Hanson’s community loves more than just the music

By | October 7, 2011

West Linn Tidings

Taylor Hanson – keyboardist and lead singer in the band Hanson – said Portland’s fans might be as sweet as his favorite Portland tour stop – Voodoo Doughnut.

And when Hanson stopped off to play the Aladdin Theatre recently on their The Musical Ride Tour, the band of brothers – Taylor, 28, on keyboards, Zac, 25, on drums and Isaac, 30, on guitar – was reminded that they’re still doing something right, building a fan base that sticks around.

Since they hit the mainstream with 1997’s No. 1 hit “MMMBop,” they’ve navigated through childhood stardom without tabloid meltdowns – all the while building a community of devoted followers of their pop rock tunes. And yes, there are still screaming girls, but Portland’s show had a surprising amount of couples, swaying and lip-syncing in the asiles.

They’re Hansons are all married fathers now – with eight kids between them – and if taking to the road isn’t challenging enough with that many on board, they’re letting fans vote for which songs they should perform at each tour stop.

“We’ll still be throwing in the hits, so to speak, and taking songs from (three) different albums,” Taylor Hanson said. “Voting ends the day of the show, which makes things interesting.”

His favorite album to perform?

“The new one. It’s fresh and really cohesive,” Hanson said. “‘Shout it Out’ is a top to bottom cohesive project.”

And cohesive could also describe the community surrounding the band.

— Nicole DeCosta: You had a No. 1 radio hit with “MMMBop” when you were 13 and your fans seem just as loyal today. Hanson, it seems, has always been about giving fans an experience, not just an album.

— Taylor Hanson: “It’s about building a community. It just goes in line that we feel it’s important to build something around your band and don’t take yourself too seriously.”

— ND: Right, it’s working. I’m guessing that’s why you guys are constantly updating your website and offering new merchandise through your label Three Car Garage Records. What’s this Hansonopoly I saw online?

— TH: “For years we’ve been trying to come up with cool products that aren’t just, ‘hey, I got a T-shirt.’ We have a lot of friends who travel and who will see several shows. And we were talking about what fans do when they wait in line, if they want to be in the front row (at) general admission shows. … The thought came to create some games and something people can do. You have to ‘geek out’ to get all the Hanson jokes. There are so many layers to the game. It’s fully customized. The whole idea is like Monopoly, but in instead of being a real estate mogul, you’re trying to be the biggest band in the world. Instead of hotels you have to work your way up from a club to an arena.”

— ND: How do you get ready for a show? Any pre-show rituals?

— TH: “We’ll put our set list together a half hour before a show. Part of that is for the experience for us and for fans. One of the rituals is usually the final decision on the set list and then just a huddle, a reminder to not miss your cues here and there. And you turn off the distractions 15 or 20 minutes before the show.”

— ND: What’s the difference between the music in America to your other tour stops around the world?

— TH: “In the U.S. there’s more heritage, ‘rootsier’ music. The blues here and Americana come out when we’re on the road in the U.S. The biggest difference, in general, has to do with the frequency. This fall we’ll be in Latin America and the U.K. after the U.S. stuff and it’s been probably four years since we’ve been in Brazil or Argentina or Chile and so there’s this catch-up that you need to do. Their connection with pop music is different. People are less self-conscious about it outside the U.S. – being a band that likes pop songs. It’s seen more as the norm. There’s a lot more emphasis on live music in the states as a craft.”

— ND: You guys held some flash mobs in New York City, etc. – letting your fans bust some moves. How did those go?

— TH: “(They) went great. The blessing of having fans that are excited and willing to try things in a major city (is cool). You can get together enough people to make something happen. We had an amazing group of fans that put together a series of flash mobs that they did all over. If you go online you’ll see people dancing in front of the Eiffel Tower.”

— ND: In addition to the music, you guys have made your humanitarian efforts a priority – donating proceeds from your previous album “The Great Divide” to raise funds for reducing mother to child HIV transmission in South Africa and partnering with TOMS Shoes, which donates a pair of shoes for each pair purchased. And for each fan who participates in your one-mile barefoot walks before concerts, you donate $1 to help alleviate poverty-related issues in Africa. Why these efforts?

— TH: “Playing shows and building something … it’s who we are. It’s what we do. Walks are still happening. Some of the schedule will depend on the tour schedule. Go to takethewalk.net and it’s where all the times and events are announced and where people can set up their own events.”

— ND: Since you guys started your careers at such young ages, when was the first time you were ‘star struck.’

— TH: “We’ve met so many people we’ve been blown away by. Billy Joel was a big one. I don’t think there’s ever been a better songwriter than him; He sets the bar so high. We met Paul McCartney and sung on stage with him and with Brian Wilson.”

— ND: How do you guys want to be remembered?

— TH: “I’d like to be remembered for the quality of the music … ultimately that the songs survive. … When you make a record that’s what you hope – that the songs and the music itself is just seen as something that stands the test of time. That’s poignant. … Next year we will have been a band for 20 years. This is all we’re qualified to do. We couldn’t do anything else. For one, we love what we do and we love making music together.”