If you can believe it, Hanson is all grown up. Those three boys that brought us that song that everyone knows but doesn’t really know the lyrics to are now on their 7th studio album and married with children. The arcade recently got to speak to the eldest Hanson, Isaac, about their inspirations, New Orleans and what “Mmmbop” really means. Be sure to check them out Oct. 30 at the House of Blues.
You’ve evolved into quite a different band since your days as the golden boys of the ‘90s. What has been the best way for you to relate this change to your fans?
People who aren’t familiar with Hanson, and who haven’t been for a few years, would find us to be a little bit more rock and a little bit more organic than they might have thought. But if you follow the records very closely, it’s a pretty natural progression; there’s not some drastic, aggressive jump. Every time you make a new record, it’s just that: a new record. All we’ve ever done as a band is write the best songs we could, in whatever circumstance that was. And in many cases, you try and write a catchy song. But I don’t think that pop sensibility has gone away. I just think it’s an evolution of pop.
What would you say are your greatest strengths, as compared to those of your brothers, when creating a song?
That’s a hard question to answer. Because we’ve been in this band for so long and played together so much, I don’t think we quite realize what the dynamics are in the band. Generally speaking, I think I tend to be a pretty good editor, but I’m not always at the absolute core of the initial idea — I feed off of other things even more than I create them myself. Taylor and Zac are really good with lyrics — Zac in particular. He’s a good storyteller. Taylor has a great pop sensibility and really knows how to find a hook.
When composing songs, what inspires you and your brothers? How does a song come together?
Sometimes you’re jamming together as a trio and something really special happens. Sometimes somebody brings this little kernel of an idea and it blossoms into something beautiful. I think in our particular case, we’re in a unique situation. Because the three of us are, more than anything, singers first and maybe even songwriters before that, the lyrical element is so integral in who we are as people that even though we approach it very differently, when it comes to songwriting, it’s anybody’s guess how it’s going to turn out.
You say that you draw inspiration from classic acts like The Beach Boys and Otis Redding. What was the first song (by any artist) that really struck you?
“Johnny Be Good” by Chuck Berry. It was the first song on a collection of singles from 1958 that my mom had purchased on cassette. I was nine years old when I heard that song, and that was it. You learn a lot about songwriting from something like that.
What has been your personal experience with New Orleans?
I’ve always enjoyed my trips to New Orleans, but particularly in the last few years I’ve gotten the opportunity to appreciate it just a little bit more. I actually met my wife in New Orleans at the House of Blues. It’s such a unique place in the United States, culturally speaking. I really enjoy zydeco music. The rhythms are so great and it’s such a visceral thing — it reminds me of the feeling I get when I hear old rock ‘n’ roll. My impression of New Orleans is that you have to experience it, and you have to enjoy it.
Has the New Orleans music scene had any influence on you?
There’s nothing in particular that has directly influenced me, but I love this collection of music called “Playing for Change” that promotes the music of a New Orleans street singer named Grandpa Elliot. I’ve watched some of his recordings, and he has amazing talent.
Answer the mystery of our preteen years: What is “Mmmbop” really about?
‘Mmmbop.’ The song is about holding on to the things that really matter to you and getting through the rough times. It’s about trying to find relationships that are valuable because they’re the ones that’ll last. You try to ask yourself what you’re really going to be left with, because in an ‘mmmbop,’ it’s all over. I’ve never really gotten into depth on this particularly, but the song stems from the fact that as young kids, we chose music, in many cases, over friendships with people. We felt the challenge in all our lives — of saying, ‘This is something that we love and want very badly and really care about; we feel like this is something that completes who we are as people. But, it’s still a sacrifice.’
Many artists today engage in philanthropic activities to promote the aid of a particular global disease, problem or epidemic. Unfortunately, some do it only as a publicity stunt. How have you been able to translate the validity of your efforts to combat the AIDS/HIV epidemic to your fans?
For us, it’s always been about finding something that we could put ourselves behind for the rest of our lives. It’s been about finding something we could stand by because, ultimately, no one ever cares as much as you do. No one’s ever willing to do as much as you’re willing to do, and you have to lead by example. We’ve found that our walks before our shows have been the most effective way to get through to the outside world.
Tell me about the walks you sponsor as a part of TAKE THE WALK.
We walk one mile barefoot before every single concert and we give one dollar for every person that comes on that walk with us. The walkers then choose where they want their dollar to go: to digging clean-water wells, providing healthcare access, giving shoes or building a school. We’ve walked barefoot all across the United States and Canada, and we’ve done it more than 120 times. I’ve always felt that actions speak louder than words, and that’s why we’re doing it in the first place. And that’s also why we’re giving the dollar: We feel like having people show up is profound. I think our dollar is a way to say “thank you.” It’s a way for us to become connected with the realities of life. There are challenges in front of us. There are challenges in our community, there are challenges around the world and we have to be willing to be slightly uncomfortable when we face them. We have to make sure that in our jaded, over-stimulated and overexposed culture, we don’t become desensitized to our own humanity.