Zac Hanson remembers getting the question all the time.
The precocious and adorable drummer and his brothers Isaac and Taylor were riding the rollercoaster of pop stardom thanks to the now classic hitMMMBop.
Young girls were screaming, record bosses were cheering their major label debut Middle Of Nowhere to the top of the charts and the Sold Out sign was being posted on venues around the world.
“When I was 12 to about 14, I would get asked the question ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’” Zac, who is now 33, says.
“I didn’t feel bitter about that; I just felt sad for them because these people really did not understand what we were doing and what we are still doing.
“It is such a conscious choice to be a band and write your own music and play shows; there are many easier avenues in life.”
Success is the best revenge against the doubters who cursed the sibling trio with the typically limited shelf life of the boy band.
The haters always fail to appreciate that once a teen fan, mostly a lifetime fan – and that has certainly been the case for the Hanson brothers, who have sold more than 16 millions records over 25 years.
As every band who plays their own instruments, writes their own songs and is savvy enough not to oversaturate the touring market and to play the social media game is aware, you can make a career out of a pop phenomenon likeMMMBop.
“I have said to my brothers before I look forward to the day, whenever it comes, when people listen to our music and not feel the need to qualify their opinion. It will simply be ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it’,” Zac says.
That seems to be the attitude greeting their latest live music venture, the String Theory tour, reinterpreting their repertoire with symphony orchestras.
It’s an ambitious undertaking when you consider most of the artists who undertake such a lofty reinvention of their “hits” are much older acts with a much bigger catalogue of popular songs.
The pop meets classical concerts have received generally good reviews.
“It’s a surreal evening, but it is oddly touching that a band who were expected to have burned out years ago still inspire so much love,” wrote The Guardian after their Manchester show last week.
Zac said the String Theory concept took two years to develop with the band engaging David Campbell, the go-to composer and arranger for artists from Adele to Justin Timberlake and who also happens to be Beck’s father, to help bring their songs into the orchestral domain.
The band also sought counsel from friends who had done similar projects, including Ben Folds.
“Doing something like this is a bucket list dream for any band,” he said.
“There’s such a deeply innate emotion in the instruments that are part of a symphonic orchestra from the harp to the trumpet, the French horns to the timpani.
“They sound like a feeling and it’s so powerful when you get the chance to wild that emotion.”
Evolving the project and recording the String Theory album wasn’t always easy. Artistic differences will always provoke frustrations and throw in the sibling factor and tensions can erupt.
Zac said he has walked away from the studio at times and the Hanson brothers haven’t spoken for a month.
HANSON ORCHESTRALLY REINVENT THEIR POP SMASH MMMBOP
“I’ve been telling people for years you have to stick it out when you find something you care about. Sometimes you just don’t care and you don’t care for each other.
“But the question that has to be answered is whether there is value for your hard work.
“And you get to walk on stage and sing to the people who value what you do, the people who you meet on the street outside the venue, who show you their tattoos on their arms and confess to you how your music stopped them from hurting themselves.
“There’s these 10 friends who met through being Hanson fans who are now a cross country running team who have remained friends all these years and come to the shows together and the connection is listening to your music.”
As the drummer, Zac has found he has to play “quieter” than he would with the band in rock mode.
“The drums are by far the loudest thing on stage and for the lack of a better analogy, when you are playing drums with an orchestra, it’s almost like trying to hold back a race-car. You really have to play with so much control.”
It’s become a bit of a joke between the Hanson brothers and their Australian connections that they have continued to disappoint their fans here because of their failure to bring another of the band’s popular ventures down under.
The brothers have been brewing their MMMHops craft beer for five years and have yet to introduce it to the Australian market during their tours, missing a lucrative merchandise opportunity.
Zac admits the beer “probably won’t” be available again on their tour.
“With your encouragement, we will redouble our efforts,” he says, laughing.
“It would be a hilarious thing to be surviving as a band for your beer and not your ticket sales.”
Hanson’s String Theory tour opens at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne on February 27 and then Sydney Opera House on March 4 and 5, Canberra Theatre on March 6, The Star, Gold Coast, March 8 and QPac, Brisbane on March 9.
Originally published as Hanson return, with strings attached