The three siblings who comprise the soul/pop group Hanson are living proof that a band can survive being labelled cutesy pop idols to not just survive and thrive in the music business.
Isaac, Taylor and Zac burst on the scene out of Tulsa, Oklahoma with the breakout hit single MMMBop, from their debut album Middle of Nowhere, and were immediately propelled to the heights of superstardom.
The year was 1997, and the earliest rumblings of the seismic cataclysm that would see the music industry shaken to its core, had just begun.
In an ideal scenario, Hanson would have followed up their debut with a second album that would have done as well or better.
But instead, their record label Mercury was absorbed by a bigger entity and dismantled. Hanson, a band rooted in the Soul and R&B sound of the 1960s, was shuffled over to a rap label, Island Def Jam, where they were mismanaged and ultimately fell off the map.
Well, not completely. The band continued to perform and write music while trying to extricate itself from it’s contract, finally setting up 3CG Records in 2001 and releasing new material fairly regularly.
Through clever and comprehensive use of social media, the band has been able to maintain a solid international fan base, even though it is no long part of the pop mainstream.
The band’s latest album, Shout It Out, came out in 2010, and the band is still touring in support of it and hit single Thinking ‘Bout Something, and will be appearing at the Empire Theatre in Belleville on Thursday, February 9.
It is part of the band’s first large-scale cross-Canada tour.
“It’s interesting to be touring across Canada right now. Getting to a lot of places requires going there when it doesn’t make sense to be in another part of the world. So as much as it seems strange to be touring Canada in winter, it worked for us to make Canada a priority,” said Taylor Hanson, the middle brother, who turns 29 in March, from a tour stop in Calgary.
Older brother Isaac is 31, while younger brother Zac is 26.
“We are going out there and doing something we haven’t done, in Canada at least, which is to really cultivate our ability to come and be a touring act across Canada. We just, last year, one of the big goals as we were sort of in the second round of touring on this album, was, gosh there’s a lot of fans outside of the U.S. that we haven’t given attention to in the same way. And we really need to do that.
“Historically, half of the record sales and touring for Hanson has been outside of the U.S., and I think the whole thinking was about getting out there, and building more of a relationship with the fans in the different communities.
Hanson said he has always been impressed with how loyal the band’s fan base has been, even when they were no longer MTV media darlings.
“There’s a lot of fans who have genuinely stuck with us through the years. We are really are the very first members of the Internet generation. We actually watched it happen when we were young teenagers, so that allowed us to have an ongoing collection over the last 15 years, so there are a lot of fans who are our peers. I will be 29 in March, so there’s large number of them who are in their late 20s or early 30s,” he said.
“There’s also a lot of brand new fans. This last year and a half, touring on this album, we’re happy to see a lot of fans coming out because they saw the video on VH1 or saw it online, or it was sent to them by a friend, and then they’re going backwards and checking out earlier records. I mean, that’s what you want. If you have any career under your belt, you want people to discover the new and then work backwards.”
Hanson has always maintained a squeaky clean image, with no sex, violence or profanity in their repertoire which, again runs contrary to the mainstream.
Taylor Hanson said they have never tried to be trendy, and always wanted to stick to the sort of old-school, fun Soul and R&B music that they grew up listening to as little Hansons.
“We’ve always known what we liked, and we’ve always looked to the people we’ve idolized, and the great songwriters and great bands. And I am glad you heard that and noticed that, because it is pop, and it is positive, and it is inspired by a lot of soul music and it is very real,” he said, pointing out the fact that the majority of the vocal work on the album was done on the first take in the studio.
“So how do you break into the mainstream. I think you defy the mainstream. You do what you do, and you stay consistent, and that builds a certain rapport with your audience. We see it as sort of like the stock market. The rise and the fall looks big from day to day, but if you look over a period of time, there’s a steady climb.
“And every once in while, what you’re doing happens to be trendy, and happens to resonate in a really big way.”
The video for Thinking ‘Bout Something features scenes in a music instrument pawn shop and dance sequence out on the street that are a direct homage to similar scenes in the 1980 movie, the Blues Brothers.
“Our whole career we’ve been waiting to do that. Our inside joke was, with every album that we made, how could we tie with the Blues Brothers. Mostly because that movie represented a weird cross section of things that we love: soul music, the humour, the light hearted nature of it, but also the absolute quality,” he said.
“I was listening to the track and we were surfing around on Youtube and looking at different visual ideas and references for what the video was going to be, and came to that scene from Blues Brothers, and sort of looked away and realized that the audio that was playing for our song, basically matched up perfectly with the clips from that original scene. And it was as if Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi were dancing along to our track.”
The Hanson family moved out of the country for a year because of their father’s work commitments, and during this critical year, far away from American radio and television, the three brothers were entertained by listening to albums of 1950s and 1960s soul, rock and R&B music, bought by their mother.
“And that music just stuck, just the sound of that era, which is Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, Bobby Darin, The Beach Boys, Elvis, the 4 Tops, and then into Motown and all that,” he said.
“So that was the spark and for whatever weird reason, we had that exposure in an isolated form, and at that age, your brain takes it in like a sponge. And once that happened we started exploring everything from that area. Because we weren’t old enough to be listening to modern radio, we had numerous years as really little kids, where we were just really getting exposed to one of the great American art forms, something that the southern American states can really take credit for which is that combination of Gospel and Roots music, which turned into rhythm and blues, and rock and roll.”
And that is what fans coming to the show in Belleville on Feb. 9 will be in for – a full on party atmosphere that Taylor Hanson hopes will have people at the Empire Theatre dancing in the aisles.
“You’re going to be entertained. We’re there to draw you out of your shell. Our show is a mix of all the records, and throughout the Hanson 15 years, that people know, and a few covers that we drop in. It’s not a cross-you-arms and enjoy a night of easy listening. We want you let your hair yourself a little bit. Don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself. It’s us, it’s positive. It’s a chance to escape for a little while and just get into the music,” he said.
For more information, visit http://www.theempiretheatre.com.
For information on the band, visit www.hanson.net.