Ready to feel effing old? 2017 marks 20 years since Hanson released ‘MMMBop’. That’s right, it’s been two whole decades since Zac, Taylor and Isaac Hanson (who were then aged 11, 14 and 16 respectively) launched the pop song that likely spawned your love of long-haired pretty boys and cheesy pop melodies that would last long beyond the dawn of the new millennium. While millions sang aloud, in full voice, the almost incomprehensible chorus, the song transformed into a quintessential ’90s gem that would secure it a special spot on all future throwback playlists.
Music Feeds had a chat with drummer and littlest Hanson brother Zac about the last 20 years, what the future holds for the boyband brotherhood and how ‘MMMBop’ was kind of the ’90s equivalent of the moon landing.
Music Feeds: You and your brothers are heading to Australia in June for your ‘Middle of Everywhere’ tour and a bunch of the shows have already sold out. How does that feel 20 years into your career?
Zac Hanson: Well, when we started off, especially in 1997 when the first record got really big, people would ask us “What are you going to do when you grow up?” and we always said, “Of course, we’ll be doing music because we’ll still be a band.” So, when you actually look back now and see it’s been 20 years since ‘MMMBop’ and 25 years since we started the band and you’re doing what you said you’d be doing, it’s very surreal. It’s not that we thought we’d be doing anything else but you make plans for things and usually, there’s a curveball along the way and it doesn’t turn out the way you expected. But this just isn’t like that. It’s exactly what we wanted it to be. It’s amazing.
And when you see the outpouring of people who want to come to the shows, it’s really cool. You know, 25 years in we’re seeing people saying “I’m finally going to go to that Hanson show.” That’s huge for us and also kind of surprising. We’ve been a band a long time and been around a long time. So, to know that there are still people who are coming out for the first time makes you feel really proud and you’re like “Yes!” But also you’re like “Oh, crap!” people are going to hear this for the first time. We still have to play a show like it’s the first time and make sure those people experience it like it’s the first time.
I think that’s important to keep in mind too. There are a few things that we change, we might change a song into a medley or mix up the bridge just to keep it interesting for us and for fans who have seen us before. But then you’ve got to look back and go “OK, what’s the first time feeling like and how do we recreate that?”
MF: So, how do you go about packing a 25-year-long career into a single set?
ZH: Yeah [laughs], it’s not easy. We called this tour the Middle of Everywhere tour for several connective reasons. One is, being a 25-year tour and being a tour where we want everyone to celebrate our past as well as our future and being a tour where we’re saying that it’s ok to be nostalgic. We’re always looking at what our next project is but once in a while you’ve got to stop and say, “OK, what have we done? Where have we come from?”.
The other part of the tour is paying homage to that record and paying homage to the hardcore fans. Our first fan club was called MOE which stood for the Middle of Everywhere. So, the title of the tour is putting that flag up and saying we know who helped us get where we are. It’s those fans that have dedicated themselves to us, the fans with the tattoos, the fan who owns every EP.
So, the tour kind of does both of these things. We have a tagline on a few of the posters that say “25 years of music in one night” and you’re right [laughs], it’s really hard to figure out how we’re going to get all of these songs in. There’s no way we could play a single show that represents everything. So, it’s a very diverse set. We wanted to play a lot of singles and we wanted to play some of the songs that show the deeper parts of records. We’ve just started the rehearsal for this tour and already things are starting to take shape. So, we’ll change a key of a song or we’ll change the transition in one song or we’ll create medleys of a few songs. It’s a big jigsaw puzzle but, in the end, I think it’s going to be a really good balance of things people know and songs that people have never put side-by- side. You can put a song that’s five years old and a song that’s 25 years old next to one another and with your voices and musicianship from right now and you hear those songs in a different way.
MF: I have very vivid memories of hearing MMMBop for the first time and I think a lot of people feel very nostalgic about that song. Is it crazy to think that a record that you helped create when you were 11 years old has been a massive part of people’s lives?
ZH: It is certainly very humbling! I make music for myself and we don’t assume that anyone else will like it. At this point, obviously we know that there are a group of people who like what you do but it’s still for you. So, when a song or record is received really well or, I mentioned tattoos earlier, if someone tattoos your lyrics on their body, that’s just such a huge statement to make. You get these mixed feelings of being blown away and being proud of yourself and wonder how did it even happen.
In general, though, it’s what you hope for. It’s not that you expect it, but it’s what you’re doing it for. At the core, I think we’re trying to take these feelings that we all have but not everyone has the ability to express and then say it in a way that lets everyone take ownership and lets someone go “That’s my song!”.
MF: You guys have released five studio albums since Middle of Nowhere and have obviously built up a really passionate fanbase, but I think it’s safe to say that Hanson is still best known for ‘MMMBop’. Do you find that hard to shake off or do you guys embrace it?
ZH: People ask us that all the time and you know what? That’s not even something we really think about. We’ve done so much and written so much music. ‘MMMBop’ is this song that got bigger than a song. It became a pop cultural phenomenon. So much so that it’s not even comparable to a song. It was number one in 27 countries at the same time. So, basically, the whole developed world was listening to one song. That’s just crazy. It’s like landing on the moon. It’s just something that you’re not responsible for and it’s something you hold so lightly that you just say “You know what? We got this gift that we don’t control and probably no one will quite experience in the same way.” Just because social media and the way technology has evolved, it’s just so different.
But, I love ‘MMMBop’. I don’t think about it all the time, I just play it a lot. The song has a meaning about time passing and about few things lasting. I think to run from who you’ve been, at least in our case, is to forget who you are. ‘MMMBop’ is one part of who we are and who we’ve been as a band but the message in ‘MMMBop’ is repeated in hundreds of other songs of ours. This sensibility of figuring out what matters. It’s essentially a song about loss.
It’s a song we wrote when we were kids and we were experiencing the feeling of chasing our dreams and seeing the people in our hometown of Oklahoma rejecting us for being abnormal. They were like “Oh, you’re a kid. You’re not supposed to be in a band, you’re supposed to be playing soccer and having fun” or whatever. So, when we wrote this song, it encapsulated these mixed feelings. This c’est la vie of ‘MmmBop’ and the lyrics “So hold on the ones who really care. In the end they’ll be the only ones there,” it’s this song that kind of weaves all of this feeling.
I’m really happy with what that song is and I don’t regret anything or run from it. It doesn’t define who we are, it’s simply the first chapter of this amazing experience that I wouldn’t want to forget and I wouldn’t want people to forget it because it’s still relevant. Maybe even more than ever!
MF: I think you’re right about ‘MMMBop’ being bigger than a song. You see other pop artists and musicians like Justin Bieber or the members of One Direction who started a similar phenomenon and they sometimes struggle to move on and create a new identity for themselves, but I think it’s cool that Hanson still embraces that first chapter.
ZH: We’ve always looked at everything we do as much as we can as something we do for ourselves, but when you express it on stage and you write that set list out, you want to think about the fans. When you go see your favourite band, what do you want to hear? I don’t care whether Paul McCartney has played ‘Drive My Car’ a billion times. I want to see it because I’m a fan and I haven’t been there a billion times.
So, with everything we do, it’s important to us not to run away from where we’ve been because that’s something unique to us. Ever since we were kids, we wrote the songs and we were the author of our own story. Some young artists these days don’t have the benefit of that, which would be hard. They’ve had someone else writing their songs and it makes it harder for them to figure out who they want to be. When you run away from your song and say “That’s not me anymore”, you’re also saying to the fans: “You’re not a fan of the real me.” And that’s just not who we are.
MF: Earlier this year, you guys released an acoustic snippet of a new song called ‘I Was Born’. Can we expect to hear any new songs on the tour this year?
ZH: Yeah, there will be some brand new songs. We can’t help but always look to the future and that’s the reason we’re still a band. It might sound cheesy, but we actually still have dreams of what we want to do and big plans for our band. So, ‘I Was Born’ really encapsulates a lot of the reasons we’re still a band. It talks about the idea of capturing those dreams and things we would’ve said and thought when we were just starting. So, we’ll definitely be playing that.
We’ll have a brand new record next year and we’re going to put together a greatest hits record this year. It’s just one of those things where you look back and say to the fans, “Let’s be nostalgic. Let’s think about the memories for a minute. Let’s look at where we’ve come from and be proud of all of the things we’ve done together”. I think it’s good for the fans who’ve been with us all the way and for new fans who don’t know where to start. 25 years is a long time and is a big thing to try to wrap your head around if you were there at the beginning but missed the middle. We have big plans for 2018 and hopefully, that’ll bring us back to Australia again.
MF: That’s awesome! Do you think that the success and longevity of Hanson has anything to do with the fact that you’re all brothers?
ZH: I think it has been a bit easier for us but not for the reasons people would think. I think it’s easier because of the shared experience. It’s not because of the blood or because you have Thanksgiving and Christmas together.
When you’re a kid and you’re sharing the same boom box, you listen to the same records and you get influenced by many of the same people. From living and growing up together, you share a lot of experiences that help you along the way in your adulthood. We were very lucky. But for all of the similarities we have, we have our own interests as well. You know, in our spare time Isaac is smoking a pipe with an old typewriter, Taylor is going out to some cool club and I am probably skydiving. We’re not the same people at all but that life together and those shared early experiences and inspirations, that helps in so many ways when things get hard. So, when you want to go your different ways in music or in business, that core connection is invaluable.
Plus, from a musical perspective, there’s a reason why some of the greatest harmonies have come from bands of brothers and sisters. Singing together for us is an unfair advantage because we’re as close genetically as your vocal chords can be. It really has a certain kind of sound that you can only thank your parents for.
MF: You mentioned the impact of social media and how Hanson’s success would be different if the first record was released in 2017. What are some of the things you’ve learned over your 25 years in Hanson and how do you think things have changed?
ZH: It’s a whole new frontier, isn’t it? I think that there are so many ways that it’s easier to be a musician now but the lines are so blurred. I think starting out now it can be hard to know what the next step is. We were a band that started off and really got successful just at the last breath of a really healthy traditional music industry where there were still cassettes and CDs and music stores.
Now, when you look at getting on the radio, it’s more about how many social media followers do you have. In one way, you have this immediate connection to anyone in the world and in another way, you have nothing concrete. You’re always dependent on the theoretical relationships you have. So, the sword cuts both ways.
Like always, I think the most powerful experience that musicians have is the direct musical connection. I think the thing that many young artists who are trying to find a way to grow their followers will still find there is no stronger connection than when you play music live and you share that moment with somebody in the audience. It’s stronger than any ability to give push notifications [laughs]. Those things come and go, when someone is listening to live music, they’re in the moment and watching that show. That’s the most powerful way you can still connect to people.
Hanson will kick off their Australian ‘Middle Of Everywhere’ 2017 tour dates this June. See dates here.