It’s been 18 years since Hanson released “MMMBop,” the infectious, chart-topping 1997 hit that rocketed Tulsa, Oklahoma, brothers Zac, Taylor and Isaac to international stardom at the age of 11, 14 and 17, respectively. Since then, the trio has established itself as a musical mainstay, releasing eight Top 40 albums, establishing their own record label, raising massive amounts of money for AIDS initiatives in Africa with Take The Walk and touring almost non-stop. Most recently, they embarked on the Roots ‘n’ Rock & Roll North American tour, on which the group played two-night stands in 10 cities across North America. Rebecca Tucker sat down with Hanson during the Toronto stop on their tour to talk fans, new music and Canadian liquor restrictions.
Q On the Roots n Rock & Roll tour, you played two nights in a row: one night of covers then one night of your own songs. How did you land on that format?
Zac Hanson We’ve gone and played five nights in places, where we’re playing every Hanson album, but I think we feel like — as a band — to continue to grow and to want to do this, we continue to take risks and sort of put ourselves into projects that really inspire us. So we don’t go “What’s successful, and how do we do that?” It’s “What do we like, and how do we find people who like what we like?” So this is risky in a way that, on the first night, we’re playing other people’s music. So fans are hearing music that’s been influential on us — some of the greatest songs of the last 50 years — but they’re not necessarily the songs that every Hanson fan goes, “those are also my favourite songs.” But we improve ourselves and our own sets of skills by learning these songs; taking them apart and re-forging them in our own way.
Isaac Hanson That’s been one of the most exciting things about the tour.
ZH At the end of this tour, we’re going to be so much better.
Q You’ve all been playing music for basically your entire lives.
Taylor Hanson Twenty years!
ZH If you’re not doing new things, you have to stop. People go, oh wow, you’ve stuck around so long, it must be because you’re brothers. Well, no. Or it must be because we’re so successful. Well, no! It’s because we look at what we do and have always focused on the next way that we can add something to the pot. And this tour is like that — it’s asking more of the fans.
Q Because people expect to hear the hits?
IH There is a certain level of psychological pressure. I want to make sure everybody’s satisfied.
TH The goal of the tour is to really sort of crystallize who we are as a whole, not just what people know from what we’ve made but also a little bit of where we’ve come from, to deepen the connection between us and the fans.
Q Who are your fans these days? Are people still coming to your music, or is it mostly people who have been with you from when you first broke?
IH It’s a big mix.
TH There are a lot of people who have literally grown up with us. But there’s a lot of people that discovered the band at album three, or album four.
IH I was on the phone a week ago talking to a young lady in Philadelphia who said, it’s funny, I heard you guys when I was five, but it was just a flash in the pan. But the first record of ours that she bought was Shout It Out, in 2010. That basically sent her on a rediscovery process of us and our music. Another guy who she worked with, who’s five years older than her, his first concert was a Hanson concert. It’s not fully generational, but it kind of is.
TH For me, the vision is to be like the artists that you admire the most. So when you go to see Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen, you’ve got somebody who would say “I’m the biggest Bruce Springsteen fan ever,” who’s maybe 20 years old. Music doesn’t have an age. You connect back to memories and you feel very personal about it, so once you get somebody, you make music that you hope stands the test of time.
Q Can fans expect new material anytime soon?
IH For this tour, we actually did an EP. So we decided since we’re doing a show of covers, we should take some of those songs and record them.
TH That selection covers a great range, from Michael Jackson to Ed Sheeran. It’s a little taster for how wide our influences go. As for new material — probably next year. This is a little snack.
ZH A beer snack.
Q And you were serving your beers — Hanson Brothers Beer Company Mmmhops — at the shows?
IH Except at the Canadian shows. We couldn’t get it across the border.
Hanson’s 2015 Finally, It’s Christmas special will stream live at Hanson.net on Dec. 18.