Taylor Hanson: The Idolator Interview

By | August 26, 2011


You may best remember Hanson as the band that brought the world the non-word “MMMBop”, but the boys who hail from Oklahoma have been going long and hard at music for nearly two decades. (Pretty impressive for a band with two members under the age of thirty.) In 2009, brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac released their eighth studio album Shout It Out, and will soon embark on a Fall tour, with each night’s set list chosen by the fans. 28-year-old frontman Taylor Hanson took a break from working on new material in Nashville to speak with us about the band’s side projects, their longtime friendship with Weird Al, and their new one with Katy Perry. Plus, as a former teen heartthrob, Taylor had a few excellent bits of advice for today’s It Boy of pop, Justin Bieber. Check out our exclusive chat with the middle Hanson bro below.


IDOLATOR: You and your brothers recently made a cameo in Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” video. How did that come together? Is she a huge Hanson fan?
TAYLOR HANSON: She said she was a fan, and wanted to have us in the video. And we figured, that’s a compliment! It’s kind of a nice thing to be thought of. They were looking for a band that was known where you’d see them in a clip and go, “Is that… Yeah, it was!” And also somebody that worked for the attitude of the video.

What was it like on set?
Hung out with Kenny G, he was a gentleman, talked about music. He had his son with him. What a cool thing to have Kenny G be your saxophone player! Just hung out on the lawn a lot. All the extras were pretty tired at the end of the day, and at that point of shooting we started jamming and became the on-set house band. In between takes we were cracking jokes with the extras. We had a good time.

You and your brothers seem pretty tight with Weird Al – he even appeared in your“Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’” video. When did this unlikely friendship form? Was it when you first appeared on The Weird Al Show back in the day?
We met several times early on… he had that show which lasted a couple seasons, and we all hit it off. We’re all fans of his, I feel like so many people have so much respect for him. He’s a genius. We became friends after he started a family. His daughter is my oldest son’s almost exact age. We’ve just been friends for the last ten years or so. Periodically he’ll come to our shows – he sat in for us the last time we were in LA. We had Robert Schwartzman, and Butch Walker and Al Yankovic, playing tambourine with us.

When we were doing that music video, the slightly longer version is that he asked me to play on his record, and I guested on his latest record on a tune. I played keyboard on a song called “If That Isn’t Love”. And he was like, Hey, if there’s anything you need me more, give me a call. And as we started doing the video, we thought of him to play this character, the tambourine player. But we thought, well, that’s too small of a role, and if we’re to have Al do something, it should be something super, focused on him, and let him go over the top. As the video was coming together, we just knew having him would put it over the edge.

You’re currently in the studio writing and recording. Who are you writing with?
A lot of guys who are friends who have written songs for people like Carrie Underwood and Bowling For Soup. One of the guys from Bowling For Soup, Jaret Reddick, we’ve written stuff with him, and we’ve known the guys in Jars Of Clay for a while, so we’ve been working on some stuff. A bunch of different people.

Is any of this for a new Hanson album?
It’s actually for other people’s projects. Playing the outside role. The idea of writing and working that isn’t ultimately the thing that you’re going to walk out on stage to do, it’s such different head space. But it’s great to do that. It’s something we want to do more of to get the creative juices flowing.

Can we expect another Tinted Windows album?
The first project was in and of itself kind of an epic one, it was just pieces of things that were done over the course of three years. And finally it was a “done” album. There probably will be another Tinted Windows album. But it’s a side project, so it has to stay fun. We don’t want to have to look at the clock and say, “Well, it’s been a year, time for a new album”… there hopefully will be something else.

You began your career when you were about 11-years old. How has writing and performing changed over the years for you?
When you’re starting anything you might have that feeling in your gut that you can do this, but you don’t have the experience to know what you can bring to the table as a writer, or a player, and as a singer. One of the ways writing changes is, at least for me, you begin to approach some things a little bit more like [you’re] on a mission, especially when you’re writing on specific projects, when you know ‘I can do this style versus this style.’ You can see where the lines are drawn. The biggest change is that sense of reaching further in confidence and that you really do have those tools and experiences to pull from. For me, it’s only exciting if you’re pushing yourself to grow.

How does the music-writing process work between you and your brothers? Does one of you handle the lyrics, someone else the music?
We’re pretty unique in that we all write music and lyrics. People have their styles: I’m the most pop as a writer, I just lean that way… and I mean pop structure-wise than slickness. Isaac tends to tell more of an honest story in a song, and Zac like to layer things. Those tendencies take over depending what the song is. It’s not uncommon for somebody to say, “Hey, this is the song idea and a core piece.” Then everyone starts fiddling around. It’s honestly very collaborative.

You and your brothers were major teen heartthrobs in the 90s, and today we’ve got a new batch of teenage dreams, like Justin Bieber and Greyson Chance. What advice would you give to them during this stage in their career?
For one, you don’t make yourself a heartthrob or a hunk, that just happens or it doesn’t. Don’t cling to that. That is what it is, and just like people having an impression about an actor or a painter or anybody who does anything, you put it out there and people’s response comes back. The thing that you CAN hold onto is the actual music that you are making, or whatever it is you do. The main advice that we’ve stuck to is keep to the thing that got you into it and make sure that’ what you’re focused on. For Justin, he’s talented, he can sing and perform, so make that the thing you focus on.

All of you have children of your own. Have you been encouraging them to be musicians and teaching them how to play instruments?
My oldest is 8 and he has obvious musical tendencies, all of [my children] do. But we haven’t really sat them down and went, okay, here’s the plot – world domination. Making music is one of those things, it takes over – you either have to do it, or you can do it on the side. And if you can do it on the side, you probably shouldn’t. It requires that conviction.

It’s a little scary when you see your kids and realize they have something in the gene pool. My thought is to just give them the tools if they ask for them, and see if there’s that fire to then do what my parents did, which is be supportive, but not the crazy stage parents. You want to be there with the band ready to buy their first drum kit or take them to piano lessons, if that’s what they have passion for. But it has to be led by them, because it’s a hard business.

“MMMBop” is your first hit, and is arguably still your biggest. Are you sick of playing it yet?
[Laughs.] If we literally played only the song every night, yes. Short answer is no, we’re not sick of playing it. Obviously that song will always be one of the first things people think of, and it’s a song we wrote, a song we played in our garage, a song we kicked off traveling the world doing. And to be honest, it’s taken on a different feeling when we play it live… it’s sort of a sentimental thing. It has a certain quality that it survived a certain amount of time. We’re proud of it. Thankfully, it’s one of 70 songs.

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Check out Hanson’s tour dates at their official website, and follow them on Twitter!