2017 was a milestone year for Hanson. The Tulsa pop-rock trio celebrated its 25th anniversary with the Middle of Everywhere Tour, which brought 90s nostalgia to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and North and South America. The following year, the three brothers – Isaac, Taylor, and Zac – teamed with the Prague Symphony and renowned composer David Campbell, father of another famous Hansen, Beck. Together, they created String Theory, the band’s most ambitious musical work yet. The double-album consisted of originals and reimagined Hanson songs and took the brothers to amphitheatres, concert halls, and opera houses, where they performed alongside local symphonies.
“It was probably the closest thing to a musical you can do as a band,” Isaac tells Vancouver Weekly over the phone from Hanson’s studio in Tulsa. “There’s a narrative of songs working its way through a chronological story of a kid chasing his dream and the ups and the downs that come along with it.”
There in the studio, Hanson have been busy working on their seventh album, due next year. They have also been rehearsing for their Wintry Mix Tour, on which they will perform originals as well as their favourite Christmas classics. The tour kicks off at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver this Saturday, November 30.
Since String Theory, Hanson have been thinking more about storytelling.
“That’s what String Theory lends itself towards more than anything, is pointing out the value of a narrative and a story.” The challenge, Isaac explains, is finding ways to ensure the brushstrokes and colours are bold enough to accurately portray that story.
Writing and performing with symphonies has also inspired him to learn the cello in earnest. He had dabbled in it before, on “Better Days,” a track from last May’s fan-club only In Real Life EP.
“It has been a beast to really get my head around how to not just play a note or play a melody but play it well, play it expressively, and play it, frankly, in tune,” he says with humility. “One of the greatest challenges that you have playing cello in a band is that cello is not a tempered tuning instrument. It doesn’t have frets. So that alone creates so many variables.”
Isaac speculates that his cello-playing could appear on the new album, but will he delight fans with it live on the Wintry Mix Tour? It’s doubtful. He has performed cello live only once, on the title-track from their 2004 album, Underneath.
“It was a unique and challenging experience, and I look forward to it in the future, but I’ll only do it if I feel like I can do it well,” the 39-year-old musician says. “My goal is that by the time I hit 40, I will feel really comfortable as a cello player…. It is a truly complex instrument… It is truly a whole other discipline altogether.”
Along with Isaac’s individual goal, Hanson have been thinking about their collective goals. Despite their 27 years, there is still much more that Hanson want to do. To avoid speaking prematurely, Isaac is vague about the band’s bucket list. But he assures Vancouver Weekly that Hanson are definitely checking off items with the new album.
“Some of the things are related to where we work and, shall we say, setting the tone for yourself and going, ‘Oh, this is a place I’ve always wanted to go.’ Some of that doesn’t necessarily, from the listener side, immediately affect the outcome, but I think it does in the long-run because your psychology as the artist, as a singer, as a songwriter, is affected in a variety of subtle and potentially significant ways. Some of that is already forming itself, and I’m really excited about, and I’m excited to share that as we get into next year.”
Fans will have to wait for more details about the new album, and those in Vancouver will hear for themselves what Hanson’s favourite Christmas songs are on November 30. But as for what Christmas is like with the Hanson family?
“It’s really loud,” Isaac says with a hearty, boisterous laugh, illustrating his point. “We are a very chatty bunch of people. Imagine a Greek or Italian family Christmas. It’s just we’re Danish instead…. It’s a wild bunch of people.”
And they are a big bunch: Isaac, Taylor, and Zac alone have 13 children between them.
“Each family’s individual house is not equipped to handle that scale of human bodies,” Isaac says. Thus, instead of giving gifts, the Hansons spend their Christmas in a rented cabin playing games and watching movies.
Speaking of more Hansons than a household can handle, the Wintry Mix Tour will also be special because it will feature fourth Hanson brother Joshua, aka Mac, and his band, Joshua & the Holy Rollers. At 25 years old, he is the youngest of the four brothers, nine years Zac’s junior.
A filmmaker by trade, Mac’s songwriting hobby bloomed into a full passion over the past few years. After sending song ideas to Isaac, the eldest Hanson brother offered to record and produce Mac’s first EP, 2018’s Tribulations. (Isaac discloses that they have another EP in the can.) But Mac hasn’t just followed in his brothers’ footsteps: Joshua & the Holy Rollers throw bluesy, hard-rocking, country haymakers.
“Mac is a very talented guy. He always has been, and he’s extremely jovial and funny,” Isaac says glowingly. “He’s a hell of a showman. I think people will really enjoy the music and enjoy his stage presence.”
The Wintry Mix Tour will mark the first time Joshua & the Holy Rollers will have played with Hanson outside of the annual Hop Jam Beer and Music Festival, which the trio founded in Tulsa in 2014.
“It’s really kind of like a friend-and-family tour because one of our closest friends and one of our favourite artists, Paul McDonald, is coming out as well. So it’ll be a regular ol’ party. There will be a lot of good vibes onstage with this tour for sure.”
Along with Hop Jam, Hanson have operated their own craft brewery, the Hanson Brothers Beer Company, since 2013. Luckily for them, they’re coming to a city that’s spoiled for craft beer. Asked if he has tasted any craft beers from Vancouver, Isaac says, “It’s been a while since I’ve been back through BC,… I don’t have any particular Vancouver or BC breweries that I can think of offhand.” But he looks forward to sampling some local brews while he’s in town. “My brother Taylor is really the true beer nerd, so he will probably have a list for me if I asked him.”