The pop-rock band Hanson. From left, brothers Isaac Hanson, Taylor Hanson and Zac Hanson. (Courtesy Jonathan Weiner)
Pretty much the first thing Taylor Hanson did after his band got to FAME Studios was go find the vintage electric piano. FAME’s Wurlitzer has been on hit records by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Lou Rawls and many others, and played by local sessions aces like Spooner Oldham.
“Aretha touched these keys,” Hanson says, “so I’ve now checked that off my list. It’s a great instrument. Like most instruments, anything analog, the more it’s played the better. And that one feels like it’s been put to the test in a good, good way.”
Taylor Hanson’s band is, of course, the pop-rock trio Hanson. The Tulsa-based group came to FAME, in Muscle Shoals, Ala., following the river of classic R&B they’ve been inspired by their entire career. There, Taylor (keyboards, vocals) and brothers Isaac Hanson (guitar, vocals) and Zac Hanson (drums, vocals) recorded their seventh studio album, “Against The World.”
The pile of essential tracks recorded at FAME include Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” Etta James’ “Tell Mama,” Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away” and Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music.” Aretha cut breakthrough singles “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” there.
Hanson’s “Against The World” taps into those roots without resorting to sonic cosplay. Instead of dropping their new album in one chunk, Hanson is releasing the seven tracks as individual singles over the course of 2021, and available across all digital platforms. The latest single is the driving title-track, which calls to mind Billy Joel fronting mid-period U2. Prior single “Don’t Ever Change” achieves power-pop bliss, with an assist from Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen. “Stronger,” another track, is orchestral gospel.
On the song “One,” Taylor coaxes smoky tones from FAME’s Wurlitzer as the track builds from balladry to boom. You can preorder physical copies of the entire “Against The World” album at hanson.net, with CDs scheduled to ship in November and vinyl in December.
Hanson knows how to write a song that sticks with you. The band broke big in 1997 with debut single “MMMBop.” Released when the brothers were between the ages of 11 and 16, the song channeled classic R&B through infectious guitar-pop. The band’s Jackson 5-like exuberance and Taylor’s yearning, standout vocals made the song even stickier. “MMMBop” went to number one and seemed to be on MTV every 37 minutes.
Although Hanson first arrived during the Backstreet Boys era, Hanson was never a boy band. A boy band isn’t a band at all, because they’re essentially just a group of individual pop singers and typically don’t play instruments, at least onstage. However, Hanson were both the boys and the band.
My personal listening tastes run more towards classic heavy-metal/hard-rock bands, like Black Sabbath and Van Halen. But I’ve always enjoyed “MMMBop.” And 24 years after its release I’m still always happy to hear the song again when I do.
Hanson’s hits include “I Will Come To You” and “Where’s The Love,” both off debut album “Middle of Nowhere,” as well as later singles like “This Time Around” and “If Only.” Now ages 35 to 40, the brothers have grown up and so has their music. Their loyal fanbase has grown up with them. There’s even a MMMHop Pale Ale now, from band venture Hanson Brothers Beer.
On a recent afternoon, Taylor was in his car on the way to Tulsa’s Church Studio (founded by late pianist/songwriter Leon Russell) when a publicist connects us for a phone interview. In conversation, he’s expressive, intelligent and thoughtful. Edited excerpts are below.
Taylor, what are some ways recording at FAME helped shape the new Hanson album?
FAME is a huge theme for the whole project and on several different levels. One reason to want to go there was simply just the history of record-making that we’ve learned, which is that places do kind of inform the style and approach. We’re going to take ourselves out of the place we’re in all the time, the home base, and be able to immerse ourselves. That has a way of kind of bringing together project if it’s done the right way. We grew up loving soul music and music that was steeped in the craft of great songwriting, and Muscle Shoals it’s kind of a bucket list destination. And FAME, of course, is where it all started.