It’s unlikely that when Hanson takes the stage at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto this Friday, they’ll get a response like they did back in 1998. According to the band, that visit resulted in a world record for the loudest concert audience (reportedly reaching 140 decibels). Fast-forward 14 years, and things are a little different.
“These days our crowds, thankfully, their voices are a little lower,” Zac Hanson says. “Twelve-year-olds scream a lot louder, more higher-pitched, than 26-year-olds.”
Like his fans, Zac Hanson’s all grown-up. Now 26, the youngest sibling and drummer/vocalist in the band was only 12 when Hanson became a global phenomenon with the success of their single MMMBop and the accompanying 10 million-selling album Middle of Nowhere in 1997.
Actually, given that level of fame at such a young age, Zac sounds surprisingly thoughtful and modest throughout the interview, particularly when asked if he expects to ever repeat that success. “It’s not something we did. [It’s a product of] all those things that come together that nobody can ever quantify.”
For all its success, MMMBop had the makings of being a one-hit-wonder. And given the entertainment business’s less-than-kind history with childhood stars, detractors relished in the potential of how ugly the group’s demise might be. But Zac isn’t too surprised to have proven the naysayers wrong.
“It only surprises me that we’re able to not kill each other sometimes,” he says of the added pressure of being in a group with his two brothers, Taylor and Isaac. “As people, the three of us are very different. We have different ways of expressing ourselves, different passions outside of this band. But we still come back together for this — this is the job we all want.”
Their perseverance was not without its share of business-related trials, though. In 2003, Hanson parted ways from major label Island Def Jam, an emotional split documented in the film Strong Enough to Break. Disillusioned with dealing with the majors, Hanson established its own label, 3CG Records. Ironically, the band critics may once have accused of being a product of the corporate music industry is now technically indie. And asked if he would ever be lured back by major label promises of wealth and fame, Zac sounds more like a statesman of pop than a bubblegum has-been.
“You would have to be so naive after 20 years of doing this to think that anyone, no matter who they are, no matter how much money they have, is able to say, ‘I’m going to press a big button, and you’re going to be a star,’ ” he says. “Money can buy a certain amount of advertising that makes you present to people, but it doesn’t actually make you a lasting success.”
Along with the loyalty of their fan base, having their own label has allowed Hanson to do just that. It’s also given them the freedom to explore different avenues such as charity work, the release of a board game, Hansonopoly, and the development of their very own IPA beer, MMMHop.
Of course, music is the priority, and this year sees Hanson touring Canada to support its fifth studio album, Shout It Out. Showcasing instantly catchy songs influenced by the group’s love of music from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s that has guided their direction since the beginning, it’s clear that Hanson hasn’t lost the art of writing a great hook.
“We grew up listening to what I consider to be the benchmark for every pop song going forward,” Zac says. “In our gut, we love great, crafted pop songs.”
But he’s hesitant to describe their sound as upbeat. While Hanson recognizes that they might be the polar opposite of a genre such as heavy metal — the band covered Slipknot’s Wait and Bleed as an April Fool’s joke last year — Zac points out that even their biggest hit isn’t really a happy song. Reading the opening lines of MMMBop to me over the phone, I not only realize he’s right, but I start to imagine just how mind-blowing an experience this would be to a 12-year-old fan back in 1997. But Zac is quick to remind me that this is a more mature conversation we’re having.
“When you listen to Hanson songs, we usually come to some sort of conclusion within ourselves for how we’re going to deal with our problem: For better or worse, this is where I ended up and I’m going forward with this statement,” he says. “And it may be ‘F–k you.’… But in a more poetic way.”
Hanson plays Ottawa Feb. 8; Belleville, Ont., Feb. 9; Toronto Feb. 10; and Montreal Feb. 11. For tickets and information, visit hanson.net.