Hanson has been a household name since 1997 when they made it big with their unforgettable song “MMMBop.” You know, the one you could never get out of your head every time you heard it. But the three-brother band has moved on to bigger and better things now, like their chart topping latest album Shout It Out and making a point to give fans a ton of inside access via social media.
Up On The Sun: You guys have always shared a very special interaction with your fans. You allow them to get a somewhat personal experience while you’re on tour or working on new material, and you utilize social media better than a lot of other bands. Tell me about your longstanding relationship with your friends.
Taylor Hanson: Our position on that kind of stuff is to always come back to the music. Ultimately it’s about building a connection. We haven’t been as high tech or as fast at Facebook or Twitter [as other artists], but over time we’ve always tried to make what we do be a part of, in a way, something that’s not just, “Oh, I like that song.”
I was thinking of music that I love as we were planning for this tour, and there are artists that I’m a bigger fan of than others. But people like Bruce Springsteen, an icon, who is somebody I respect but maybe I’m not the biggest fan of ever, he’s an example of someone with whom, even long before there was technology, people felt kinship because he would play a three-hour show, go on and on, and tell stories about real life. In a lot of ways, that’s all we try to do: make music that we’re passionate about and use tools that allow us to come closer. That’s got to be the model for me because music is about a feeling. People connect when they hear your song and it makes you feel a certain way. It makes you want to drive; it makes you want to cry; it makes you want to go do something. I think that’s always been our approach.
To further make the music become a personalized experience, you’re allowing fans to choose the set list on this tour. You guys seem like you’re confident that concertgoers will make good choices.
Well it’s definitely risky! It’s risky as far as our ability to rehearse well. But they’re voting on albums we made, so at least we know that everything they’re going to vote on is recorded and written and put out as a record. It’ll be different as a concert. That’s one of the things that I think is good about the tour. You’re still going to have a mix of songs from across our career at the opening and closing of the shows. We’ll be featuring all of that stuff. But the bulk of the concert is the one album that the fans voted for in that city. Of course, they’re not just going to hear our whole album. They’re going to hear our whole body of work.
It’s something you can’t do if you’re only two albums in[to your career]. Now that we have five to pull from, there’s a sense that there’s kind of an arc. People have their favorites. It’s about not just going out and making people expect the least. You don’t ever want the show to be, “They’re just backing [they’re new release].” It should be, “Hanson’s back! I’m really excited to hear that thing or that new song.” And in this case, [it’s] “Did you vote on what album you want to hear? Yeah, you can vote on the set list,” and people go, “What?” It makes it something that’s [special], or overkill. It might just be overkill.
Hanson is always up for thinking of new ways to make positive changes in multiple communities, as you did on The Walk in 2007. It’s very respectable. Why is raising awareness about issues in Africa important to you?
Well, we had the opportunity and [went about] approaching that challenge a certain way. I will say in our going forward in our careers, there’s something really powerful about taking your relationship with a group of people that like these causes and turning it into a human story. What we’ve been able to do with The Walk, very simply, is to…you know, talking about that connection…really say, “Hey, thank you for being here.” But ultimately we’re all individual people. I only have two feet.
It’s hopefully a way to make people feel united, and I think that’s a powerful message in and of itself: we all have an equal ability. I think the importance of it is on an individual level, for people to realize their potential. We’re a generation that has been so privileged and kind of adrift that having something to unify behind is something that helps us focus our abilities and our passions, and it’s really important. The issue in Africa, specifically with HIV, is so large. It’s something we can be a part of shifting because it’s extreme and can affect our world in the long run. There are real, tangible things that we can be a part of changing. Those things combined make it important for all of us.
Let’s talk about your latest album, Shout It Out. It reached #2 on the Billboard chart for indie albums. In an interview with Billboard, you said, “Every record is important, but this one feels like…a reflection not just of right now but a selection of things we’ve been putting in records for the last 15 years.” Tell me more about that.
We produced this record on our own. There was no co-writing. It’s called Shout It Out for a reason. It’s very in-your-face and bright. The way it’s a reflection of the last 15 years is that it’s probably the most honest interpretation of our body of work. It sounds the most like what happens when you walk into a room, and I think it celebrates more of the first record than the last couple of records we’ve had. We kind of went back and talked about it and sang over songs that we grew up listening to and found new inspiration. Shout It Out makes you go, “Wow, I like that.” It has its own DNA of 15 years of Hanson.
I love that you made an appearance in Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” music video as the house band at Katy’s party. Not to mention you’re joined by one of the kings of smooth jazz, Kenny G. What was it like working with Katy Perry?
It was fun! It was a good time, honestly. Kenny G was a gentleman. Katy Perry was sweet. It was flattering to be thought of by one of the top artists on the planet right now, so it was cool to be asked to be a part of her video. A lot of times [when] you’re on a music video set, you’re kind of waiting on directors and people to be ready. We were hanging out and had [our entire] band set up on this lawn, so we sort of entertained ourselves and started entertaining extras in between takes. It was a good time.