With these major life events, Hanson’s music has evolved, with eight albums achieving top 40 status along the way. This year after releasing their ninth studio album (Anthem) in 2013, the brothers are on the tail end of their Anthem World Tour, which wraps up in August.
Mashable interviewed the brothers about their Grammy-nominated smash hit from the ’90s, music in the modern social media age and what inspires them.
Q&A With Hanson
Mashable: Which of your newer songs has similar viral potential to “MMMBop”?
Taylor: We don’t sit around going for the next “MMMBop.” I think “MMMBop” was that song at that time, and we were proud of that song when we wrote it. I think that we just write songs that we feel excited about. We grew up admiring great songwriters and great pop songwriters and so there’s a little bit of a sense of a formula of a good pop song, but the only thing is does it get in your head? Do you sing it over and over? Do you wanna sing it? You see the fans’ response to “Get the Girl Back,” it has some of those qualities. There are different kinds of pop songs, you know?
“MMMBop” was a phenomenon partly because it was a fresh and different sound at a time when people were listening to Soundgarden and Nirvana
“MMMBop” was a phenomenon partly because it was a fresh and different sound at a time when people were listening to Soundgarden and Nirvana, and then all the sudden, “Oh, pop rock what is this? Mo-town influence? Is that the Jackson 5 white kid thing?” And so it’s really like can you have that perfect storm of the cultural shift, your music falling at the right time, connecting with generations.
Taylor: I think you can always try to write songs that are memorable, songs in your head, songs that you are proud of.
Isaac: Honestly, that’s where songs like “MMMBop” and “Where’s the Love” and others like that came from. So in that sense I think we’re kind of coming from an inspirationally — kind of like the DNA of who you are as a band — same place.
Here’s Hanson proudly performing “MMMBop” — at the 1:31:20 mark —- in 2013:
Mashable: “MMMBop” is a pre-viral song that has persevered. Now you’re in [the social media] era, whether it’s a video or a song, do you think about virality?
Zac: Thinking about viral as if there is a formula that will work is probably ignorant. I think the truth is you have to think of like, “Did I come up with an idea that was exciting to me? Is that viral?” Who the f*ck knows? But if it’s exciting to you, it probably could be exciting to a lot of other people. The “Thinking ‘Bout Something” video that we did for the last record, which was this recreation of the Blues Brothers scene with Ray Charles, and at the time we were like, “Who knows if other people will like this?”
Isaac: We literally actively had several people that we know saying, “No one cares, that’s so old, that’s so not today.”
Taylor: And it got like 1 million views in a minute at that time. Yes, you always think about how anything you do is gonna go out into the social media universe. And the truth is it’s a powerful, powerful tool that I think when used right is incredible and one thing that we didn’t have as a band when we first started.
But what’s really interesting about our band, and of course who knows whether we can keep it up for years and years and years more, but we really, in a lot of ways, were arguably the first Internet band pre-social media. Or if not the first, one of the top two or three because just of how old our fans were. The whole world was getting their first cellphones or their America Online accounts, and we were able to connect with people of our age at this time when we were all discovering this new world.
So we kind of have a first-generation web fan base that is now passing onto the next wave of mobile, social, geo-located, everything apps.
So we kind of have a first-generation web fan base that is now passing onto the next wave of mobile, social, geo-located, everything apps. I think what you have to figure out is what are the things that have kept you where you are, or what are the things that are always gonna be true. I think great content and that connection with your fans are the things that have allowed us to keep going. And I think that’s what you’re seeing thrive everywhere. … In the end, that’s gotta be the formula.
Isaac: Brick-and-mortar at the end of the day matters, because viral is great but it comes and goes as fast. So you still have to have some kind of genuine base.
Mashable: You guys have been performing together for more than 22 years. Where do you draw inspiration from after all this time?
Isaac: A lot of stuff.
Zac: It’s cyclical. I mean there’s a reason why the process works so well between making records and touring and the fact that you aren’t writing as much while you’re touring. You have this period to rejuvenate and find new inspiration and dive into music and not dive into music. The main thing with us is that we pull a lot of inspiration form the same places in the sense of the bar is still, you know, we grew up listening to ’50s and ’60s Mo-town, R&B, Otis Redding, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Billy Joel, James Taylor.
Taylor: Anybody that’s an artist, certainly not exclusive to us, people that create things over years and years, you’re fighting with yourself. You’re going, “Oh that thing that I didn’t get. That was good, but the next one is going to be better.”
And I think that hunger, that very genuine, “The record that has that sound or a song with this person or let’s record it in this weird place.” I think just the ideas. We’ve been amazingly blessed to have a lot of success young.
We’ve had a lot of chances to do a lot of things, but it doesn’t even remotely mean that you don’t have a 1,000 more things that are next. So I think it’s just that hunger, you just stay interested and curious about what you want to do next.
Zac: The next thing you’re trying to achieve is always the same distance from you, because you acquire anew skill and then you’ve done that, you’ve used that skill. And then it’s like you need to learn something new and you’re always kind of right beyond the fingertips.
Mashable: You talked about coming of age as a band in this early Internet era. How would that be different if you were in that same position today?
Isaac: For one, I actually think the social media element is really profound and really powerful and really puts a lot of power in the hands directly of the artists themselves. And when you have a scenario where you’re able to reach cultural impact, as long as you can reach full saturation culturally, then there’s some level at which you have the ability to sustain it in a different way I think than previous generations ever did.
Because you have the direct ability to do that, and as long as on some level or another there is some sort of brick-and-mortar element to what it is that you’re doing — a foundation of fan base — a foundation of like actually doing something, the content, whatever you’re doing.
Taylor: Our transition to where we are now would’ve been potentially faster, because moving to being independent, we’ve run our label for 10 years, and we’ve made more records independently than we ever did when we were signed with a major deal, I think we probably would’ve moved faster, but that being said, if we were a band right now, we would have that new major label trying to grab the ownership of the website, ownership of the other properties because when we first started people were like, “Website? Who cares? That’s like a weird dude in the corner that does websites.”
Zac: To me, what it is, it’s alert, alert, alert, young bands, don’t sign big record label deals because the potential growth and potential reach for you as an artist is in all of those avenues, and unless somebody comes to you and says, “Hey, we’re actually going to work and spend money and help you develop all those other things,” don’t do it.
Isaac: Unless it actually makes business sense is what you mean. If I’m gonna take a percentage of your T-shirt, I’m also gonna take a percentage of making it.
Taylor: I think our fan base would probably be, if we were cut from the same cloth 15 years later than we are, I think it’d be what we have now but probably stronger. Because I think the tools are way stronger and a lot of the stuff that people are doing right now like literally 10 years ago, we were pining for — like better tools to connect with fans, mobile apps, global fan bases, just a better way to galvanize that power.