It may not be obvious at first blush, but the Tulsa, Oklahoma-born band Hanson has been making music for just about three decades. The group, which achieved a No. 1 single in 1997 with the track, “MMMBop,” is comprised of three brothers—Isaac, Taylor, and Zac. And ever since their hit found the airwaves in the late ‘90s, it seems like everyone has an opinion about the band. If there’s no such thing as a bad headline, then Hanson has been happily staying in the public consciousness for decades. But, in reality, the roller-coaster ride of fame for the brother band hasn’t always been smooth. That’s why a major theme for the trio these days is the idea of perseverance. The theme of overcoming odds, of succeeding despite an underdog mentality, is all over Hanson’s newest LP, Against The World, which is out today (November 5).
“As a band, as a unit,” Taylor tells American Songwriter, “we’ve absolutely experienced that challenge of: can you persevere, can you stay the course?”
Taylor was barely a teenager when “MMMBop” came out. He’s 38 years old now. Being in the entertainment game for so long, Taylor is clear-headed about the role. It’s one he’s chosen to take on now for about 30 years. He has some perspective. He knows his job is dual-pronged. On one hand, he’s a creative person. Writing is how he processes the world. He needs to undertake the puzzle-making that is songwriting. But on the other, he’s also a public figure, one who isn’t always in control of the story he forges in unison with an audience, with the public.
“Making music and creating things,” he says, “isn’t simply about: will I do this when it’s successful. It’s a state of being.” Taylor adds, “As a unit, we have never shied away from putting out content about struggle.”
As kids, the brothers were exposed to a small selection of rock and roll at a young age. Their father was in the oil and gas business and, as such, took on jobs that had his family traveling all over the world, from Tulsa to Trinidad. The brothers, who are the oldest of seven children, heard their mom singing around the house. They also listened to the music of Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles. The brothers began to make their own music. They would harmonize and stun family members with their abilities. That power soon found a larger audience.
“When the first record broke,” Taylor says, “we truly were able to suddenly live the ultimate dream of having a huge following. The experience has been amazing and it has also been extremely challenging. It puts your sense of character and sense of compass to the test.”
It can be dangerous to see yourself through the eyes of another person. And when you’re known globally, it’s almost impossible not to do that. Not to mention, if you grow up in front of a camera, it can be difficult. Along the way, the Hanson brothers have not avoided controversy completely. Zac, the band’s drummer and youngest of the three, had pro-gun and possibly racist memes from his Pinterest account leaked last year. He later apologized. The oldest, guitar player Isaac, also got into some hot water over “emotional” social media posts about COVID-19 and the worry of potential cancelling of American holidays. While these aren’t crimes, they certainly caused a ruckus for the band and its fans. But, as Taylor points out, that’s where personal growth—and the band’s new record—comes in.
“This record shines a light on a band that is definitely reflecting a lot and is still evolving,” Taylor says. “Where we are as a collective, there’s a lot of coming through adversity messaging in these songs.” He adds, “I think this whole project is really communicating this idea of different paths to come through a challenge or deal with challenging situations, both internally and externally.”
The new seven-track album title, Against the World, came from a conversation the three members had together about the state of the band and its place in the grand scheme. To be up against something, even if that’s the internal world of yourself, can help crystalize real purpose. And the band’s song, “Stronger,” from the new LP is a microcosm of that aim. The track, which sounds like a long-lost Queen number, is all about wanting to be better in the face of personal weakness.
“It’s a conversation a person is having, talking about their own demise and feelings of depression and feeling destitute,” Taylor says. “And then the chorus is the response: I want to be better than this, stronger than I am.”
For Taylor, music, and songwriting offer the chance to improve. Each song is a keyhole to a different and hopefully better-lit room, so to speak. Songwriting has offered Taylor and his brothers the chance at seeing the world, connecting with millions, and learning the depths of their brotherhood and even themselves, as individuals. What more could one ask for? Now, with growth as the main theme, the brothers are poised for more.
“I love that music evolves to reflect wherever you are in your life experience,” Taylor says. “Music is the great connector. It’s with you through sadness, through celebration. It’s with you as a storyteller, it’s your soundtrack to your workout in the morning. It’s a companion that helps people make sense of the world.”