Hanson still throws a good hook

By | September 17, 2010

The Columbian

Trio of siblings have built credibility since breaking in as teens

When Hanson became one of the hottest acts on the planet in 1997, they had to fight the perception that they were a trio of child puppets with some Svengali pulling the strings. But the sandy-haired siblings proved themselves every time they “MMMbopped” onstage, convincing even jaded critics that they did, indeed, have chops — and a pop sensibility that was pretty darned irresistible.

Thirteen years later, Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson are now 29, 27 and 24, and all three are married fathers (with darker hair). They’ve also been through the major-label wringer, which they left behind to form 3CG Records in 2003. They’re hardly the flavor of the moment anymore, but they still have chops — sharpened further by time — and an unerring sense of what makes a great pop hook. But perhaps most importantly, they’ve managed to maintain some cred instead of descending into unintentional self-parody, bad rock-star behavior or “where are they now and why should we care” irrelevance.

Need evidence? Just listen to “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’,” the first single from their new release, “Shout It Out.” Or better yet, watch the YouTube video, in which they lovingly re-create a dance scene from “The Blues Brothers” movie, a sendup of the beloved early-era soul music that provides the foundation for their sound.

Or listen to the danceable pop-funk of “Waiting For This” and “Give A Little,” the soulful “Kiss Me When You Come Home” or the gospel-infused “Carry You There.” Hooks abound, and lyrics, too. And according to Isaac, they’re still attracting screaming fans, though perhaps not at the pitch that earned them the dubious distinction of having the loudest concert audiences in history. (We’re not sure if they officially beat the Beatles, but the claim has been made.)

“The intensity level of the crowd is surprisingly fervent,” said Isaac Hanson, speaking from Tulsa, Okla., where he lives not far from his brothers. “There’s a lot of long-term devotion to the music that we make, for which we are profoundly honored.”

The teeny-boppers who fell in love with Hanson 13 years ago apparently have grown up with them — but not outgrown them. This is another testament to their staying power, even though they’re not headlining arena shows these days. And frankly, they’re fine with that. They like being able to go out in public without causing a scene.

“That’s also part of why we stayed in Tulsa. We found a lot of peace and sanity here,” Isaac Hanson said. Though they have a recording studio there, they laid tracks for “Shout It Out” in El Paso, Texas.

“We didn’t want to do it here in Oklahoma with all the distractions,” Hanson said. “We had to separate ourselves physically.”

They spent two weeks in Texas, then overdubbed vocals and horns—the latter arranged by Jerry Hey, whose credits include work with Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones. The band also invited Bob Babbitt, one of Motown’s Funk Brothers, to contribute bass.

“When we made this record, it was a lot like making our earliest records. It felt really natural and free of all the mess,” Isaac Hanson said. “We’d gone through a lot of stuff when we were making, particularly, our third record (‘Underneath’), which is what led us to go independent with that album, and then ‘The Walk’ had all these ties to humanitarian efforts.

“We just felt like it was time to say, ‘You know what, we can do good in the world, we can encourage others to give of themselves to people who are in need, but we can also have fun in the process,’” he said. “With this record, we had had a lot of heavy experiences, and it was time to, shall we say, celebrate life as opposed to contemplate life.”

One experience he’s referencing is the group’s split from Island Records, which had absorbed Hanson’s contract after Mercury Records folded. The group had no support and faced multiple rejections of material before deciding to leave (a saga documented in the film, “Strong Enough to Break”).

Another was his bouts with potentially deadly pulmonary embolisms and surgery to remove a rib that was pinching his arteries against a tendon, causing clots in his arm that traveled to his lungs.

Of course, that scare caused some reassessments of priorities. The album did, too. Hanson said it brought the group full circle, back to the early, pre-label days when it was “just the three of us in a room.”

They produced it themselves, with just a couple of engineers on hand.

“I think it captures a spontaneity and it captures us at our most honest space in a lot of years,” he said. “It’s a very upbeat record.

“We try very hard to make songs that we feel are worth singing. Or remembering,” Hanson said.

Anyone who’s ever hummed “MMMBop” knows they’ve already accomplished that. “Shout It Out” just proves that even though they’re all grown up, they can still write hooks with the youthful exuberance it takes to make them soar.