Article: Hanson brothers defy odds to carve a pop music niche

By | October 9, 2009

Indy Star

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 is still around, making girls of various ages squeal with its signature blend of soulful garage-rock and boyish good looks.

The band hosts annual songwriting retreats at its 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 also launched their Walk Around the World, an AIDS awareness campaign, last year.

We recently caught up with Taylor Hanson to discuss the band’s Use Your Sole Tour with Hellogoodbye, Steel Train and Sherwood, which stops tonight at the Egyptian Room at the Murat Theatre.

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.”

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?

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 for the first time with Tinted Windows 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. 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.

It seems like they’re taking the opposite path as you, though, when it comes to things like merchandizing 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 . . .