Two decades of being Hanson
Hanson has come a long way since 1997, both professionally and personally. They’ve married, had kids, created their own record label and host numerous charity events benefiting children. The band’s career so far spans 21 years; Hanson garnered three Grammy nominations by the time its members exited puberty. Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson have eaten, breathed and slept music since they could pick up an instrument. Known for their breakout 1997 album Middle of Nowhere, the band has released eight studio albums total, including Anthem, released in July 2013 on their own label, 3CG Records. Zac Hanson, the youngest member, spoke to the Alibi about life with Hanson and what to expect from Anthem.
So you just released your eighth studio album, Anthem, and are touring in support. What inspired the name?
“Anthem” is a great word. If you think about the meaning of the word, it’s all about an uplifting moment; it’s about something that people can identify with. It can be used as a battle cry for a cause or vice. We felt it was a great way to describe the music we were making. I read [Ayn Rand’s] book Anthem, and I thought about how the book was really about going out on your own. I thought that’s probably the most iconic way to use that word in pop culture. That wouldn’t be too bad to associate the album with that. The word is about music that is uplifting and sort of a battle cry for people. When you listen to this record, I think that is the message that comes through. These songs are about fighting for something—such as: “You Can’t Stop Us,” “Scream and Be Free,” “Tonight”—these songs are about overcoming and taking chances.
In many interviews, you talk about how you guys like to reinvent your music for fans. How is Anthem different from your other albums?
There are certain things that are the same about our band, in a sense of the way we write songs and a certain pop sensibility we just can’t seem to get away from. I think it’s more about never being afraid to do something. So when you hear this record, there are certain things that sound like Hanson, but it is definitely different-sounding than our last album, Shout It Out. The guitar makes this huge comeback. Songs are going to be a lot more riff-driven. There is a large use of melodies. We love all our records. We are so proud of them, but you have to follow that muse and always be honest with what’s inspiring you. We always try and not be boxed in that mentality: Well Hanson sounds like this, so let’s do that. Do something that is inspiring to you. If that’s more of the same, that’s great, but if it’s something a little more different, then you have to follow that.
As a band or individual musicians, do you ever have moments of doubt about how your music will be received? Or do you think doing this for 21 years has made you comfortable and confident enough in your abilities that you don’t really worry?
You have to learn early on that you can’t focus on the doubt. You have to find your barometer; you have to find something to judge the quality on. You really have to stop and ask, “Hey, have I made something that is high quality?” Once you ask yourself that and from that point, you have determined it is, then you can give it to the world, and you don’t focus too much on the judgement. Especially with the rise of social media and digital distribution, everyone is going to be a critic. You can’t live your life focused on how people are going to think because … you have to know that you made something high quality. Then you have to find the people that agree—not to please everyone, but find the kind of people who like the kind of music you like and the kind of music you like to make. That is your job as a musician: not to make music for every person but to make music that you’re excited about and find the people that agree.
After 21 years in the music industry, you become aware of your limitations. You have to push yourself as far as you possibly can. Hopefully every time you play, you’re pushing yourself to acquire a new skill. You just can’t live your life focusing on others’ opinions of your music. We have a lot of positivity surrounding us. Most people have responded well to the music. There’s no point in focusing on what every blogger, music journalist or individual has to say; you’ll just be angry, and it doesn’t help you as a musician.
I noticed random art on the cover of Anthem: a flame, a lightbulb and a lightning bolt. What is the significance of these symbols?
They are all sources of light. For us, they represent that spark, that moment of inspiration. We felt like the use of those symbols was both something cool artistically and something that represented that light that people look to, that moment of inspiration. We felt that the symbols definitely represented this album―that moment of realization and inspiration. We created an EP for our fan club with the same kind of theme, the sound of light. We know that you can’t hear light, but that was sort of the point. You’re searching for something unachievable, searching for the light.
You guys are always talking about your musical influences, ranging from Bill Withers to Johnny Cash and the like. Is there a particular artist who influenced Anthem the most?
There are songs that you definitely hear influence from Michael Jackson, songs like “Tragic Symphony.” There are songs where you hear Queen, like in “You Can’t Stop Us.” There was a quality that we were toying around with and putting our own version of what musicians we like and putting them in our songs. There is definitely a strong Motown influence throughout the album, like in “Get The Girl Back.” James Brown played an influence as well. This album is definitely in the realm of that R&B but just a different side of it.
For people who haven’t heard you guys since “MMMBop,” what Anthem track should they definitely hear and why?
(Laughs.) If you haven’t heard Hanson since “MMMBop,” I don’t know what people are going to think. It’s been 17 years since our first single. I would say “Get The Girl Back.” You have singles for different kinds of reasons. I think that this song is a good introduction to where we are as a band right now. For those individuals who heard Shout it Out, I think that was a great bridge to this album. It really has that R&B [feel] with more drums and more guitar in it. For people who haven’t heard our band in a long time, I think that song finds a nice balance between that influence of The Jackson 5 from Middle of Nowhere and more of a harder edge. If you haven’t heard us in 17 years, it’s going to really be a shocking experience, either way you look at it. I mean, we’re the same band but 17 years later. You’re always building from your past experiences but also adding to the experiences.