The last time Hanson played Cain’s Ballroom in their hometown of Tulsa, Zac Hanson wasn’t old enough to buy adult beverages at the bar, brother Isaac had only been of legal age a couple of years, and Taylor-in-middle was barely 21.
Yet they were already seven-year veterans of the recording industry, had just established their own label, 3CG Records (stands for Three Car Garage, which is where it all started in T-town), released “Underneath,” their third studio album — not counting holiday and live packages — and Taylor was a husband and proud father of a 1½-year-old baby boy. They had come a long way from “MMMBop,” the infectious pubescent-pop megahit that had made them stars in 1997 at the ages of 16, 14 and 11.
They’re all married with children now. They’ve just released their fifth studio album, “Shout It Out,” and are on a national tour that brings them back Wednesday for their second appearance at Cain’s. This time, the bar will be open to all three of them, should they choose to imbibe.
“We didn’t play a lot of bars,” Taylor Hanson said of the band’s early days, which date all the way back to 1992. “We played everything else and literally anything else. I mean when you’re a local band, you just hope people hear you. You’re just trying to build a little fan base. And so, we played arts festivals, and we even played block parties, and some cases we played outside of bars.”
Their parents, Walker and Diana, were supportive from the beginning. Dad was a “frustrated poet” who worked as an accountant for an oil company so that Mom, who majored in voice on a “full ride” scholarship at North Texas State University, could stay home and raise their seven kids.
Creativity was encouraged in the Hanson household, particularly the musical kind.
“Our parents continue to be huge supporters and facilitators,” Taylor said, speaking from the band’s Tulsa recording studio in a recent phone interview. “We’re all adults now, obviously, but from the beginning they were just right there with us. Our mom would be selling merchandise and trying to help get us another gig. And our dad would be back there at the soundboard, working the sound.”
At home around the dinner table and throughout the house, there was a lot of a cappella harmonizing on 1950s and ’60s rock and R&B classics and gospel tunes.
And the influences of those family singalongs can be heard quite clearly on “Shout It Out,” which serves up Hanson’s signature style of bright pop-rock with a generous measure of soul seasonings. These come in the form of guest artists such as Funk Brothers bassist Bob Babbit, who has played on some of Motown’s greatest hits, and horn arranger Jerry Hey, who has worked with Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and Earth, Wind and Fire, to name a few.
“Musically, every album is a reflection of what’s going on around you,” said Hanson’s lead singer, “and this record is called ‘Shout It Out’ for a lot of reasons. Just that title, it’s a call back to old soul records. The title of the album is reminiscent of Stax/Volt record titles and Motown, and it’s kind of a celebration sort of record. Part of it is really shining a light on our influences from when we started.”
This follows the group’s 2007 album, “The Walk,” which was fueled by a revelatory trip to Africa, becoming a fervent humanitarian call for action coinciding with the organization of barefoot one-mile walks to focus the world’s attention on the HIV/AIDS epidemic and extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.
And between making these two records, with all the activism and taking care of the business side of the band and raising four children of his own, Taylor Hanson somehow found time in 2009 to join a supergroup side project with Fountains of Wayne singer-bassist Adam Schlesinger, Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos called Tinted Windows. That group recorded a self-titled album and even managed a limited tour in spring 2009.
“It’s hard not to enjoy working with people that are friends that bring so much talent in their own right,” Taylor said. “It’s kind of a nice way to be able to stretch your muscles differently.”
But is there really that much difference between these two groups that specialize in power-pop?
“The key difference is the sort of backbeat and the roots of R&B and more old-school rock ‘n’ roll that’s in (Hanson’s) sound,” he said. “There are a lot of terms, but (Tinted Windows’) power-pop sound is more Caucasian, to be honest. It’s melodic songs, it’s hook songs, but it’s guitar-driven. There’s no keyboards. There’s no fat bass backbeat. There’s not a lot of sitting in the groove and thick three-part harmonies. It’s really about that driving guitar riff and a big chorus, but it’s definitely a different breed.”
Taylor Hanson thinks there’s a good chance he’ll contribute lead vocals to another incarnation of Tinted Windows in the future, but for now his full focus is on the family business.
“It’s just one of those things that fits in around our main bread and butter,” he said. “And Hanson is more like the essence of what we are, what I am. And it’s kind of the full plate.”
And it’s a man-sized plate. These aren’t MMMboys anymore.
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