the AU interview: Taylor Hanson of Hanson (USA)

By | September 10, 2012

The AU Review

Things you might not know about Hanson

– MMMBop was released 15 years ago.
– Each band member is now a father.
– The band has released a total of eight studio albums.
– Youngest member Zac was the youngest person to ever be nominated for songwriting Grammy at age 12.
– They lead a charity called ‘Take the Walk’ that campaigns against AIDS/HIV and poverty in Africa.
– May 6 is officially recognised as Hanson Day in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
– They are about to tour Australia.

Amelia Barnes chatted to the band’s middle member Taylor Hanson to find out their songwriting inspirations, being a father, and their struggles with major labels.

You guys have a tour coming up, what brings you to Australia?

Well to keep it simple, the tour brings us to Australia! We travelled all around the world with this new record Shout It Out and it’s kind of the end of the album cycle for us. We’re excited we’re finally bringing the record to Australia and that response has been so great from the fans.

Have you guys been here before?

We’ve been to Australia several times. The first time we came was in 1997 and the last time was six or seven year ago in 2005; but it’s been too long.

We’ve been having quite a resurgence of ‘90s bands touring here in Australia, but some people might not know you have been continually releasing albums since your debut. Have your musical inspirations changed much over the years?

I mean like anything we continue to be inspired by new things…But I mean our deeper inspirations always come from great songwriters and from R&B; classic R&B, music that is sort of rigid but with good rhythm and great pop melodies.

You were signed with the label Island Def Jam Music Group for a while but decided to leave. What happened to prompt your leaving?

Well like pretty much every band in the past 10 or 15 years, we’ve lost some companies who have merged to together and we’ve been apart of those mergers. In some cases in lead to consequences of big labels hiring and firing people…And honestly, the decision to leave on our third record was really just to just trying to stay to the course we had set; which was to focus on the long term, and to work with artists who understood and knew what we were saying.

It really wasn’t about us casting off the major label system as much as it was figuring out what we trust and making sure we can keep a really direct relationship with our fans. So many bands in situations like we were in where a big label will buy another label and then everyone that you know at the company is fired and replaced by somebody else have ended up making records they’re not proud of, or breaking up because of the pressure. In our case, we were thankfully able to remove ourselves and start our own company. It certainly hasn’t been easy but I’m glad we did it.

So you’ve got your own record label now. Do you have any plans to sign other artists to the label?

You know being a record company is kind of dynamic because in a lot of ways I think the way record companies operate doesn’t particularly work. So what we’ve spent the last ten years doing is really learning what we think does work which we think is about having a strong connection to the fans, lots of great products and developing your touring.

We have really strong fan club and fans on the inner circle…We also kind of feel like we’re sort of the future of where music is headed, and we haven’t signed any other bands because of that reason. We feel like the future is really sort of a partnering with artists and providing sort of a tool for them to succeed instead of signing other artists and owning their world and offering distribution and things which labels have done in the past. Right now the label is sort of all that we can do and provides the backdrop for the rest of our music and I’m sure we’ll be working with other artists in a different capacity in the future.

Everybody remembers “MMMBop” for being ridiculously catchy. Even as teenagers you guys knew how to write a hit song. Does that come naturally to you?

I think with anything that’s artistic there’s a mix between what comes naturally and then conviction and focus on developing your craft. There’s definitely music in our family and there was always a creative atmosphere when we grew up but you don’t become a great songwriter by accident. You have to work and learn and really study great songwriters and that’s what we’ve done as we’ve advanced. Everybody from Billy Joel to Chuck Berry, Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond and Elton John; really anyone who’s ever been a really great songwriter, you sort of become a student of those people. You learn a lot about what it takes to make a lasting pop song stand out.

I’ve read that when you perform “MMMBop” live now you have to sing it in a different key. Is that true?

Well naturally because of the fact that I’m 29 and then I was 14 the key has dropped down a bit, but not as much as you’d think. As far as our voices, I’ve always had a higher range and really all of us have higher ranges in the sense of the pitch that you sing a particular song in. We’ve never had a hard time finding a key that’s true to the original, but it’s definitely a little bit lower than it was back in the day.

The song shot to number one I think in about 16 countries or something crazy. Has it been hard to follow up from that kind of success?

You know you’re definitely conscious of it, and I’d say we’re always looking to sort of support ourselves to reach whatever’s possible and excite people with your music. But we’ve never sat around and thought ‘Okay it has to match this and we’re up against that particular event’. You’re really proud of where you’ve come from and you make records that you really love and hope people like it as well.

As brothers, do you find working together to be a blessing or a curse?

Well it’s a mixed bag. You have to embrace the idea that there are benefits and there’s also going to be moments that you have to get through together. I think in the end it’s probably more of a blessing than a curse because we share so many interests and common values as men. We have things that we all kind of agree on and go into your band. But hey, it’s not always sunny and you just have to try and work through it.

How does your latest album differ from your latest work?

Probably the biggest thing about this album versus the previous one is the sonics of it; it really sounds more cohesive from top to bottom and it feels like a body of work. Part of that is because we really recorded it in a way that captures the sound…We wrote a lot of it as a group in one sort of sitting…We know where we come from; we make pop songs, pop melodies and that’s still what we aspire to. I think you’ll see that in a big way.

Have you ever wanted to break away from the band and do any solo work?

I’ve never really thought of it as a number one goal…You do so many things that are interesting and creative and I can imagine doing things on my own but I guess it’s never been something that I want to put the band aside to do. Like for example, I was in a side project called Tinted Windows, which was a power pop band. It was much more straight ahead, not particularly influenced by soul music or anything of that nature; it’s a lot of guitars and melodies. That’s a great thing to do, but it’s also cool to have it as a part of the things we’ve pursued in our career.

I hear Tulsa where you guys formed as a band celebrates Hanson Day, does that still happen?

Years ago the governor took that particular day and made it a day in our honour called Hanson Day. For a long time we didn’t really make a point of it ourselves, but a lot of fans decided to celebrate it. But in the last few years we decided to sort of embrace that day was proclaimed and fans come into Tulsa…So yes there is a Hanson Day and we try and celebrate it with fans.

You guys toured with Carly Rae Jepsen earlier in the year, which must have been a tour of insane catchy music. Do you find that audiences respond well to your new material?

Well first of all, Carly is awesome and she was a lot of fun to have on tour and yes she knows how to right great catchy music. That’s been proven by “Call Me Maybe”, which is not the biggest song of the year but is definitely one of.
As far as our music and how it’s received, yes fans who come to our shows are obviously already interested and the new record has been very well received.

You all have children now. Has that impacted on the band at all?

It hasn’t changed the course of the band or the mission behind the music, but it definitely influences it. I mean it’s something huge in our lives and changes what you think and spend your time doing so I think in that regard yeah it’s affected the music. I think most people when they have kids agree one of the greatest things you can do is to have a family and they’re crazy but it’s also a lot of fun so it affects everything you do.

Were you partners all big Hanson fans when they met you?

They were all fans in one form or another, I think to different degrees. If you think about the time that we were popular and obviously are spouses being of similar age saw the music on TV and the radio. So how much of a fan they were was kind of a non-issue. They were aware enough of the band to follow it and like a lot of people their age they were aware of what we were doing.

You are also passionate campaigners against poverty and AIDS in Africa. Can you tell me a little bit about the work you do there?

…So often you see artists who tend to kind of preach and we never wanted to be seen pushing causes on people, but we had a really strong personal experience in visiting Africa in 2006. Being in a part of the world where you see HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty connected and affecting so many young people it really just became clear the solutions that can be implemented by people all over the world to combat the crippling situation that’s happening in that part of the world. So we began something that is continued to this day which is called Take The Walk Campaign and it’s basically a gathering point where people can organise one-mile barefoot walks wherever they are in the world and they can connect with one another.

We make it easy for people to donate to specific causes that help combat HIV/AIDS and poverty by giving small donations and also we can support the ongoing effort by continuing to support people who take walks and we donate a dollar for each person who joins the walk event. Kind of the idea is our support of that campaign is kind of endorsing [others] to take action. Then we encourage people to start more walks and we tell thousands of people all over the world…It’s been an amazing journey and one that will probably be going for our whole lifetime.

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Hanson’s ‘Shout It Out’ Australian tour dates:
Thursday 13th September – HQ, Adelaide
Friday 14th September – Palace Theatre, Melbourne
Saturday 15th September – HiFi, Sydney
Thursday 20th September – HiFi, Brisbane
Friday 21st September – Coolangatta Hotel, Gold Coast
Saturday 22nd September – Metropolis, Fremantle