Hanson giving local artist the stage

By | September 23, 2010

The Salt Lake Tribune

When Salt Lake City musician Cameron Rafati tells people he will be opening for Hanson at a Sept. 30 show, some chide him for being associated with the band that unleashed “MMMBop” onto an unsuspecting public.

But Rafati shows no fear about being on the same stage as Hanson. “They’re brilliant songwriters,” he said.

Rafati’s opinion is shared by many who first fell in love with the blond-haired trio of squeaky-clean brothers in 1997 and who have continued to watch the band develop into talented craftsmen of blue-eyed soul over the years. Hanson today is not the Hanson of 1997.

The Oklahoma boys — Isaac is 29, Taylor is 27 and Zac is 24 — experienced a wave of success 13 years ago that even Justin Bieber hasn’t seen, when the irresistible Dust Brothers-produced “MMMBop” was one of the biggest debut singles of all time, eventually becoming No. 1 in 27 countries. Nobody knew what the heck the pop-rock song was about, but like “My Sharona” and “Louie Louie” before it, the song’s lyrics were impossible to not sing (or at least make up words to):

In an mmm bop they’re gone.

In an mmm bop they’re not there.

In an mmm bop they’re gone.

In an mmm bop they’re not there.

Until you lose your hair. But you don’t care.

The spotlight has dimmed for those searching for the next big thing, but over the years, the brothers have continued to write, record and tour. While each is under 30, they have been in the music business for more than a decade and a half, and have become a respected pop-rock band that has embraced styles of soul and R&B that were in vogue before they were born.

“We joke that we’re a ’70s rock band,” said Taylor in an interview. Shades of midcareer Billy Joel and Steve Winwood show up in the trio’s new album, “Shout It Out,” released in June.

“It’s a little more R&B, more organic than our last record,” Taylor said of “Shout It Out.” “It’s a pop, summertime, engaging record that invites people in. … The record has a feel to it, [with] the horns making an exclamation point. Sometimes, subtlety doesn’t get noticed.”

Ever since the boys — I mean, young men — established their own record label in 2003, the brothers have been interested in giving unsigned bands chances to show off their talent, which explains the contest that led to Rafati opening for Hanson at the band’s Salt Lake City tour stop.

Hanson and website OurStage.com held an opening-act competition for each of the 34 dates of the tour, designed to allow local up-and-coming artists the opportunity to perform onstage before Hanson. Each of the acts is also invited to be featured on a nightly live-streamed interview and acoustic performance with Hanson at each of the dates, to be broadcast at www.Hanson.net/alive. The competing artists were chosen by fan vote.

“With this record, the idea of art and expression and breaking the ice was the theme,” Taylor said about the contest. “We’ve seen thousands of bands submit [applications].”

Then he joked, “To a degree, you’re taking a risk, like maybe there isn’t a good band in this town.”

He was not referring to Rafati, a 28-year-old singer-songwriter who splits his time between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. The Cottonwood High graduate several years ago took a break from selling commercial real estate to follow his dream of writing and performing his own music.

For the contest, Rafati submitted an audio clip of his song “XOX” and a video for “1 in 10,” both of which can be heard and seen on his website (www.cameronrafati.com/). “XOX” shows off the promise of Rafati’s grand dance music with soul; he describes it as “cinematic and pop that you can dance to.”

He will be backed by a band of seven friends and is excited to make hundreds of people bop. Maybe not MMMBop, but bop nevertheless.

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