Hanson standing strong after two decades

By | August 28, 2013



(From left) Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson are all grown up, selling beer and celebrating the release of their sixth studio album, “Anthem.”

Want to feel old?

Hanson just celebrated their 21st anniversary as a band.

True, the sibling trio of Taylor, Isaac and Zac Hanson had barely shelved their Superman lunchboxes when “MMMBop” conquered pop radio in 1996, four years after the brothers officially formed as a musical entity.

Now they’re old enough to boast their own beer line – more on that later – and father enough kids to form an on-field football team.

While the chart hits fizzled after the late-‘90s, Hanson did the opposite of fading into pop obscurity. They continued to hone their already impressive musical chops, recording and performing not for the Top 40 accolades, but because this is what they do.

Their recently released sixth studio album, “Anthem,” is a glorious collection of R&B-soaked, guitar-driven pop songs that spotlight the guys’ predilection for ’60s-styled melodies wrapped in meaty musicianship.

Check out the amusing video for “Get the Girl Back” if you need proof.

Hanson already wrapped a tour of Europe and South America and on Saturday, the U.S. leg begins. The guys will return to one of their favorite venues, The Variety Playhouse, on Sept. 8.

Last week, Taylor Hanson called from the band’s home base of Tulsa, Okla., to talk about the tour, why Atlanta is special to him, and the beauty of Mmmhops beer.

Q: So you’ve already been to Europe. Will the shows change much for America?

A: This whole tour, I feel like we’re just beginning with the U.S. run. The great thing about the tour in the U.S. is that you can do so many shows in a similar kind of rhythm. This tour is going to feature the new record, which is all about the connection to the audience. The title (“Anthem”) represents songs taking on meaning with a group of people so we’re looking forward to sharing that. We’ll mix in a lot of fun covers, too.

Q: You’re playing the Variety Playhouse here, which you’ve played a few times in the past. Is there a particular reason you like that room?

A: You pick the right size rooms and the routing comes into it. There’s not a particular magic to it, but I do like the way that room feels and the way the audience is ramped up you can really look at them. Atlanta is such an awesome town. My wife is from there – we started dating 13 years ago, so I’ve spent a lot of time there and been down in Little Five Points a lot to hang out. It has a good vibe.

 Q: You’ve talked about the struggle of putting this album together, but ultimately, what do you think made it work?

A: I think you have to compare it to a marriage, as much as that seems funny. At some point you decide whether or not you want to walk away. These days, a lot of people choose to let their differences get the best of them.

When we came into this record we really hit a wall, and that came out in our process and caused us to have to stop and rethink the whole album. What brought us together was thinking about what’s next. For me, it’s always been about what we could do next, that’s what gets you up in the morning. We’re 21 years into a band – and I’m 30– so it’s who you are, it’s an identity thing.

 Q: I love the video for “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’” (from the 2010 album “Shout it Out”). How did you feel about the dancing? It seems like you got away with not doing it much until the end.

A: (Laughs) I got to be Ray (Charles)! It was filmed in Tulsa and we built the set from nothing. Our offices are a converted warehouse, and for about six months we moved our offices there.

With that video and ‘Get the Girl Back,” there has been that slight revival in us emphasizing the retro R&B influence of this band and putting a big exclamation point on that.

Q: What’s the DVD coming out this fall?

A: We’re producing a live DVD and documentary about the record. The live DVD captures the closest thing to a Hanson show. It’s almost 30 songs so it’s a fan product, an epic, live DVD. We did a special show in New York that we recorded and it just paints a picture of what we do.


 Q: You’re still a young guy – but as you’re getting older, who do you look to for inspiration as both a singer and a keyboardist? I always hear a lot of Steve Winwood in your sound.

A: There’s some technical kinship with Steve Winwood and he had a really unique and long career, which is what we strive for. As artists, Michael Jackson is among the greatest inspirations purely as an artist. There is an intensity that he produced that I really always identified with.

But if you look at careers and artists, we look at people like Springsteen, who always made live music THE thing about him as a performer and has done critically acclaimed albums and made hugely successful pop albums. We look at people like Tom Petty, artists who, when you walk into the room, they have grandparents and kids singing their songs.

We’ve always been somewhat misunderstood in the sense that we don’t feel rock ‘n’ roll means debauchery, but it’s what actually happens on stage. It’s not necessarily the surrounding circus, but can you deliver it? Paul McCartney, of course the legend he is, he proves it’s still about writing a great song. That’s what we aspire to. We’re six albums in. When we’re 20 albums in, we want people to go, my God, there are so many great songs.

 Q: Anything in the pipeline with your side project Tinted Windows (which includes James Iha, Adam Schlesinger and Bun E. Carlos)?

A: It’s a side project, so it fits in between everything else. We are talking about songs and we all think it would be fun to have another record. But probably not until next year.

 Q: So whose idea was it to do Mmmhops (the band’s beer launched earlier this year)?

A: It was really just a brainstorming session. As we started our record label, we thought it’s not just Hanson the band, but who we are on a broader level. We’ll roast coffee with a local shop or do a cool merchandise thing. At one point a couple years ago, it fit right into the brainstorming session. I think Isaac is the one who said Mmmhops and we first laughed, but then thought…that could work! It took a couple of years to get it out there. We’re working with a brewery in Oklahoma (Mustang Brewing) that has highly received beers. This fall it will launch in multiple states in conjunction with the tour and we are going to have sales online to be shipped, hoping by middle of fall.

 Q: You guys are on the road pretty much the rest of the year. How does traveling and being a dad to five kids work out?

A: For me, being a dad gets more and more fun as your kids get older. My oldest is 10, so they have so much to say about the universe (laughs). It’s tough when you have to leave, but what balances it is they all know I love what I do. Being a good parent, it’s way more important that (the enjoyment factor) is known and you’re apart a little. They see that I’m passionate. But the families do travel with us some. We end the tour in Europe, so my family will be out there.

Q: How many kids are there among the Hanson brothers?

A: Well, Zac and wife just announced they’re expecting their third, so it will be 11 kids…it’s a couple of buses of madness!

Hanson performs with Paul McDonald. 8 p.m. Sept. 8. $27.50. Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000,  www.ticketmaster.com .

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