One on One: Isaac Hanson “Shouts It Out”

By | July 28, 2010

New Raleigh

The majority of New Raleigh readers likely remember the Hanson brothers as being cute little tweeners mmm bopping their way to the top of the charts well over a decade ago. And a good portion of our readers were also probably old enough to not get caught up in that whole boy band craze (I myself was already in grad school!). Yet, while popular conjecture assumed that the Hanson brothers would be a flash in the pop cultural pan, Isaac, Taylor, and Zac, now 29, 27, and 24, respectively, are not only still recording and touring, but are continuing to branch out into a variety of musical endeavors and styling, and doing so independently, via their own record label.

Fresh off the release of their newest album “Shout It Out,” and Taylor Hanson’s collaboration with the power pop group Tinted Windows, Hanson has recently embarked on the first leg of their nationwide tour. Isaac Hanson, guitarist for the band and the eldest of the three brothers, took a few minutes to talk with us at New Raleigh about Hanson’s newest release, their recent touring experience, charity work, and more.

NR: “Shout It Out” is your fifth studio album since 1997. That’s a pretty long career by anyone’s standards, but especially since you started recording and performing at such an early age. How has your musical styling changed over the years?

IH: We’ve always been heavily rooted in later 50s and early 60s R&B. That was the seminal inspiration for us to create music. Sometimes leaning a little bit more R&B, sometimes leaning a little bit more rootsy Americana. For somebody who is only familiar with our first record, one might find them saying ‘Oh is that the same band?’ The biggest reason someone would say that is because of the perspective that youth provides, meaning the age of our voices might skew someone’s perspective in making them think it’s a lot more different than it really is. I think that ultimately soulful pop rock is what we do and what we’ve always done. I think this record is one of the most soulful records we’ve ever done, with a full horn section, and a very kind of upbeat and groove-oriented album.

NR: The video for “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’” is an ode to the Blues Brothers. Have any particular blues and soul musicians had a great influence on your song writing and performance style?

IH: The Blues Brothers movie and the music in that film were a huge inspiration for us as young kids. People like Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and singer songwriters, like Billy Joel, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Simon and Garfunkel as well as people like even Aerosmith. We’ve hit a lot of different scenes throughout the years on some level, some of the records being a little bit more guitar-driven, a little more rock, a little bit more gospel-infused. We really rediscovered our love for old R&B and it heavily influenced the record. But that being said, there are a bunch of songs that have very strong leanings to groovy versions of people like Billy Joel, because it’s very piano driven album.

(NR: link to video here. And yes, that is Weird Al.)

NR: Taylor recently collaborated with James Iha, Adam Schlesinger, and Bun E. Carlos in the band Tinted Windows. Did that venture have any effect on his work with Hanson? Are there any other side projects on the horizon for you or Zac?

IH: What was interesting actually is that he was working with Tinted Windows while we were working on Shout It Out as well. I would say it had influence but I can’t really point out what influence it really had. On some level where you are and what you’re doing inevitably has some kind of effect but I think more than anything the music styles were so different. One being very much more power pop and our music being heavily keyboard influenced, kind of groove-oriented, with more of a backbeat to it. So the records are pretty different. As far as side projects there’s always a possibility. Before Taylor worked on Tinted Windows music I wouldn’t have necessarily said that would happen. But it’s just one of those things that did, and it was fortuitous, and he had a lot of fun and we were thoroughly supportive of him doing that. It was a great thing for him to do. So, I don’t know. It could definitely happen but no specific plans right now.

NR: You’ve been known to perform covers of artists ranging from Radiohead to the Stones to Christina Aguilera. If you had to pick one song to cover today, what song or artist would you select?

IH: The artists and songs that we have selected have definitely been a strong indication of stuff that we would do in the future. But I suppose that somebody who was unfamiliar with the Hanson show might be a little be freaked out that it ranges from Radiohead to even like Sam and Dave, which is old R&B, or AC/DC, or Christina Aguilera. I think a lot of the stuff we’ve been covering lately has been a little bit more groove-oriented, like “Higher” by Sly and the Family Stone or “Hold On, I’m Comin’” by Sam and Dave. Slightly more R&B-oriented. Those are a couple of examples of what people might potentially expect from a Hanson show.

NR: You experienced immense success when you were very young, which to some extent still defines you today – do you consider “MmmBop” a blessing or a curse in terms of where you stand with your current career?

IH: There’s no question in my mind that “MmmBop” and the early years of our career were an absolute blessing. I can’t say from someone else’s perspective whether or not it would have been a good thing, or bad thing, as far as being young, being in the music business. I can say that we always made decisions or at least attempted to make decisions that would ensure the long term future of our music, and deliberately avoided things that might have made more money initially but that we just didn’t feel like we’d be 100% comfortable with in the long run. We’re always very focused on the music itself and not always so worried about all the other stuff. It was the music that got us here in the first place. What’s getting you notoriety? Your music being heard, your music being purchased. All the other stuff is just a side note, so we made every effort to preserve the music as best as we could.

NR: You had a lot of difficulty working with your previous corporate studio label, which led to the creation of your independent label 3CG Records. How has having your own label affected your creative process, and do you have any advice for other musicians who want to take the DIY route?

IH: Well, the DIY approach is definitely tricky. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not an easy road, but we felt like the only way to preserve the future of the music was to cut ties with the record company that we inherited through a merger and to move forward with the stability and long term control that was provided by having our own record company. We had the benefit of having success and being conservative about where we spent our money so that we could finance the self releasing, and going down the road of not only being in the band but also being the exclusive record company as well.

With regard to advice, all I can say is that as a band you are independent. Nobody else has to live with the decisions that you make the way you do. You will ultimately be accountable for whatever decisions you make in your career. A producer, a label, a songwriter can go on and do other things but you will always be linked with what decisions you make. The internet provides an incredible opportunity to reach fans without having to sign exclusive record contracts that could be potentially limiting. It’s not that signing a contract with a record company is not a good thing. Getting signed is the beginning, not the end; it’s when the work really begins. So you need to know who you are as an artist, know what your goals are and always pursue those goals. At some level you have to be willing to make various compromises, as long as you feel that you’re not jeopardizing your long term career for the future.

NR: On your current tour, you have joined up with OurStage.com to recruit local bands in each of the cities you play in as an opening act. How has that experience been for you guys?

We’re first and foremost just excited to involve local and regional acts in this tour. The future is in providing more opportunities for bands and we’re trying for that to happen, and that can be very rewarding. Look around and see what’s happening musically in your area. There is great music out there to be heard and we want to do our best to provide opportunities for it to be heard and to be found.

NR: You have done a lot of charity work to raise awareness for causes in Africa, including the “Take the Walk” campaign, in which you and others walk a mile barefoot to raise money for HIV prevention, and to provide clean water, schools, and shoes to African children. How did you become drawn to this cause?

We got drawn to the cause with some friends who started a medical technology company and were planning to donate some very cool encrypted text messaging technology to a hospital in South Africa. We were inspired and thought it was a great opportunity for us to go to South Africa, take a look at things, see it for ourselves and hopefully help them out. Needless to say we felt thoroughly inspired. We felt there were a lot of things that we could and should do and one of the best things we could do was encourage people to take action. Because ultimately actions speak louder than words and it’s crucial that we encourage people to wake up to helping out others who are less fortunate.

We ended up launching a walk around the world campaign where people walk with us and we give a dollar for them showing up. We also encourage them to host a walk of their own and we give a dollar for every single person that walks with them as well. The goal has been to make laps around the world and so far we’ve gone around the world twice. A lot can be done and my hope is that there’s more to this than just charity. I hope that there are valuable partnerships on an economic level that are created in the future. There’s something really inspiring about the greater continent of Africa. There are people who actively aspire to a similar concept and reality to the American dream, and I think there’s a lot of potential and kinship between us. So I hope that there’s a strong and positive future.

Hanson will be performing at the Lincoln Theatre with opening acts Rooney and Jonas Sees in Color this Saturday, July 31st. They will also be hosting one of their charity walks beginning at 2:30pm at the Lincoln Theatre on the same day, and all are welcome to participate.