“It’s been amazing to watch our fans grow and change
By LEIGHANN POSEY
Special to the New Era
Seven years ago, when I was a 12-year-old sixth grader at Manheim Township Middle School, I discovered the band Hanson. All around the world, girls my age were falling in love with the three brothers from Tulsa because they were just like us. They sang about young love, about grief and loss, about friendship, and about fitting in when all you seem to is stand out.
I dreamed of shaking their hands and thanking them for the beautiful music they make. Seven years later, that dream came true, when Hanson made a special appearance last Friday at Lancaster radio station WLAN-FM97.
Hanson burst onto the scene in 1997 with their hit single “Mmmbop.” The public embraced the catchy song sung by three young brothers with long blond hair and baby faces. Their debut CD, “Middle of Nowhere,” sold more than eight million copies. And although Taylor, the middle brother, would later joke, “We have a lot of family,” there was no denying their successes, both personal and commercial.
Since the release of “Middle of Nowhere,” Hanson’s fame has faded out and resurfaced. Their sophomore attempt, “This Time Around,” in 2000, sold a mere fraction of the copies that “Middle of Nowhere” boasted, though critics praised the album for its more mature, grown-up sound.
Four years later, the average American may have forgotten about Hanson, save for the rare radio play of “Mmmbop.” But the Hansons are back. Their brand new studio album, “Underneath,” was released on April 20th, and FM97 has given its first single, “Penny and Me,” more radio time than any other Hanson single since “Mmmbop.”
I first heard that Hanson was coming to town when J.T. Bosch, FM97’s afternoon/evening disc jockey, dropped a hint of an upcoming contest. Days later, the rules were clear: Listen to win a lunch and private concert at FM97.
I had to be a part of it.
“Be there at 11:45,” the staff warned me after giving me the chance to cover Hanson’s appearance for Teen Weekend. At noon, the band would arrive and the doors would be locked. Those who were in were in. Those who weren’t, weren’t.
At 11:30 a.m., when I park my car across Queen Street from the station, a group of girls have parked themselves on the front steps of WLAN. Two are from Delaware, where Hanson had been a few days before. Kathleen Pannell and Anne Marie Toccket, students at Millersville University and Penn State University, respectively, confess that they’re missing exams and classes to be here. And yet another 17-year-old girl admits to paying $150 to meet Hanson in another town.
It isn’t long before I am greeted by Bosch and DJ Brian “B-Rock” Richardson. When asked why Hanson chose to come to Lancaster, Bosch explains that Hanson’s label had called to organize the event, not only to promote their new album, but to give back to the radio stations that are supporting their new single.
A few minutes later, the 16 winners and myself gather in the lobby. Among them is 50-year-old Holly Long, who proudly announces, “I’m a Hanson mom since 1997!” Another woman with a set of twins in tow explains, “They didn’t know they were coming to meet Hanson until I picked them up this morning. I kept it a surprise.”
Isaac, the oldest brother at 23, is quiet and focused; even when we sit for an interview, he seems not to be able to peel his fingers away from his guitar. With a short wave to the crowd and a genuine grin, Isaac makes his way to a back office to tune the instruments.
Taylor, 21 (and a new dad who sported a shirt that read “Super Dad”), and Zac, 18, soon follow and join Isaac out of sight, much to the fans’ dismay.
It is in this office, looking as though it’s been trashed by a group of rock stars, that I sit down with the band to talk about their new record and the future.
“We didn’t do this,” Taylor says right away, referring to the room. “It was like this when we got here.”
I introduce myself. There is only one chair in the room and they insist that I sit in it.
“We did this record on our own independent label, 3CG,” Taylor explains, starting us off. “It debuted as number one on the independent release charts. That, to us, is a huge success.”
When asked if it is tough to balance a career and a home life, Zac responds: “Think about it this way…When did you know you wanted to be a writer?” Years ago, I answer. For as long as I can remember. “Exactly,” he continues, nodding his head.
“But I don’t have to tour the world in order to be a writer,” I argue. “It’s not nearly as demanding.”
“We just think that if we have the time to tour and the time to do this, why wouldn’t we? It’s what we love to do.” The other two brothers agree, smiling slightly, as if Zac just summed up exactly what was on their minds.
I decide to approach the topic of manufactured music for the sake of debate, and am a little surprised when all three crack a smile and chuckle softly. “There’s an entertainment business and there’s a music business,” Taylor responds. “We’re in the music business. And there are some others out there who are strictly entertainers. That’s their thing.
“Music for us…(is like) learning through osmosis,” he continues. “3CG – it stands for 3 Car Garage, and basically what that means is getting back to that feeling of garage bands…What we try to write is organic, real music.”
Zac and Taylor explain that during the induction of Brian Wilson into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the band met with some amazing songwriters, James Taylor and Carol King among them.
“(James Taylor) said something that’s really along those same lines,” Taylor says. “He said that sometimes it doesn’t feel like the music comes from him. That’s how we feel with everything we write. Rhythm and blues and rock and roll, that’s where all music comes from.”
I spend the rest of the afternoon with Hanson, standing beside them as they perform a few songs from “Underneath” and one oldie, “If Only,” off of “This Time Around.” After that, I have the pleasure of hanging out with them while they sign autographs for the eager fans, even the ones who were waiting outside for a glimpse of the band.
Taylor and I joke about the number of cows in Lancaster, and I watch Zac, obviously the jokester, challenge two girls to an arm wrestle, which he barely wins.
Next, we go upstairs to the studio, where they sit for an on-air interview with DJ Damian Rhodes. They answer many of the same questions they discussed with me, yet never do I see a sign of boredom or annoyance.
Not long after, it seems, and not nearly long enough, it’s time to say goodbye. I thank each of them and explain again what an honor it is to have met them. They wish me luck with my writing and I wish them luck with their music.
Leaving the radio station, I can’t seem to shake the bittersweet feeling of exiting the dream world and entering the real one. “It’s been amazing to watch our fans grow and change with us,” I remember Taylor saying during the on-air interview. And glancing down at my autographed CD, I see their message to me: “Thanks for being a fan. Here’s to another seven years.”