Boys to men: Hanson still loves making music

By | January 29, 2012

Calgary Herald

To others, who we are is often what we were.

First impressions, best impressions, worst impressions, broad impressions — in the eyes of those around us we remain in a state of stasis no matter what’s followed.

Not many people know that better than Isaac Hanson from American sibling trio Hanson. He, along with his brothers Taylor and Zac, burst onto the scene in the mid-’90s as shaggy, wide-eyed, musical moppets MMMBopping their ways into the pop world and cementing themselves into the collective psyche as their teen selves despite aging, continuing, having further successes, and growing musically and personally.

By the sounds of it, though, he doesn’t sound bothered by it — at worst resigned.

“I think that no matter what there are certain challenges as an artist,” says the oldest of the three brothers in the band and now a parent himself. “No matter what scenario you’re in, there is that fine line of, ‘success cuts both ways sometimes,’ and sometimes people remember certain things more than they remember other things. So youth and long hair and things of that nature immediately comes to peoples’ minds, which I totally get.”

The band’s latest release should, in a just world, chip considerably away at that earlier image, so stellar a record it is.

Shout It Out, the Oklahoma men’s’ fifth effort, was released last year in the States on their own 3CG label, and hit in the Top 3 Billboard indie and digital charts. The album will finally get its Canadian release in the upcoming months, but Hanson are heading out to preview it during their most complete cross-country tour, including a stop tonight at the Deerfoot Inn and Casino.

While that’s good news for local fans, it’s somewhat bittersweet in the context of the new record, as they’ll be in three-piece form, and not something resembling Shout It Out’s more elaborate configuration, which finds they and their incorrigibly catchy and hooky R&B songs filled out with other instrumentation and, most notably, a superb horn section.

Speaking volumes to their skills as songwriters and artists, some of the guest musicians featured on the disc include bassist Bob Babbitt, from the legendary Motown house band the Funk Brothers, and arranger Jerry Hey, who has set the horns for such notables as Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones.

“We’ve had the goal over the years of trying to work with musicians that we were inspired by in one form or another,” says Isaac, pointing to his brother Taylor’s work with members of the Smashing Pumpkins, Fountains of Wayne and Cheap Trick in the power-pop supergroup Tinted Windows.

“Ultimately that was the primary inspiration for us musically over the years, and to have the opportunity to sprinkle in that stuff and also to actually get phone calls back from people is a really nice thing to have and certainly not something we take for granted.”

It also underlines something that anyone who has even a passing familiarity with Hanson’s Grammy-winning, 14-million-albums-sold career can surmise, that the three brothers are students of music. Go back to that earliest impression, 1997’s Middle of Nowhere, which was very much the sound of those who had ravenously consumed, dissected and reimagined the music of the ’60s and ’70s, with MMMBop, itself, an answer to the Jackson Five’s ABC.

Isaac admits he and his brothers are constantly learning the lessons of those who came before, and he, himself, is currently in the midst of rediscovering early Southern soul through Stax and Muscle material.

“I think being a student of your craft is crucial, no matter what,” he says. “Because if you’re not a student, you’re not progressing in any way. If you’re not learning if you think you’ve learned it all then why keep making records, why keep doing anything?

“And certainly in regards to learning and being aware of music, we had a really nice dose early on in our lives that really has kept us curious.”

Isaac credits his parents who introduced the brothers — three of seven kids in the family — at a way early age to their musical blocks via one of those Hits of the ’50s cassette tapes hawked on infomercials, one in particular focusing on ’58 featured such songs as Johnny B. Goode, Summertime Blues and Rockin’ Robin.

After a solid year of playing, the tape wore out and others were introduced, with oldies stations now becoming the only dial position in the Hanson household, and more music, more artists and, then, in the form of the Jackson family, the possibility it could be something the brothers could actually do.

“It kind of becomes this effect on you that you can’t get it out of your head that maybe you can be successful at this as well,” Isaac remembers.

“And our parents were definitely appropriately encouraging. And what I mean by appropriately was that they weren’t the stage parent type. It wasn’t about them, it wasn’t about their egos, it was driven by our enthusiasm.”

Which, come to think of it, is one particular constant state perhaps Hanson should best be viewed, as well as with a certain amount of admiration that a decade and a half later they’re still doing it. Yes, that past is still a part of who they are and what they currently do — and it’s not something they’re ashamed of. But it was only the beginning, and that’s the impression they’d rather leave.

“I think at the end of the day, this is a game of survival, it’s a business of being the last man standing on some level or another,” Isaac says. “And we feel really, really good about what we’ve done, not only as young artists but as artists now — it’s continued. We feel pretty good about how consistent we’ve been in our music over the years. Everything evolves a little bit, everything changes. . . . But for the most part Hanson has maintained to be a very heavily R&B influenced pop band, in some form or another. . . . Things like MMMBop are not necessarily uncharacteristic of what we do. So it’s not a bad thing.”

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