On last season’s “Dancing With The Stars,” the brothers Hanson – Taylor, Zac and Isaac- appeared on the ABC celebrity dance competition’s “Guilty Pleasures” week, featuring their inescapably catchy hit “MmmBop:”. No band exactly cherishes the idea that anyone would have to feel guilty in order to justify liking their music, but during the show, lead singer Taylor had a thought.
“We were performing songs by people like Lionel Richie, and we were kinda like ‘Hey, does ‘guilty pleasure’ mean ‘really, really successful?’” says Taylor, once a ruddy-cheeked page boy-wearing 14-year-old, now a 28-year-old married dad. “We were like ‘We’ll take it!’”
Hanson hits the Culture Room Friday with their new album “Shout It Out,” but when their first studio album, “Middle of Nowhere” hit in 1997, critics seemed not to know what to make of them. They were three cherub-faced blond brothers whose music was informed more by early soul-inflected rock than by the Disney alums and boy bands sharing those charts with them. Well, they were literally boys in a band, who wrote and played their own music. But they weren’t edgy, sexy or cool, and their age, as well as their wholesomeness, made them easy to dismiss.
Nevertheless, they hit the media circuit hard, and their interviews were fun, fast, ocassionally frustrating (it was hard to tell who was talking sometimes!) and surprisingly professional – in full disclosure, I interviewed them by phone twice, and remember a lot of passing of the phone back and forth.
Taylor, who I remember as incredibly serious and polite for such a young and newly famous, says now that he remembers being “excited to be doing what we were doing, as we are now. But there were times when the idea of the media and a public persona felt a little bizarre, to keep that up. We understood it was a lot to navigate, but it was part of being in the public eye. Unfortunately, what you say and communicate very often does not come through when the stories are written. You just can’t take it personally.”
Indeed. But that’s a lesson anyone even remotely famous must learn eventually, and one “definitely important to learn early,” he says. “The sooner you learn that, the sooner you stop making every single mistake. We got an exceptionally early start in our career – next year we’ll have been in a band for 20 years – and having that experience and the ability to pull from that is great. We’ve kind of had two or three shots at it, a couple of extra swings.”
Their latest album again mines the vibe of the past – I always thought Taylor in particularly was a Midwestern Little Stevie Winwood. Taylor says that they’ve always been “about classic rock and roll, which was really the thing that inspired us and initially brought us into music – Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, Bobby Darren, Sam and Dave. You grow in your influences – there were a lot of great 70s bands, and we grew up in the ’90s, so the last couple of albums were a little more pop rock, with more guitar.”
And in the spirit of some of those classic recordings, much of “Shout It Out” was done in one room, old school, “done in pre-production, where we sorted out the arrangement of the songs,” Taylor says.
In the days since “MmmBop,” the band members did their own things, got married and had kids, and even did some musical exploration outside of Hanson. While Taylor says “there’s a place for taking a pause, we can’t imagine not making records. Once you’ve experienced this sort of lifestyle, and being able to create something, speaking to a massive audience, or even a medium audience, it’s an addictive game. It’s for the adrenaline junkie. We get to create something, to share it and walk on stage to try and convert people each night. It’s great to see them get converted and sing your songs back to you. The idea of it being a phase was never something that was a factor for any of us.”
And that’s nothing to be guilty of.