Music: Hanson Keeps it Real

By | September 21, 2011

Times Union

If there was a craze in the ’90s and early ’00s for ’80s nostalgia — Flashdance, legwarmers, Boy George — it’s now that we’re experiencing, on a mass level, major ’90s nostalgia. This year is the 25th anniversary of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Beavis and Butthead are going to be on TV again, Justin Timberlake is a leading man on the screen and on the radio (and on Saturday Night Live), and a few months ago, Nickelodeon launched a special block of programming called “The ’90s Are All That,” airing beloved preteen programming such as Clarissa Explains It All, Doug, Kenan and Kel, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and more. Clearly a generational thing, this ’90s resurgence comes at the hands of late-generation millenials everywhere, who are worming their ways into all areas of the workforce. (Nickelodeon, when announcing the launch of “The ’90s Are All That,” said the idea came from the office interns. Genius.)

Icons of that decade, Hanson is touring strong today all over the world. The brother band and pop superstars broke huge with “MMMBop” in 1997, a song for which they’re probably still best known and that they still perform today. Their eighth record, Shout It Out, came out in the summer of 2010 to fairly favorable reviews. And they’ve been touring almost constantly in the past 14 years.

An Oklahoma band, “MMMBop” made Hanson famous when the boys were just 12 (Zac), 15 (Taylor) and 17 (Isaac). Their blend of middle-America puberty pop was an odd type of success but a kind that seems to have enabled their enduring popularity. Because of the Internet, niche cultures are thriving, and it’s happily likely that Hanson will survive indefinitely on the web, playing to old and new fans forever. Hanson has picked up a new wave of fans in the ’00s, and retained quite a few of their ’90s devotees, too. They represent nostalgia, good down-home middle-America core values, and safety-dance-pop fun. Their tunes are cute, upbeat and nonthreatening.

I talked to Isaac Hanson by phone at his home in Tulsa, Okla., from where the now-30-year-old father and guitarist chatted about industry woes and the ways the Internet has changed band-fan interaction. “The Internet is an incredibly positive thing,” Hanson says. “There are so many opportunities for bands to grow.”

In a recent set of shows in London and New York City, Hanson performed entire albums — including their biggest, 1997’s Middle to Nowhere — and for other shows the brothers allowed fans to vote online for the records they’d like to hear performed in full at upcoming concerts. (Indie-alt-country-rockers Wilco, too, have interacted with fans this way, encouraging them to cast votes online for song requests, and performing some of the most-voted-for tunes. Hanson does this, though, with full records.) Isaac Hanson says he likes this voter setup, and that he and his brothers rehearse their full catalogs to keep in practice.

Following a messy fallout with Island Def Jam Records, a struggle about which a documentary was made in 2005, Hanson began its own label, 3CG Records. The band has since released a couple of albums on its own. This is still more proof of the Internet’s liberating effects on today’s (and yesterday’s) struggling bands: As album sales drop, major labels panic and liquidate, with bands eventually taking back control over their own music.

Isaac Hanson admits that control has limitations, though, despite any kind of ability to harness the web for creative aspirations. For “Thinkin’ ‘Bout Somethin’,” a single off their most recent record, Hanson recruited professional dancers (and a few amateurs) to construct a viral-feeling, good-vibesy video for their hooky tune. The video also happened to feature Weird Al. It’s been viewed more than 1.2 million times.

Isaac H. points out the paradox, though, of being a successful band (as his is) with access to major resources. “The bigger the band you are, the more expensive it is to do what you do,” he says. “It’s a weird economy of scale.” “Thinkin’ ‘Bout Somethin’, for instance, cost “tens of thousands of dollars to make.”

But with the fast evolution of technology, the web and its many niches will to create more real estate for more artists trying to get their music heard and played. Creativity and innovation and talent are rewarded. Hard work seems to pay off. And Hanson works hard.

“There’s an enormous growth within the Internet culture and Internet airwaves,” Isaac says. “And ultimately it’s a great opportunity.”


Hanson performs at Northern Lights Oct. 12, 8 p.m. Go to for tickets.


(Photos by Jiro Schneider)

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