In the minds of many ’90s girls, the three brothers from Tulsa, Oklahoma known as Hanson will forever be frozen in time as the fresh-faced teens captured in countless Smash Hits magazine posters – as synonymous with the decade as inflatable couches and butterfy clips. But in reality Zac, Taylor and Isaac Hanson have grown. They’ve got wives, kids and even their own beer, the aptly named Mmmhops. They’ve just released their sixth studio album and are coming back to Australian for a massive run of dates this August. Amelia Parrott caught up with eldest brother and guitarist, Isaac Hanson to talk about the band’s new record, Anthem, and the meaning behind that song.
I suppose I should start off by wishing you a happy belated Hanson Day. 17 years since Middle of Nowhere must feel pretty wild?
It feels good. I don’t know exactly what I expected do be doing 17 years fromMiddle of Nowhere but I definitely expected to be doing music, I just didn’t know in what form and in what place, where I would be exactly, but the goal was always to be continuing to do music and to make new records and all those kinds of things and here we are 17 years later. It is a blessing that we could have only hoped for.
You’ll be out here on tour in August and you’ve released your new album, Anthem, to coincide with the tour announcement. How does it feel now Australian fans have finally got their hands on, and ears around, this album?
We’re very excited to finally be bringing a consecutive set of tours down to Australia. It had been multiple years between our previous tour, Shout It Out, and the tour before that, I think it was about five years or so. Now having only a two-year space between Australian tours, it is really exciting and a lot of fun. The Australian fans are amazing and despite the fact that we are many, many miles of ocean away from one another, the fans know every single word to every single song and scream at the top of their lungs and it’s just been such a great thing to still be able to maintain and have that connection with people around the world.
On Anthem you produced yourselves again this time around. How do you find that process now having made so many LPs with someone else in the producer seat?
Since the very beginning we’ve always been pretty hands on as a band. Everything we’ve done was either a song that we’d wrote with someone or a song that we’d wrote ourselves so it’s a natural extension for us to take the control freak method and just make a record from top to bottom. The first record we did that way, completely from top to bottom, was the last record,Shout It Out, right before this one. We didn’t originally intend to [self-produce again] but it just made sense and we liked the process so much on Shout It Out that we just decided we weren’t going to second guess ourselves, we were just going to go straight back into the studio and make a new album.
However, we did have a little bit of a false start. We began this album process with a song called ‘Tonight’, which is actually the last song on the album and we recorded that song but we barely made it through. There was a lot of post-tour angst of sorts. We had been on the tour a lot in the previous year before that. I think everyone was a lot more worn out than we had given credit to and band tensions ran high and we found ourselves having to take a creative hiatus. We finished that song in March of 2012 but we didn’t start recording any more music or writing any more music together until late September. There was a very long period, basically six months, of hiatus between us really creating music together. It took all of us by surprise in some ways but at the same time there was stuff that had been brewing for a while and we just needed to give each other a bit of space.
I suppose creating this record top to bottom, as you say, gave you a bit of extra freedom to take that hiatus and clear the air before you got back in the studio.
If we had have had somebody else involved it would have felt even more complicated honestly because we would have had such a major false start. But I do think that whole process really turned into a much more aggressive record than we’ve ever made before. You start out this record with a song called ‘Fired Up’, which honestly takes a lot of cues from early AC/DC records. It’s a very aggressive, very rock oriented song. You know, the lyrics, “We’re not turning around this time / Let’s get fired up,” it’s a rally cry of sorts. I think that is indicative in a lot of ways of some of the things that have changed on this record.
The record took on an intensity, an aggressiveness and frankly a yearning to fix the, shall we say, broken parts and turn them into something productive. So I think that there are a lot of songs on the record that kind of do that and talk about those things. Even the song ‘Get the Girl Back’, which is a romantic song, it talks about fixing a problem. It’s about fixing a challenge. There are a lot of themes on this record that are about that. But of course, anyone who’s followed Hanson very much would know that’s not an unusual theme.
It is a very varied record. You do have that rock influence, as you say, but there is also a really strong old school RnB influence on tracks like ‘Get the Girl Back’ and ‘I’ve Got Soul’ in particular, what’s brought that out so strongly this time?
I think that’s something that we feel really comfortable doing as a band and have felt even more so over the past few years. It’s always been a huge part of our DNA as a band but we found ourselves on the last album, Shout It Out and again on this album, really leaning on some of those musical tendencies just partially because it feels so natural. We just really like playing those things. It’s something that we can’t get away from and it goes all the way back to songs like ‘MMMBop’ and songs like ‘Where’s the Love’, they have a lot of similar musical DNA to songs like ‘Get the Girl Back’. Of course, our voices are a lot lower now than they were back then [laughes] but there are a lot of similarities.
Since you brought up ‘MMMBop’, I do have to talk about your breakthrough single. What’s it like when you play that opening riff and you see girls who are maybe in their late 20s now revert to a teen fangirl state?
[Laughes] First of all, what I will say is that it is remarkable, the screaming. Even 17 years later it’s never really stopped, which I think is a good thing. I have to say, I’ve been to a lot of concerts and I would not take anybody else’s audience for a million dollars. Our crowd is so much fun. They are so engaged. They care so much about everything that’s going on and despite the intensity of the screaming, the audience in the room is a very music focused audience and I think that gets lost on a lot of people. A lot of people talk about, “Oh they’re screaming and it’s so loud,” but then they forget that for the next three and a half minutes they’re also singing every lyric of the song.
I like to think that’s because we’ve done a good job but I don’t think I can take credit for that, I think it’s just something about where we were, when we were, at the right time and we’ve been able to maintain that relationship and continue to grow it with new fans and evolve in the process and playing songs like ‘MMMBop’ is actually really fun. I think it is more fun over the last few years than it was in the previous years before that. Right around 10 years after Middle of Nowhere it started to get even more fun. The first few years obviously are fun but then the next few years you’ve just really used to playing it like, oh yeah, it’s a part of the show and whatever, but then as the years have gone on, songs evolve and connect with people in different ways. Now that song carries a different kind of weight. The song talks about holding on to things that really matter to you because in the end you only have those few things that last and stick with you throughout your whole life and I think in a lot of ways the song ‘MMMBop’ for so many people, including ourselves as the band, has been that. I think it’s kind of appropriate that that is the context of that otherwise extremely upbeat pop diddy.