Hanson Plays the Chameleon Club

By | October 13, 2011

Carlisle Sentinel

Could they ever make it through a show without playing their signature smash hit “Mmmbop?”
The pop rock band Hanson could, says the group’s youngest brother, drummer and vocalist Zac Hanson, 25. But why would they ever want to?
By any measure, “Mmmbop,” the 1997 sensation that propelled the Tulsa, Okla., trio of brothers to international stardom is the band’s trademark, the word that causes even people otherwise unfamiliar with the band to nod their heads in recognition.
“You want to play the songs that people love, that song’s (“Mmmbop”) always going to be that way,” Zac said earlier this month during a telephone interview from Grand Rapids, Mich., where he and his brothers, pianist and lead vocalist Taylor, 28, and back-up vocalist and guitarist Isaac, 30, were prepping to take the stage for one of many stops on the group’s current Musical Ride Tour.
The old and the new
Which means that when the Musical Ride Tour rolls into Lancaster’s Chameleon Club Monday, Oct. 17, at 7 p.m., it’s likely fans will get their fix of Hanson’s trademark infectiousness via the band’s umpteenth rendition of “Mmmbop.”
“Certain songs just represent a whole time period,” Zac said. “For us, being huge fans of music, we understand that there are songs that you just want to hear like you remember them. You always want people to know your newest thing, but it doesn’t take away from the older songs that are sort of part of your history. Those songs don’t even have the same meaning they used to have in a lot of cases … now they include all the time and the people who have been part of the process of your life.
“Music isn’t stagnant,” he continued. “It’s not like a movie made in the 1980s that still looks and feels the same.”
Hanson’s “newest thing” is their fifth studio album, “Shout It Out,” which the band’s website brands as a “finely crafted, R&B-flavored pop-rock” – a tribute to the 50s and 60s soul that originally inspired the brothers to make music in the first place.” They released “Shout it Out” on their own independent label, 3CG (three-car garage) Records in June 2010 and the video for the current single from that album, “Give a Little,” earlier this year.
Interactive show
What sets the Musical Ride Tour aside from most other concerts is that Hanson’s fans are are in driver’s seat when it comes to selecting the set list. Here’s how it works: they log onto Hanson’s website, pick the concert date and vote for their favorite of the band’s five studio albums they want to hear – and then Hanson plays it in its entirety. The idea stemmed from a special “5 of 5” concert series the brothers staged in New York City last year, according to Zac. Each night, Hanson played one of its albums from front to back.
“Such a small group of the fan base got to experience that, but most of them came out for every show. It was so popular that we wanted to find a way to share that with all the fans,” Zac explained. “This way, we let people decide what album they want to hear. It’s a challenge for us that we enjoy. It forces you not to be lackadaisical about shows. We never want to be like, ‘Hey, we’re in town again, come see us.'”
This time around – also the title of their second studio album – Hanson’s allowing a broader cross-section of its fans to vote for the album of their choice up until 24 hours prior the show, at which point the polls close.
As of press time, “This Time Around” was beating out “Middle of Nowhere” and “Underneath” by 43 percent to 30.84 percent and 26.09 percent, respectively, in the “You Pick the Set List” poll for the Chameleon Club show.
That outcome falls into line with the pattern the band’s typically seen during the twists and turns in the tour, which kicked off in September, Zac said. “This Time Around,” released in 2000, was Hanson’s sophomore record, a follow-up to their debut album, “Middle of Nowhere.” It’s tended to come out on top most often.
“My analysis of it is that a lot of our fans now became hard core fans during that record,” Zac said. “I think with the second record, a lot of our fans sort of went, ‘Yeah, I do like this band. They are a band I’m going to continue to follow for years.'”
Going live
Aligning the set list with studio recordings is tricky, Zac said. Rarely-played ballads and more nuanced numbers with complex arrangements and subtleties test the band’s ability to arrange such songs for a live audience.
“Yearbook,” a dark and haunting track on “Middle of Nowhere” that Hanson didn’t play live for a decade, is a prime example.
“It’s a song with a lot of melodrama in it, a lot of strings, a lot of percussion that we can’t replicate live, so it challenges you to rearrange the song.” Playing “Tearin’ it Down,” from the band’s 2007 record, “The Walk,” is an equally arduous endeavor.
“It’s another case where you have 12 vocal takes playing on top of each other, and we just don’t have 12 vocalists on stage, so we have to improvise,” Zac said.
Reconfiguring songs is intellectually stimulating, but Hanson’s fiercely loyal fans – late 20-somethings who have tracked the band since they were preteens – are worth it, according to Zac.
“We have an incredibly high percentage of hard core fans who know every lyric and follow the band extensively,” Zac said. That irrepressible enthusiasm translates into a large proportion of “really fun shows to play,” he said, adding, “You have such a great audience that will respond and wants to be involved in the show. No one’s just standing there with crossed arms.”
Social media
Hanson has purposely nurtured connections with those dedicated followers, utilizing social media tools like Twitter and Facebook to keep in touch.
“We’re an interesting band because we’re the oldest end of the people who have grown up constantly using cellphones, social media and the Internet,” Zac said. “Our fans really latched onto that early and wanted to connect that way. It’s an amazing thing to be able to connect with a worldwide fan base with the click of a button.”
There are obvious downsides to technology, such as the damage it can do to music sales and the “celebrity sort of voyeurism” that inevitably rears its head, Zac said. That’s why Isaac, Taylor and Zac, all of whom have families of their own, try to steer the conversation toward making music and the importance of social activism and community volunteerism.
Sure, being away from their wives and kids – Zac and Isaac have two children apiece and Taylor has four – is difficult and the demands online media place on the band’s time is often challenging. But the Hansons consider themselves blessed to be doing what they love for a day job.
“They way I see it, at least I’m not getting shot at, like I would be if I was in the Marines or an Army guy,” Zac said. “If I have to be away, it’s only for a month. We’ve been lucky to have fans all over the world and all over the country.”
Charlie Mars will open Monday’s show at the Chameleon Club.