuss the band’s upcoming Use Your Sole Tour with Hellogoodbye, Steel Train and Sherwood, as well as how they deal with comparisons to the Jonas Brothers.
Looking into the audience, do you see the same people you did when you first circled the globe? Do they look like they’ve aged, too?
I would be kind of concerned if we didn’t see familiar faces, because I wouldn’t want to be in the kind of band you only see once. Luckily, we have some of the most devoted groups of fans. What kind of freaks me out, though, is seeing new fans and they tell me how old they are and it’s like, “Oh, my gosh. You were, like, three when our first record came out. And you look like an adult now!” I’m scratching my head, thinking, “Well, maybe we have been [a band] for a while.”
How do you keep things fresh so that you don’t end up killing yourselves while playing songs like “MMMBop” for the 14 millionth time?
That’s a really good question. For me, personally, it’s not that hard. It’s been a year since we toured…taking short breaks helps a lot. Zac was doing an interview earlier and he was saying that as you do old songs, every old meaning has a new meaning that really changes the song. The context is totally different. If there does come a day where we say, “Ugh, I really don’t want to play this song,” you just stop and realize it’s not really about that; it’s about the person who’s never seen us play this song or the person who really needs to hear this song tonight.
How was it when you stepped out on stage with Tinted Windows for the first time and didn’t see your brothers playing on either side of you?
Obviously, everyone was totally supportive, but I will say that I had a couple slightly emotional moments when I walked on stage without all of us walking on stage together. Us making music has been such a big part, if not the entire part, of our lives. There were definitely a couple moments when I got goose bumps and thought, “Wow, this is surreal.”
There’s another band of brothers making waves right now—the Jonas Brothers. You and your bros are probably some of the only people on the planet who can relate to what they’re going through. How close is musical history repeating itself?
There are a lot of similarities [between Hanson and the Jonas Brothers] as a pop culture phenomenon; then there’s the whole brotherhood thing and the way they relate to their fans. What they’re doing musically, though, is really different. The similarities end there. It’s hard for any band to survive for years, let alone a band that breaks young—of course, they’re quite a bit older than we were when we first started. I hope, for their sake, they are able to figure out a path that gives them longevity and keeps them afloat. They seem like hard-working, good guys and I only wish them the best.
Seem like they’re taking the opposite path as you, though, when it comes to things like merchandising and their position as princes of the Disney empire.
I will say that I would not have wanted to navigate that path on the Disney infrastructure. I can’t say what that’s like. I hope they’re able to grasp self-control of their careers…
…Before they find themselves in rehab?
Or find themselves walking away with nothing to show for it.
But at least the sleeping bags with their faces on it will keep them warm at night.