Hanson, MMMBop and beyond

By | November 13, 2010

The Morning Call

It may seem odd for a singing group whose members all are still in the 20s to be putting out a five-DVD career retrospective.

But the band we’re talking about is Hanson, the former boy band whose signature song, “MMMBop” first was released 13 1/2 years ago, when even the oldest of the sibling trio was just 16 and the youngest 11.

The fact that we’re still talking about Hanson — brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac — all these years later is an indication they are, indeed, worthy of a such a retrospective.

That, and the fact that they’ve released four more critically and commercially successful discs since then and had nine Top 40 hits. And that their latest studio disc, “Shout It Out,” released in June with its single “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’,” not only was one of their better efforts, but hit Billboard’s Top 30.

They’re on yet another tour that Friday stops at Stroudsburg’s Sherman Theater, at which, eldest brother Isaac says in a recent phone call from the group’s Oklahoma studio, you can expect “you’re going to hear a good portion of songs that you know.”

So on Nov. 30, Hanson will release the DVD set “5 of 5,” which captures the group’s five-night residency — playing a different album each night — at New York City’s Gramercy Theater in April, before playing the Bamboozle Festival at The Meadowlands in New Jersey.

The package also includes a “best-of” CD and behind-the-scenes interviews. Advance orders are being taken at the band’s website, http://www.hanson.net.

“To be able to see all of our records in context like that, and to be able to hear the difference between ‘MMMBop’ and ‘Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’,” Isaac Hanson says, “I would say it gives an interesting perspective on who we’ve been as a band over the past more than a decade now.”

The biggest revelation, Hanson says, is how much the songs, even those written almost 15 years apart, have in common.

“There’s no question that the music has evolved over the years,” he says. “There’s no question that the fan base in some form or another has evolved.” But he says it’s interesting to see on “5 of 5” that the biggest difference between songs on the first album, “Middle of Nowhere,” and those on “Shout It Out” is the latter’s use of horns.

“Especially in that context, you realize that the songs themselves could move from record to record and you probably wouldn’t notice much difference,” Hanson says.

Hanson says there are two big reasons for that. The first is that the group’s influences and inspirations have never changed. The horns and R&B leanings on “Shout It Out” “connects the dots” to “Middle of Nowhere,” he says.

” ‘Middle of Nowhere’ definitely had a bunch of kind of moments of ’60s R&B and Motown influences,” he says. “Even a song like ‘MMMBop.’ In a lot of ways, the reason why that chorus is the way it is, is because we were so familiar with ’50s vocal groups and the whole kind of doo-wop section of early rock and roll.”

Of the discs between, 2000’s “This Time Around” was more rock, with the songs “If Only” and “This Time Around.” Hanson says 2004’s “Underneath” survived a four-year struggle by the band top leave Def Jam Records and form its own 3CG Records. He says it “was a wonder that it had any kind of cohesiveness to it at all,” though the single “Penny & Me” hit No. 2. And 2007’s “The Walk” explored the gospel and roots side of R&B.

“And so when we hit ‘Shout It Out,’ I think we kind of made full circle,” Hanson says. “We just felt like drawing attention to the fact that we really love what we do. That we love old R&B and pop music.” He says most of the record was recorded live in the studio.

Audiences have responded. “Shout It Out” charted higher than “The Walk” and a 2005 Greatest Hits disc and hit No. 2 on the indie chart.

Hanson says the other reason the group was able to transcended its boy band start was that age never really defined Hanson’s songs.

“We just so happened to start off as young kids and have had our biggest hits to date as teenagers,” he says. “I think youthful exuberance might lead people to think we were writing music that had no depth. And I don’t think that that’s the case.

“If people really looked at ‘Middle of Nowhere’ or most of the music that we’ve released … I think our music has maintained the same core principals and even lyrical content as it did from the beginning.”

But having said that, Hanson says it’s clear that the group’s aging — Isaac will turn 30 two days before the Sherman Theater show — affects their lives.

The brothers all are married, have seven children among them, and Isaac in 2007 had emergency surgery for a pulmonary embolism he says was exacerbated by his guitar playing. “Everything’s good, and there’s no reason to think I will ever have that issue again,” he says.

Middle brother Taylor in 2009 became the first member to perform outside the group, forming the side project Tinted Windows with Smashing Pumpkins’ guitarist James Iha, Fountains of Wayne bassist/singer Adam Schlesinger and drummer Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick.

Tinted Windows released a self-titled disc and played TV talk shows and played festivals, and Isaac Hanson says Taylor has written more songs that seemingly would lend themselves to that band’s style. “Which makes me think that there might be” another Tinted Windows disc eventually, he says.

Certainly “family life always makes a difference, because you wouldn’t get married and have kids if you thought you were going to just keep being single, you know?” he says, laughing.

But as for Hanson making any significant changes, Isaac Hanson says he doesn’t see it, and says “5 of 5” demonstrates why.

“With regard to the music and peoples’ perception … the ‘5 of 5’ thing, if people see it, I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t find themselves, if they were unfamiliar with Hanson, scratching their heads [and saying] ‘Wait a second, do I need to rethink my opinion?’ We like to think that we’ll be doing this a long time”




With Kicking Dasies and Jarrod Gorbel (formerly of The Honorary Title)

•When: 8 p.m. Friday

•Where: Sherman Theater, 524 Main St., Stroudsburg

•How much: $28

•What you’ll hear: Songs from each of the band’s five studio albums, including the hits “MMMBop,” “Where’s The Love,” “This Time Around,” “Penny and Me” and “The Great Divide,” as well as songs from the new album, “Shout It Out,” such as “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin'” and the title cut.

•Info: http://www.shermantheater.com, 570-420-2808.

On the Web: http://www.hanson.net