Hanson: No longer teens, but still plenty of steam

By | August 18, 2010

Pittsburgh Live

When Issac, Taylor and Zac Hanson first emerged as the band Hanson in the late ’90s, they were placed in the same genre — boy bands — as ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys.

Technically, Zac Hanson admits, this was correct: They were boys, and they were in the band.

What he didn’t understand was why people seemed flabbergasted to learn the brothers not only wrote songs, but also played instruments.

“What were we supposed to do, tell jokes?” he says with a laugh.

Hanson performs Friday at the Carnegie Library Music Hall in Munhall.

While so many of their so-called peers have disbanded, Hanson continues to thrive. Now young men — each of the brothers is married and has children, and Isaac, the oldest, turns 30 in November — they have finally shed the label of teen heartthrobs.

Musically, their music also has matured. The new album “Shout it Out” is a sunny collection of pop songs that is distinct from its predecessor, 2007’s “The Walk.” That release was influenced by the brothers’ humanitarian trips to Africa and had a “heavier sound,” according to Zac Hanson.

The new collection of songs is lighter in mood.

“We generally feel it’s a summer record,” Hanson says. “We wanted to make a record that’s exciting and jumps out at you musically.”

The CD booklet art certainly points in that direction with images of boomboxes and cassette tapes evoking the late 1970s and early 1980s. At times, the music has the same kind of feel, with horns augmenting the tracks “Make It Out Alive,” “And I Waited” and “Voices in the Chorus.”

“I think for us the images of this album in particular are extensions of the music,” Hanson says, “and really represent the visual aspect of the art. But I don’t know if we felt it was important to express that feeling; maybe that was just a subconscious decision.”

Throughout “Shout it Out” there’s an undercurrent of R&B music; not surprising, given Hanson enlisted one of the most renowned bass players from that genre, Bob Babbitt, a Pittsburgh native, to play on five tracks.

Babbitt, who has performed with Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips among many others, added a soulful aspect to the music. But unless one is a bass enthusiast, Hanson doubts his contributions will be noticeable, which is how all good rhythm sections function, he adds.

“He has a certain sense of the way the bass should be played, ” Hanson says, “and that is something you’ve learned after playing on as many records and playing as long as he has. It’s not just something you’re born with — it’s something you learn after being in the business for years and years.”

Now, believe it or not, the Hanson brothers have been performing professionally for …. 18 years. The hit single, “MMMBop” was released in 1997. They’ve thrived not so much because of their brotherhood — Zac Hanson quickly points that many sibling acts have fallen apart — but because they’ve never taken success for granted.

“We’ve always, from day one, realized that careers are like rollercoasters,” he says. “You’re on a hill, you go down, you come up a little bit, you go down again. That’s the way it works, and you have to make it through the valleys and support each other. We’ve always known we’re just around the corner from the next dip, and if you make it through that, you’ll have another high.”