The Hanson brothers — Taylor, Isaac and Zac — give GRAMMY.com an inside look at the challenging, but rewarding process behind their new album, ‘RED GREEN BLUE.’
After 30 years as a band, Hanson created an album in a way they’ve never done before: going solo.
The sibling trio’s latest release, RED GREEN BLUE, is an amalgamation of a 5-song mini album created by each individual brother: RED for Taylor, GREEN for Isaac and BLUE for Zac. Each brother wrote and produced their third of the album entirely on their own (with the help of GRAMMY Award-winning producers Jim Scott and David Garza), which was new territory for the familial group. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less Hanson — in fact, it may be their most Hanson record to date.
“You really hear the creative voice of each guy in a different way,” Taylor suggests during a recent Zoom interview with his brothers. “Fans that have followed us for years have understood this idea of, ‘that’s sort of an Isaac song’ or ‘that’s sort of a Taylor song, or Zac [song]’ — or at least that’s subliminally been in the sound of our work. It’s us working together in a different capacity.”
RED GREEN BLUE provides Hanson fans a chance to get lost in the uniqueness of each brother’s voice and musical talent — after all, they each sing, songwrite, and play instruments. But their unmistakable bond and chemistry is as vibrant as ever thanks to their signature harmonies, which appear in varied ways across every track.
GRAMMY.com spoke to the Hanson brothers about taking this new creative direction, their continued growth as artists, and the importance of creating connections with fans for 30 years and counting.
The album combines three separate solo projects into one album. What led you to that decision? Why did it make sense to combine them into one album?
Zac: You’re trying to deepen the connection you have with people, go deeper down the rabbit hole of why we do what we do, how we do what we do — what it is that makes Hanson an entity, and why we’ve been together for 30 years. A little bit of deconstruction, taking the parts and seeing them as individuals, seemed like a cool and interesting — and also challenging — way to tell our story as a band at this sort of critical moment in our history.
We produce almost all of our music, just the three of us. That’s a very full room full of ideas and lots of opinions. In a normal environment, it’s hard to get a fourth or a fifth person and their ideas into the music. It provided the opportunity to have Jim Scott, who’s a great producer/engineer, and a good friend, David Garza, who’s also a great artist and producer, to play a more full role..
Taylor: We’ve always really been passionate about writing songs as much as performing. On this record, you hear the creative voice of each guy in a different way. There’s not many bands that have every member contribute creatively as singers, players and writers.
Fans that have followed us for years have understood this idea of, “that’s sort of an Isaac song” or “that’s sort of a Taylor song, or Zac [song]” — or at least that’s subliminally been in the sound of our work. It’s a project that highlights those things differently.
In the end, it’s still presented as Hanson because it is Hanson. It’s us playing on each other’s work. It’s us working together in a different capacity. Finding a way to balance the differences, while also putting them on a platform of what we’ve made together, was a unique challenge. I think we found a balance on how to do it.
The new album is called RED GREEN BLUE. What is the significance of those colors?
Isaac: It goes back, frankly, as long as I can remember, to our childhood in some way or another, because as we were growing up, my childhood favorite color was green, Taylor’s was red, and Zac’s was blue. And that was the kind of thing that we would use those colors to differentiate things like, “Oh, that’s my stuff.” It goes back that far in our personal history.
It’s also indicative of certain parts of our personalities. I think it’s a kind of an appropriate metaphor for who we are. Taylor’s a very kind of driven, a very passionate kind of guy, you see that in red. I am a little bit [of an] organic-leaning guy. And Zac is an adventurer — he sees the blue sky kind of possibilities. We joked around with calling it… What was it? Red Blood?
Taylor: Red Blood was where I was going to go.
Isaac: Yeah, Red Blood. And then Greener Pastures and Blue Yonder. We thought about different names, but in the end RED GREEN BLUE gave the message of [being] together and also the difference of separate voices at the same time.
This isn’t the first time the band’s released music in an untraditional way. For the band’s last album, Against the World, you released a single at a time throughout the year. What do you like about shaking things up like that?
Taylor: It just challenges us. The best thing about this project, for me, was getting to collaborate with other people we respect. Jim Scott — who’s just a real legend and a gentleman — Jim has produced, engineered or mixed many of our favorite records from Tom Petty to [Red Hot] Chili Peppers, and many more in between.
And David Garza, he’s been a longtime friend and somebody we admire greatly as a musician. The silver lining of the whole project was their contribution and being able to share a project. We’ve known both of them in different capacities for years, and never actually created something from the very beginning until the end. Both of those gifted people are a part of the Hanson story and can sort of share in whatever we get to do from here.
Zac: I think the way you release an album can have a big effect on the way people hear that music. And we recognize that. In this case, releasing a three-part album — three individual solo projects released together — that’s a story. But to tell that story, it seemed best to release one single from each first, so that people are already on that journey. They’re already in a head space that’s helping them hear it as true to what it was created to be.
It’s a huge benefit to have an opportunity to put the spotlight on more songs. Also, at this point in our career, there’s more songs than we will ever play in one concert. There’s more than we’ll ever play in a week of concerts! In that environment, every song matters more.
The band strives to create story-driven songs that challenge the listener to grow. You’re also looking to give fans new reasons to listen. Why are those important goals?
Isaac: Sometimes you’re concerned, “Oh, will the audience evolve with me?” And you feel like you have to give the audience what you think they need.
Taylor: That pathway happens to a lot of artists, because frankly, they get tired. They’re like, “Hey, I’m never going to play these songs. Let’s play the songs people want.” But half of what you do as an artist is for yourself — for your own creative fire, and that sense of excitement and energy.
We’ve always felt like the fans respond to what they see in you. They respond to the earnestness and to the story. We had a great producer we worked with on our fourth record, Danny Kortchmar, who is a legend as a guitar player and a producer. One of the things he said was that part of the job of an artist is to keep your antenna up — communicate through songs what a lot of people are feeling, but may not have an outlet for.
One theme of our whole career — and it comes from who we are as a unit and how we’ve all grown up — is there is an aspirational quality.t Trying to find a silver lining, trying to be optimistic through challenges — not to ignore the challenges, but to look for answers and look for solutions. All that stuff comes together and that paints a picture for themes. You hear in the music we make.
Isaac: You can hear those themes as early as in songs like “MMMBop,” you can hear them in “Where’s The Love” and “This Time Around” and “Save Me.” As well as a song like “Child at Heart,” for example, which is talking about not losing the innocence — if you keep a little bit of that child in you alive, you’ve always got hope for tomorrow. And hope is really, really important.
As a core principle, you tend to write your ethos into your music. And what you hear in our music over and over again is that desire to overcome the temporary hardship, that desire to overcome the place you’re in and look over the horizon. In a way, I think we give therapy to ourselves by writing these songs. People need to be able to hear that message.
“Write You A Song” is about realizing what’s really important in one’s life. That theme feels pretty relevant these last few years. What inspired that song?
Isaac: We’re all feeling a lot of stress from the isolation and the uncertainty that COVID injected into all of our lives. It probably, in some way, brought about the Red Green Blue record, because we also realized that by spending more time than we normally would on our own, we all recognized the value of looking at the world in my own voice.
A few days before “Write You A Song” was written, my daughter said to me — in a very emotional way — “Daddy, I don’t have a song. You’ve never written me a song. Why don’t I have a song?” And I tried to assure her, “Well, there’s this song and there’s that song.” And she looked at me and she said, “No, daddy, those are not my songs.”
It was a good challenge. A few days later, a friend of ours was coming through town, and we ended up writing that song. What’s cool about it for me is I will never forget the significance of writing the song. In a way, it’s like every single time you’re living out the story of the song itself. And that’s a really special, unique thing.
I hope when people listen to it, it inspires them to dive deep into their relationships, and to make memories that will last a lifetime. It’s important to hold on to the people around you love and care about, and to capture them in your heart and in your head, so that you’ll never be lonely — as the song says.
What was the biggest surprise making the album?
Isaac: It was as hard, if not harder, than I thought it would be, in certain ways. You’re used to being able to lean on each other — “Zac will have some cool, clever lyric to throw in there.” or, “I can’t wait to hear that drumbeat” — and maybe that will drive the inspiration of the song.
We didn’t really have those things in the same way. I said, “This is a songwriter exercise for me. It’s a deep dive into my heart and head because I’m not going to play a guitar riff and have Zac just jamming it out.”
Zac: I was very pleasantly surprised with how well the songs seemed to work together despite how separately the songs were made and recorded. I didn’t know what songs you guys were choosing and you didn’t know what songs I was choosing. Though it is not one contiguous thought, it does have a certain arc to it. And it does have a certain kinship to the messages and the lyrics and the way they talk about the world.
I think though it’s a very different Hanson record, in the end — even though it’s three solo projects — it fits into one Hanson story.
In your 30 years as a band, you’ve had a very tight-knit connection with fans. What does it mean to have that kind of connection?
Isaac: The best thing about playing shows night after night for an audience that has been with you that long is, strangely enough, it feels very fresh. It feels very honest and real. And I think this tour will probably feel even more that way, because when you’re singing old songs and new songs right next to each other, they’re kind of like the RED GREEN BLUE album — they feel very connected in all the right ways. I want people to hear these songs and find who they are, and then chase the best version of that for the rest of their lives every day.
Zac: When you start a band — in our case, at least — your goal is not to become famous or to have people adore you. You are hoping to have an impact on people — and the kind of longevity to where a grandma can listen with her granddaughter.
When you are able to look at fans and know that people have been sharing experiences with you for decades, It means that you did it. It means that you were able to touch people in a personal way. You don’t know them personally, but you’ve impacted them in a way that has caused them to continue to enjoy those stories year after year — and now multiple decades later.
It’s a deep combination of gratifying and rejuvenating. It makes you want to do it again. It makes you feel that the efforts, all those little challenges and big struggles along the way, were worthy of that effort.
Taylor: I feel just a great amount of gratitude, because we understand what it is to be a fan and to love something. Music hits people, and it does become personal. To be able to be on the side not of the creator that has been able to connect with others and become a part of their lives, it’s a real honor.
It just blows my mind that we’ve gotten to be one of the artists that have continued to do that sort of past our expiration date. The community side is something we’ve seen a huge amount in our time as a band, and we’ve tried to embrace that. The music community is as important as just what you’re making — connecting people to each other.