“We’re Geeks About Music”

By | June 13, 2011

LoveMachine

Last Friday, Love Machine got the opportunity to meet with Hanson ahead of the release of their latest album Shout It Out and pick their brains about what motivates young men who have already been in the business for fifteen years to keep putting out good music.

On arrival, we were introduced to Isaac (gentlemanly), Taylor (suave) and Zac (charming) and immediately got stuck in. Although not before Taylor took an impromptu photo of us – “He’s turning the tables!” laughs Zac. But dammit, he didn’t get our good side!

What we learned in the 30 minutes we had is that Taylor talks a lot, Zac doesn’t, and Isaac likes to interrupt, but our general impression was of three intelligent guys with a genuine talent who love making music and know a lot about writing the good stuff. You know an interview has gone quite well when the artist says more than you do, and this is quite a long read, which is why we’ve put it after the jump. Enjoy!

LOVEMACHINE: Tell us a little bit about ‘Shout It Out’ – what kind of record did you set out to create and did you succeed?
TAYLOR: The record was kind of coming down from the previous record. It was a little bit of a musical release. The last album, The Walk, just had a different mission. It kind of became something different along the way – it was inspired by our time in Africa and it had a bit of a harder edge to it. When we started writing for Shout It Out it had more of a sound that was like the first record – it was a little more R&B and had a lot more backbeat. And a lot of the songs, the arrangements began to come together as a unit, as a band… Before the record was made, a lot of the songs we’d rehearsed and worked on and they had this collective sound. I think the idea with the record was to capture a really organic sound like it was a release and it was alive. Kind of, every three records we go into it like, we wanna make this as true to the band as we can make it
ISAAC: As true to the live setting as we can make it.
T: Yeah. And this one just captured the feeling of us playing together the best. And then it has the sounds of like, the horn arrangements that we added which gives it that old school, Seventies rock album feel. Y’know, just a big, full on, unabashed, bright horn arrangement. The ultimate result of the album is that it sounds probably closer to the influences and things that we’ve talked about than any other record we’ve made.

LM: For the most part, it’s quite a cheerful album. It’s got a really positive vibe to it.
I: For the most part it is. I think, especially in terms of tempo it’s the fastest record – song by song it’s the most upbeat. But by and large it’s the most positive album we’ve ever done.
T: There’s an interesting thing about making records that are “positive”. We joke that we always listen to a lot of hardcore metal right before we make a record so that all of our anger is out. And that is obviously a joke, but yes the record is “positive”, but all the songs, if you listen to the words are about conquering – y’know, this is happening and that is happening, but I’m gonna choose to do this.
I: The song ‘Waiting For This’ where the lyric “shout it out” comes from…
T: It’s like, “I know you’ve been bottled up”… that’s part of the extra idea of positive in the song title and the album title. It’s only positive in contrast to what you’re going up against. It’s not like *sings* “I’m happy because it’s sunny outside”. It’s a choice to go forward instead of wallow.
I: Or you have a song like ‘Thinkin’ ‘Bout Somethin’ – it feels upbeat, but you’re actually telling the girl off. Like a kiss off song.
T: But not just the love songs. Even the idea of being positive is more like the album is driven by doing something on purpose.
I: A willful positivity.

LM: Do you all have a favourite song on the album?
T: It depends on the day. One of my favourites as far as the arrangement is concerned is the last big song which is ‘Voice In The Chorus’. It’s the first song we recorded and it was really built around the arrangement of the band. We did this song first to kind of get everybody up and engaged.
I: It was like, if we can get this one done all the others will be a lot easier down the line. There’s something about the piano, and getting that swing right and everything kinda moves right after it.
T: It’s one at the top of my list, as far as songs from this album go.
I: One of my favourite songs on the record, and maybe it’s just because the newest stuff you’re doing is the most fresh on your mind, but certainly ‘Kiss Me When You Come Home’ is one of my favourites ‘cause I remember when we were on tour at the end of 2008, the idea for the song came up and Taylor was playing on the keyboard… I can’t really remember how the dialogue went back and forth but the way that the drum pattern came together was really cool. To be there in the room when all of a sudden the song went from this very nice love song to this whole other level, with this really unique feeling… I just remember that being really exciting. And it really came together on the record.

LM: Do you still write for mainstream chart success?
ZAC: I don’t think we write for anybody except for ourselves. Ultimately, we’re not gonna change the world by being what the world wants us to be. And what I mean is, if you think of songs that have sort of, changed culture, what you usually see is that people who do that, they do things that are just them. For us to just do it for ourselves, and try to push ourselves as hard as we can. You can’t ask anyone else to be excited and inspired by a song if you don’t feel that kind of energy from it.
T: The other thing about writing for mainstream and radio is, we’re students of great songs. We’re in class all the time. That’s how I feel about music. And a lot of the great songs are songs that were hits, and it was for a reason. There’s hit songs like ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ that are hits because of their novelty but great hit songs are hits for a reason and it’s because if it’s a hit that is just inescapable, you should be able to listen to the bass, or the drums or the vocal or any one part and it will still feel like a hit song. So in a sense of writing for mainstream or not, that’s the one thing in the DNA of the way we write. You’re thinking of songs that you admire. And to that degree, we’re not sitting around going “what we really wanna do is write a song about weed or…abstract art.” But the truth is you might do that because you love to do that and that’s what you find inspiring, but as a band what we write and what our perception is, is that we are students of great songwriting.
I: Especially with regards to pop music. Pop music goes in waves. If we were going to make records that sound like “hits”, there’d be a lot of autotune, 808 drum and we’d sound like T-Pain or something.
Z: *gives an excellent impromptu rendition of what ‘Give A Little’ would sound like within that criteria*
T: We’re geeks about music. What we’re trying to get close to is y’know – that lasted for 10 years, that lasted for 40 years, that’s still amazing and that’s still around. And that’s what we’re looking at.

LM: Let’s talk about the tour. You’re playing all five of your albums, sort of like a playback. Obviously it’s geared more to like *proper* fans. One gig, one whole album played all the way through…
T: It’s actually a shorter show than we usually do. ‘Cause it’s only one album. Instead of 20 songs we’re doing 13. It’s meant to be as if you’ve walked into the room and your own personal album player is on stage.
I: Yeah, so you put in the CD and the band’s actually there.
Z: There was something about this album that felt like it was the right time to look back to look forward and that’s part of why the idea stuck with everybody. It’s been an enjoyable challenge, I think, for the three of us. To play like, 67 songs in a row, in a way that kind of looks back on these records in an appropriate way. We wanna do them justice every time we walk out on stage. Especially when you’re playing it as a record. We don’t wanna be playing just any old version, we wanna do it right. It just felt like the right way to launch this record, to do 15 years in five days and just bring it all together. We did it before when we launched the record in the US, and we weren’t sure we would ever do it again because it’s a huge undertaking. But I think it’s like one huge show, that’s always the way it feels. You’re taking a little break but it’s one big experience. You know, you’re supposed to be at all five nights. Some people won’t be, but a lot of people bought tickets for all five nights.
T: A lot of the tickets went in, I don’t know whether it was hours or days, but it was pretty fast. And that’s definitely part of the whole idea. And the other thing we’re doing with these shows is something called “The Story” before each show where we do a question and answer and talk about the album. So before it starts, people come in early and we do 30 minutes talking about the writing and the recording and take questions… So by the end of the week it’s like a live anthology almost.

LM: Is there a night you’re all looking forward to the most?
Z: Well the one thing that’s unique about the new album is that for the most part it’s gonna be the first time that a lot of people have heard the songs.
T: The album comes out on the day of the first show. But I think that will be particularly cool and different because it will be the first time people hear it live so it will be interesting to gauge that response. And obviously it’s really cool and nostalgic for us to go back and do the first and the second and the third record, ‘cause not only are the fans in the audience in strange timewarp like “what was I doing when I first heard this song?” we are too. Y’know “what pants was I wearing when I wrote this?” So I think you look forward to all of them but seeing that reaction on people’s faces and judging the reaction is something I personally look forward to.
I: What’s interesting is that the first time we did 5of5 we were two months out from the release of the record in the US and nobody had heard the songs. So people bought the tickets for this upcoming show and we went out and played Shout It Out for the first time. And we knew ‘Thinkin’ ‘Bout Somethin’ was gonna be a single and we knew ‘Give A Little’ was gonna be a single as well and what was cool was, ‘cause you don’t get this opportunity very often, the audience reaction to ‘Give A Little’ – a song they’d never heard before – by the end of it, the energy of the crowd was just…
T: It did what we wanted it to do.

LM: Does your opinion of a song change when you see how people react to it?
I: It can. It can change your opinion.
T: I think you like a certain song for your own reasons. But just like any kind of art, or thing that you make, you have to be willing to hear how people react to it. You may write a song like “this is the greatest song ever!” but if people don’t respond to it the way you want them to, you have to do two things – either you have to say they’re all wrong, or you use that to inform whether you maybe still need to work on it. So with your audience you have to do that same thing. And Shout It Out was partly informed by that. Not necessarily “hey, every audience member, tell us what you think”, but we did a tour before the album was finished where we had basically recorded everything, and during that tour we kinda said, y’know, there’s something missing from this record and that’s when we recorded ‘Give A Little’ and ‘Me, Myself & I’ and added the horns on. And it’s one of those weird things where now, I couldn’t imagine the album without them. It’s self A&R where you step back and go “guys, we need a little bit more of this or that” and it’s hard to do, but as long as you’re willing to feel the energy in the room and say “we need to go one step further”.
I: That’s where the title of the album came from. In 2009 when we’d already recorded a lot of the music, we were debating a bunch of record titles and there was this thing where during a show we’d get the audience to sing “shout it out” and suddenly we were like “okay, this is the title of the record”. It’s the spirit of the record.

LM: We’re being told we’ve only got time for one more question! Let’s wrap it up then. You’ve been together as a band for 14/15 years now – what do you think your legacy is, and what would you like it to be when you eventually call it a day?
T: That’s a good question.
Z: I don’t know that we qualify for a legacy yet.
T: Well yeah, not now, but eventually.
Z: Okay, what I think I would like our legacy to be is what I feel like we do with our music and as a band, is we never tried to be anybody.We make music that we’re passionate about making, we’re fuelled by a desire to craft great songs and inspired to be on the list of people who have changed great music and songwriting forever. And I think hopefully we’ll be able to say in the same way we were inspired by great musicians who started rock ‘n’ roll, that in someway we will do our part and someone will listen to our record and say “that’s what I wanna do. This is the bar I’ve set for my career.”
I: Or at least “that’s why I wanna do it”. Y’know, that motivation, of “I love that” and to be the lightbulb that goes off in that moment.
T: I think our aspiration is that we try to set the bar high for ourselves and I think we wanna be a part of making a better band. The music industry has changed expotentially in the last 15 years – some for the better, some for the worst. We love the idea of being a part of finding a better way to make it work for fans and for bands, and that’s part of why we have our own label. You have to be willing to put in the work, ‘cause ultimately what we do is create art and culture and it’s an expendable commodity. We don’t need music to survive. Art is marginalised as a luxury not a necessity. Arts programmes in the US are being scrapped because y’know, “we need sport and science but we don’t need music”. So we’re striving to make something that isn’t expendable.
I: And I just wanna agree with Zac. For me it’s about the songs and I hope that if people remember one thing about us, they say “those guys, every single time, they made records that were quality from top to bottom.” There’s no filler. Whether or not every song is a smash hit is not the question, the question is whether or not it’s a quality experience. And if along the way we have songs that are popular and hits, that’s great.
T: The quote is “Hanson – they’re a great piece of work.” *all the boys laugh*

LM: Really quickly – what are your predictions for 2012 and 2013?
T: Besides the end of the world? And the year following the end of the world? We’re just going all out in 2012. I think it’s a statement that everyone should follow. 2012 is gonna be the end of the world, the Mayans have already said it – everyone should just party.
Z: I’m gonna be elected President of the United States. I’m starting my election campaign right now.
T: How serious do you actually want this answer to be?
I: 2012 is actually our twentieth anniversary as a band. May 15th, 1992 is the first proper gig we did as a trio that wasn’t in someone’s backyard. So in 2012, maybe we’ll find something fun to do for that.
T: Here’s another prediction: Steve Jobs will update the iPad with two meaningless upgrades that everyone will then rush out to buy. Things that should probably already be there and are there currently on the Samsung version. But everyone will still buy iPads.
Z: And the economy will still be crap!

And with one final handshake (and a kiss on the cheek from Taylor) that was the end of that. On Sunday night we went down to see the first night of 5o5 and you can read about that here.

The album Shout It Out is available to buy on iTunes.