Hanson have turned 21 and unveiled their own beer, ‘MMMHops’. But more importantly they return with new album ‘Anthem’, as Zac Hanson tells Jeremy Williams.
Tulsa trio Hanson have notched up 21 years of musical exploration – in which time they have sold over 16 million records worldwide and scored 8 UK Top 40 singles – but their journey is far from over.
While the band of brothers – Ike, Taylor and Zac – may have branched out into beer to mark their ‘coming of age’ – MMMHops (currently not available in the UK) – their musical ambitions remain intact, as they unveil studio album number six (their fourth on their own label 3CG), Anthem.
With the boys in Britain to promote the record, youngest member (and the only one still under 30) Zac decided to fill-in So So Gay on their current state of play.
‘We have always been influenced by 50s and 60s Motown Records’, Zac opens, ‘but Anthem is a bit of a step forward, an exploration of our rock side’.
For anyone unfamiliar with Hanson’s versatile back catalogue and only aware of their multi-platinum début Middle Of Nowhere, Zac’s statement may be somewhat inexplicable. While their groove driven début was filled with funk-fuelled infectious pop, Hanson have spent the last 21 years applying their passion for Motown to an array of genres – for those who have a penchant for Blues, we recommend This Time Around, those who love African grooves turn to The Walk and for the sheer pleasure of funk soul try Shout It Out – however,Anthem sees the trio arrive at a sound removed from their primary influence.
Though Zac concedes that they ‘still have our pop sensibility – a focus on melody and harmony’, he reveals ‘Anthem explores the side of the band that adored ‘Aerosmith, AC/DC and Queen when we were growing up.’
‘On Anthem the guitar makes a big comeback. Our last record,Shout It Out, saw us playing a lot of guitar, a lot of piano so we decided to use more of the guitar again.’ Though the process was an organic exploration of their sonic status, Zac notes that from the very outset Anthem stuck out as being a little bit bigger.
‘They are the songs that when performing live, an audience can sing back louder.’ With Zac proudly stating, ‘I feel like we are making our best music now’, he notes, ‘we have just got so many more years of experience, and so many more sounds have influenced our ears.’
With the group never happy to stay static and stuck in a sound, he reveals that his biggest career ambition is born out of a need to ‘continue to reinvent. It’s something that’s always difficult, as new sounds are always just beyond our fingertips.’
With Zac open to a discussion of the group’s creativity, he reveals that Hanson always ‘write a lot as a group’, a process which clearly diminishes the need for ego.
While Taylor was always seen as the group’s frontman and vocalist in the early days, anyone who has listened to their more recent work will note an increase in the use of Ike and Zac’s equally impressive vocals.
With Anthem their most evenly distributed vocal effort to date, Zac reveals they are ‘never conscious of that, it’s all very natural.’ The truly humble musical icon reveals that although ‘we made a conscious effort to make sure that Isaac had a share of the lead vocals as he didn’t sing lead on any of the last album’, the division of vocal parts is based purely on the tonal quality of vocal most appropriate to the song itself: ‘I have the highest voice, Ike the lowest and Tay has a strong soulful voice, and so we sing in that formation.
‘After 21 years we have done it each and every way, so it’s definitely now just a case of being able to say, you sound better on that song.’
Though Anthem showcases the sheer power of the three vocalists’ individual characteristics, it becomes apparent that Zac is perhaps most proud of their beauty in their vocal union. ‘We write a lot as a trio, so we’re able to just explore as we write.’
‘On ‘You Can’t Stop Us’ it was originally me singing the verse, but then as we were singing ‘Us’ and not ‘I’ we thought it would be good to switch leads, so it was not just ‘me’. I think it adds a really cool character to the band.’
While Anthem clearly demonstrates Hanson’s vocal distinctions and strengths and an aptitude for a rock-driven sound, it also boasts the inclusion of a fourth vocalist – Fitz and The Tantrums’ Michael Fitzgerald – on two songs.
Though loyal fans will be aware of previous collaborations – from acclaimed Blues guitarist Jonny Lang appearing on three songs from This Time Around though to a duet with Emma Daumas (‘Someone (Laissons-Nous Une Chance)’ for the French edition of Underneath – Fitzgerald’s appearance feels the most natural to date.
‘We met them while promoting Shout It Out – we did a lot of the same radio, television and festival appearances and we struck up a friendship. We have a lot of similar influences – Motown and Old School Funk – so it was just a natural fit. We were just in the studio tracking and just asked if he wanted to come down, and now he features on two of the songs.’
Though it’s clear that Zac enjoyed his latest foray into collaboration, he is acutely aware that there is little need for Hanson to explore additional members.
While at times the three members have lent their skills to other projects, most notably Taylor fronted rock supergroup Tinted Windows, Zac explains, ‘we love the idea of collaboration, but there are certain artists who do that more out of celebrity. They choose to team up with hip artists for profile, but we will only do it if it feels natural.’