Zac Hanson remembers well the kind of questions he and two brothers were being asked during 1996, when their national debut album, “Middle of Nowhere,” was going four-times platinum and the single “MMMBop” was at the top of the charts.
“We’d do interviews and they’d go, ‘OK, what jobs do you want to have when you grow up?’ “ recalls the drummer, who was 11 at the time and is 25 now, married with two children. “It was so patronizing, so frustrating. You’re just like, ‘Really? This is what you’re asking me?’
“We said the same thing then as we would say now, that we’d be doing music whether it’s in a garage or a stadium or a club, whatever, until we can’t walk anymore, because it’s part of our blood. It’s part of who we are…since we were little kids hearing rock ‘n’ roll and Motown records from the late 60s and early 60s. It’s something that, when it’s in you, you can’t do anything else.”
And Hanson — which also includes Zac’s older brothers Isaac, 30 (married with two children), and Taylor, 28 (married with four children) — hasn’t been doing anything but music since “MMMBop” the group a pop sensation 15 years ago. The trio has released 10 albums since, the last five — as well as three EPs — on its own 3CG label. Hanson maintains a steady touring schedule out of its Oklahoma base, and while the band may not be in the multi-platinum, arena-filling ranks anymore, it’s still alive — and active — and its sound has evolved into an well-crafted, high-energy blend that led no less an arbiter of cool than the Village Voice to declare Hanson “the finest straight-up rock band in America.”
And Katy Perry gave her stamp of approval by including the brothers in her cameo-filled video for “Last Friday Night.”
“It’s hard not to feel pretty damn good about that,” Zac notes. “To be able to come back year after year and play shows and make a career out of it makes you part of an elite group. Our fans have chosen us as one of those bands from the 90s that they say, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna keep listening to them. I’m not gonna listen to the Spice Girls anymore. I’m not gonna listen to the Backstreet Boys anymore. But Hanson, we still like them.’
“We don’t take that for granted.”
After releasing its latest album, “Shout It Out,” last year, Hanson is taking this year to take a bit of stock of its past 15 years. For its current Musical Ride Tour, the trio — which played each of its five studio albums in their entirety during a residency last year in New York — is letting fans in each city vote for one of the albums the group will perform at its show there. “It’s a way to let our fans experience what we did in New York, ‘cause not many of them could make it there,” Zac notes, and so far he and his brothers have been pleasantly surprised by the results.
“There’s been a lot of variance,” he says. “I sort of expected nostalgia to win handily and to see (‘Middle of Nowhere’) most every night, but after the first week in four of the five albums have already won a different show. It seems much more broad than we expected.
“It’s a crazy thought to us that we have new fans, and some of them were born around the time that first album came out. So they’re coming to our shows now and they know the later albums like ‘The Walk’ and ‘Shout It Out’ and that’s what they want to hear.”
But, he adds, the group still feels comfortable playing those songs from their teen years.
“We’ve never been a trendy band,” Zac explains, “and we’ve always tried to write things we would be proud of down the line. Even a song like ‘MMMbop’…it’s really about relationships and the fact few things last in life and there’s going to be a few things you’re gonna hold on to that are important to you and will last. You have to find what those are and make sure to grab onto them.
“I think when we play it now, not only is that message still true but our fans and ourselves have experienced that kind of feeling and made those kinds of choices. So it holds up.”
Even as it reviews its past, however, Hanson is starting to eyeball the future. Riding a bit of additional buzz from the Perry video — “We were glad to be part of it,” Zac says -—Hanson is planning to release some new music in 2012, but the group is also looking at the commercial landscape and may not release a conventional album.
“I think one more normal, 12-song album isn’t what we want to do now,” Zac says. “We might do multiple small things, but you’re up against so much multi-media content out there that you really have to create an experience for people. It’s not just something in the background on the CD player anymore; there has to be an ‘activity’ of listening to the music.
“We like to innovate and do things we’re excited about. I mean, we made our first record on two-inch tape and have seen the full conversion from the end of cassettes and vinyl into this whole digital age and all these crazy new technologies that seem to be trying to put musicians out of business. We’re just happy we’re still here to be facing that challenge.”