Hanson broke out in 1997 with “MMMBop,” and while fans may not have noticed the guitar arpeggios that drove the single, the sibling trio is back on the road showing fans a wholly different, grandiose, side of itself in support of a new, symphonic album, String Theory.
The show sees up to 55 players bringing old and new songs alive, and CL took a deep dive into the process with the youngest Hanson, Zac (now 33 years old), before an October 26 concert at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.
Read our entire Q&A and get more information on the show below.
Hanson ‘String Theory.’ Fri. Oct. 26, 8 p.m. $39.50 & up. Mahaffey Theater, 400 1st. St. S., St. Petersburg. themahaffey.com.
Hey Zac, how are you? Are you back home before Atlanta goes down?
Doing good. Yeah, we’re in Tulsa for a couple of days.
I didn’t know who I was going to talk to so I only wrote one question for Taylor who normally takes the interviews. Is Jordan Ezra gonna have to start driving all these kids around?
Well, they drive him around all the time. We’re all used to driving our kids around.
Taylor is going to have six children and Jordan is 15. So, is he going to have to start parenting, just to stay in the house and eat?
(Laughing) How many kids do you come from?
I’m three. How many do you have?
We come from seven. When you get up to five or six, the oldest ones they’ll pretty much defacto in junior parents. I’m sure he will be using his permit.
Is David Campbell touring with you? I saw he was with you at The Greek…
He was in L.A. We had some time to connect, he was free, it was great, it was super cool to have him on stage. We had done a rehearsal with him, and we had to arrange it all with him. But that’s not the same thing as standing in front of an audience.
Right on. I was going to say I don’t know if you guys had played with Beck, but it’s almost cooler than playing with Beck, right?
Well, Beck obviously gets his musical talent not from nowhere. He has a rich family history of musicianship and his dad is no slouch. And so they are totally different but I’ve never played with Beck, though we’ve met many times. We worked on our first record with The Dust Brothers who had done his first breakout record with him. We had these long connections and he has Hanson somewhere in his lineage, but David is amazing. He is this guy who has spent so much of his career being a translator for people like us where taking our ideas and taking his own ear and making the best of these two worlds that are somewhat juxtaposed, the classical world and the stereotypes of bands and rock and roll and making the most of all of it.
Working with David was a bucket list thing for the band, and you’ve said that the time is now to make things like that happen — what else is on that bucket list? What’s next for you guys after this tour?
Well, that’s a good question. The bucket list is long. Some of that stuff is working with people you admire before they pass away. We’ve seen that happen, planning projects with people like Leon Russell and then seeing him pass away, and then going, “Aw man, you gotta do this stuff before it’s too late.” And then some of the stuff we get to do. We had Mike Love, he covered one of our songs on this Christmas record, which was so amazing and one of the first concerts I ever saw was a Beach Boys concert. And as guys who sing, vocals are a huge part of our sound. The Beach Boys have always been a huge influence. Stuff like that is on the list.
We go as crazy as being like, “Let’s be the first band to play on the SpaceX ship or something or the first band in space.” But also little things. A lot of it is really personal. Like making the kind of records that really challenge yourself. And at this point, there is a little bit of legacy that we are allowing ourselves to think about. We’ve been a band just long enough that you start to see a whole second generation of Hanson fans like people who have been with you for two decades that are now bringing their kids. Or some strange combination of all of that. People who are older than you who are now with their 18-year-old or 22-year-old at the show and you’re like, “Wow, this is cool.”
And it gives you this perspective that OK, we’re allowed now to think about if there are things we want to say or an ethos we want to share. And that’s part of String Theory, that’s part of choosing to do projects like this.
Considering how massive the album is, in a way, this tour and album is a challenging thing for both old-school fans and complete newbies to dive into the band. Do you think fans will be able to let their guards down, absorb it and really get the meaning behind songs like “Siren Call” (loss within loss) and the show in general?
There’s still a journey ahead for me to figure out if people are capturing all of that. We do have a long-standing relationship with a lot of fans. So I know there’s a group of people who totally get this, but there are also those fringe people who are your fans and they come to a show but they don’t necessarily buy every album. They don’t necessarily follow everything you do. So it’s yet to be seen how they will respond. The album doesn’t come out till November. So that’s on the ninth, and we’re only six shows in, so how many thousands more to see.
But I think what is true is seeing this mix of really strong emotions from people who are watching the show and the way you experience a show like this, we’re normally the kind of band that wants to come out and engage you immediately. High energy, four on the floor, get people going. Get people connected, get people singing and jumping and clapping and doing all these things. But this is a different kind of show than that. So when you walk out and you explain to people what they are going to see and then you say, “Sit down and listen”, that’s a different experience. It’s been cool to see the arch of the show, it has an intermission.
You see this kind of this building, as people go through the show and by the end of it, they’re all ready to sing and jump and be a part of what you’re doing. To some extent at the start, they are not exactly sure what you’re about to do. And that’s cool, that’s something to treasure. The idea that people would not know what they are going to experience, and want to come and give you that, they care about the author, they care about the journey and they’re willing to go with a little bit of risk, they’re like, “Here’s my 60 bucks or 50 bucks or whatever ticket they bought and go, “I don’t know quite what this is going to be.”
And in a way you are talking about a certain kind of anxiety, and I was wondering, can you talk about the anxiety — both artistically and logistically — that goes into a tour like this? Seems like big financial commitment and there are a lot of moving parts. That’s gotta be crazy to do every night.
Yeah, there are a variety of reasons why bands don’t make symphony records. Some of them are the fact that even when you have a body of work to pull from when you start to go into this or at least a body of experience where you can take the time to make it right, just arranging was about a year of actively arranging before we were finished with this. You know some of that is schedules and life, and some of that is just how long it takes to bring together David’s ideas with the three of our ideas and everybody come to a consensus on, “Ok, no, no that’s finished.”
You know, then there’s recording the actual record. And then some of it’s expensive. It’s a big undertaking, the logistics of this and putting about 55 people on stage for most of these shows and some are smaller if you go into a certain market. It’s arranged in a way that you can have a small orchestra but the parts were for about 55 pieces, so that’s a big deal. It’s a learning process. We started off playing classical piano. All of us can read music, but that’s not the same thing as what this is.
And you get this cross of cultures. When you come on stage where the way we think about rhythm as a band is very different than the symphony. Or honestly even pitch, it’s a whole different system. So yeah, there’s nervous excitement. It’s a challenge every night that is very conscious to keep the whole thing flowing the way you want it to, to make sure that you don’t lose somebody. Because we’re playing from memory and they’re playing from writing. And so we have this long dynamic of playing together, knowing what a look means. A guy turns his head and winks twice and you know what that means, “OK, we’re gonna cut the bridge”, but you can’t do stuff like that, there are no audibles.
So it just means you really have to be on your game, your pitch has to be good, your timing has to be good, I know I, as a creative person, thrive in that feeling where there’s really consequences every night and so for me that so far has been really refreshing. To really feel that orchestral tension, you hear that horn section, the four French horns and they have this, they’re kind of ominous, you hear Batman and that’s kind of what’s on the line.
Listening to “Me, Myself and I” made we wonder about whether or not you guys ever thought of where you want to be placed or how you want to be remembered when it comes to the great pop vocal trios.
It’s a hard one because I think we were kind of on the fence of some styles of music. It probably comes from being Midwestern guys that, in a more traditional scenario, would have probably been kind of into country music. But we ended up being first influenced by mostly R&B music, some Southern roots music and then you have harmony on top of that, so when you think about the vocal groups that are most iconic, they aren’t usually associated with guitar solos.
But there are some amazing ones that I have immense respect for. Like, The Bee Gees, as writers and producers, a trio of brothers, it was such a personal dream lost when Morris passed, and it was like, “Well, I guess that’s never gonna happen.” That the three Bee Gees and the three Hansons, that’s like something to think about, because they were influential. And more has happened since.
The Beach Boys is a great example of an amazing vocal group with that brother dynamic, that family thing, but they’re not associated with being a band, as much as they are associated with the great melody. And so, because we have this other thing, even “MMMBop” opens up with a guitar arpeggio, very much a garage band. We were listening to some crazy mix of the Jackson Five, The Beach Boys, and then Aerosmith, and The Counting Crows. We were some weird mix of that. The closest band I can think of to what we actually sound like when we stand on stage is Three Dog Night, or something like that, where you have these really strong vocals but you have a rhythmic rhythm section with drums and guitars, and then they’re known for something that is closer to pop music of that era. But it’s not produced pop, it’s not slick, (singing) “Mama told me not to come.” They’re harmonizing and rocking as a band but it’s mainstream, so we joke we’re a 70s band.
Right on, I think we’re getting close to time here. I think it’s “Reaching for the Sky” where there’s a lyric about fear; “the sound of fear and a twist of fate.” I was wondering individually for you, what still scares you. It’s been surprising being on the phone with you and hearing you talk a lot about mortality, as well.
Well, yeah, mortality is a theme that, I think — for people who have a blessing or curse of diving into Hanson’s catalog — experience. The career of songs. We love pop music, my favorite thing is to write a hook that gets stuck in your head. But it’s not fun if that hook ends up not having any real meaning in the end. I mean, you write love songs but love songs are about life, at least the ones I like to write. They’re not just about a hot girl or a man. I’ve had plenty of sex in my life, it just doesn’t last very long. Individually. I’ve got four kids, I know what that is, ya know? The other stuff lasts so much longer.
And so you want to incorporate that into songs. And so I think a big part of the Hanson ethos is not just sort of where I am right now, but where I want to be going. And what I’m going to do with the challenge of the moment. The relationship that is either budding or wilting. How do I take where I am and come with the conclusion that leads to a better day or another day?
Like songs like, “This Time Around” from our second album. Very much about fighting for your way of life and in that case it was us seeing our record label, a big major label, merging, and not knowing what the world was going to be the next day; individually collectively resolving that we were gonna keep fighting for it, we weren’t just gonna say, “Well we had some success, let’s all go be accountants.” We were gonna keep driving forward, risking and reinvesting. Emotionally, financially, all of that, right?
And that’s true, I think, of all of our songs in one way or another, in small ways or big ways. Maybe not a song like, “Dance Like You Don’t Care.” The song released last year with our 25th anniversary was called, “I was Born”, and on String Theory it goes places that song doesn’t even touch on and gets bigger and smaller, it falls apart and comes back together.
The album is 22 songs long. And in a way the story of the show is simply that kind of a message. “Hey, tonight’s the night, this is the moment.” You’re gonna come upon a lot of struggles if you choose to do something that’s really hard or worth doing, and that’s kind of to be expected. When it gets hard just look inside of what you want to be. And then recognize hard things are going to be a part of it. People not understanding you, that’s par for the course. And it’s not really about everyone understanding you, or everyone that is supporting you. Or everyone being in that army that’s fighting for your causes. It’s about the people who are next to you. It’s about, in our case, this dynamic of three brothers, navigating life together. Fighting all the way, against others and against each other.
And also the dynamic of so many people who have stuck with us. Fans who have tattoos, and kids named Zach. Who have said, “Hey, I was 10 when I first heard your band but I still come to concerts.” Despite all the changes in my life. Maybe I went through law school or maybe I’m a tattoo artist. Or maybe I’m in the Navy. They still like to jam out to Hanson.