Hanson catapulted to fame in 1997 as a trio of little guys behind the irresistibly frothy “MMMBop,” but in the nearly two decades since, they’ve been full of big ideas.
The development of their MMMhops beer and complementary beer festival in their hometown of Tulsa, Okla.; their continued involvement in the Take a Walk Campaign, which helps fight extreme poverty in Africa; the interesting collaborations with acts as varied as Blues Traveler and Owl City.
And now, the “Roots & Rock ‘N’ Roll” tour, a two-night event hitting 10 cities, including Oct. 19-20 at Center Stage. The first night, the band will dedicate their set to cover songs that have influenced their music, while the second night will concentrate on fan favorites and hits.
Also, before their show in each city on the tour, Hanson will lead a walking event for the Take the Walk Campaign.
Last week, the band’s drummer Zac Hanson (ready to feel old? He turns 30 Oct. 22) chatted from Philadelphia, where he and brothers Isaac (guitar) and Taylor (vocals, keyboards) were participating in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit.
One of the ambitious messages he and his brothers adhere to? “If you’re not learning, you’re failing.”
Here is what Zac Hanson had to say about the upcoming shows:
Q: So this is a different approach, to play two nights of completely different material. Whose brainstorm was it?
A: When we go into projects, our philosophy is to do things that excite us and push our boundaries so we’re still leaning and excited to go on stage. It’s something new for us, but really a very old idea that we’ve done before. The first night is all cover songs. It’s going on a musical journey that we’ve never done before. A lot of bands spend the first part of their career playing bar gigs, and it’s not that we never did that but we were lucky enough to have been playing original music from an early age. It’s exciting because you have to replicate these people’s songs and you have to do it well. If you play Paul Simon, or Aretha (Franklin) or Ed Sheeran or Michael Jackson, people expect you to do it really well. I love these songs, I love these artists. You want people to respect what you do.
Q: Can you give us a hint of what we might hear on cover song night?
A: The songs aren’t exclusively old or new. It’s trying to find a mix of songs that connect to our music, like a great mixtape. The old stuff, that goes back to what we were originally inspired by as a band – ‘60s rock, Motown, stuff like the Beach Boys. We also wanted to play stuff we never played before. We’ve always played some covers in our shows, but let’s hit on the people who have really touched our music. Billy Joel is one of our biggest influences as a songwriter. We HAVE to play Billy Joel. ‘Movin’ Out’ is on the list, but ‘River of Dreams’ is more of an influence to me because of when it came out.
Q: Is it going to be easier or harder to do these songs?
A: It’s more nerve-wracking than any Hanson show I’ve ever done. Yu care about these songs. You know how to play your own songs and have unlimited creative license, but when you play other people’s songs, you have to be perfect! I know when I finish this tour I’ll be a better singer, a better musician for the work it takes to reach those standards.
Q: And what’s in store for the second night?
A: By night two we’ll play ‘MMMBop,’ ‘Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’,’ those high points from our career. But we’ll also play those songs that maybe tells something about our band that didn’t reach everybody, but it’s part of that same journey, like the song ‘Rollercoaster Love’ that we only did for our online fan club, but it’s a great crowd interaction song.
Q: You guys are always doing something novel. From a business perspective, is that almost a necessity now?
A: It’s a necessity for us and the choices that we have made as a band, to try and reinvent ourselves every time we come out with something. Not change our image, but in the creation. Every act should involve creation; it shouldn’t be going through the motions. From the beginning, we have always wanted it to be bigger than just a song. We want it to be about a shared taste, a shared culture, if people will allow us, to be part of their identity.
Q: You’re only playing a handful of cities. Did Atlanta make the cut for any particular reason?
A: Well, Taylor and I have a deep connection because we both married girls form Atlanta (Zac and wife Kate, a Newnan native who attended Georgia State University, married in Atlanta in 2006) so we have lots of family there now. But we knew that asking people to buy a two-night ticket was asking more of them, so we didn’t want to do a super-long tour, but we wanted to make it something special and picked cities that people might enjoy spending a weekend in. Atlanta is a great city. There’s lots to do, it has lots of great music. It fits all these points, so it was a natural choice.
Q: You have the new collaboration with Owl City out now (“Unbelievable”), but what’s coming up in Hanson world?
A: To our fan base’s chagrin, the past few years we’ve tried to make time, and time is such a precious commodity with the way the Internet speeds everything up and you lose people’s attention faster than you ever have. As songwriters and producers, we’ve had the desire to do more different things. We try to say, at this moment we’re going to pursue some of these ideas, some of these relationships. We’ve been spending a lot of time writing with and producing for other artists. Then there’s the (MMMhops) beer and the music and beer fest we started in Oklahoma (The Hop Jam). But there will probably be a Hanson project next year.
Hanson. 6 p.m. Oct. 19-20. $79 (ticket valid for both nights). Center Stage, 1374 W. Peachtree St., Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000,ticketmaster.com.