Before their show at the Fillmore this week, the youngest Hanson brother dishes on the existential joys of live music, the separate-but-together direction on Hanson’s latest record, and the cultural parallels between Oklahoma and Minnesota.
As an intrinsic observer of the world, which naturally lends itself to my trade, the wordless, deeply felt connection that happens between artist and showgoers at live shows is not lost on me. I love to steal glances at people when a melody progresses into a powerful, soul-shaking crescendo—whether those people are in the pit or the nosebleeds, their reactions are indistinguishable: Eyes glittering, arms swinging, heads bobbing vigorously in time with the riff. In that moment, we are, on a very cellular level, the same. We are weightless, we are invincible, we are free.
In an experience where we are essentially reduced to soul matter, I’ve always wondered: How does it feel to be on the other side of this? To be a card-carrying member of a very exclusive club where you get to tour the globe and hear your words, the ones you wrote thirty years ago before you were paralyzed by the idea of failure, being sung back to you?
A practicing musician since the age of six, Zac Hanson of the eponymous pop-rock group achieved near Beatlemania levels of fame 25 years ago when he and his older brothers introduced “MMMBop” to our collective vernacular, making him a very qualified person for my question. And luckily for me, he was down for skipping the small talk (we agreed that pleasantries can be excruciating) and plunging head first into existentialist territory, like how meaning can be actualized through music. Hanson will be bringing their color wheel of sounds to the Fillmore Minneapolis on Friday, August 19.
When early lockdowns first sent shockwaves around the world, we pondered a future without live music for a hot minute—and it was depressing as hell. Hanson says that being considered “non-essential” after making a career out of creating and performing music felt very existential crisis-ish. “It’s really important for society to gather and see each other and share these experiences,” he says. “All of these adages about judging people by their character—that’s played out in communion with each other [at shows]. When we come together, our political views no longer matter, our skin color doesn’t matter, our height … we’re all sharing in a special occasion. And we love being at the center of that, sort of getting to host the party and bring all of these people together.”
Child Prodigies to Lyrical Virtuosos
And then there’s Hanson’s epic catalog of music, spanning a 30-year career, whose early hits have perhaps the most staying power of them all, written when the brothers were barely on the threshold of adolescence. “You look at songs you wrote when you were 8, 9, 10 years old, and we can still play those songs—like ‘MMMBop’ and ‘Where’s the Love’—next to ‘I Was Born,’ which came out a few years ago, and they all fit neatly together to tell a story, which is kind of wild,” he says with a laugh.
Wedged between a series of saccharin “ohs” and “oh yeahs” in “MMMBop” are some seriously sagacious words, like, “You have so many relationships in this life—only one or two will last … You go through all the pain and strife, then you turn your back and they’re gone so fast.” Thirteen-year-old Jamie bobbed her head along to the bouncy melody; thirty-something Jamie is nodding her head to how these words sting with relatable truths.
“You write songs about how few things will last and to go for your dreams and living to your fullest potential, and you see these people living these words out with a tattoo on their arm, their husband or wife standing alongside them at a show, taking these thoughts we had and turning them into real life.” These days, he says, the typical Hanson fan isn’t just a peer in their mid-30s, they’re bringing their 12-year-old daughter or son to the show, the same age he and Taylor and Isaac were when they rocket-launched onto the scene.
Primary Shades + Sounds
Inspired by the music of the ‘50s (he references Buddy Holly several times), many of the performers Hanson looked up to died young and tragically or had music careers cut short, forcing the brothers to consider how they want their music to outlive them in case they followed the same path. “We were thinking of our music like—what’s it gonna do when we’re dead?—in this beautiful, morbid way,” he says. “You hear it in our songs, where we’re trying to speak our manifesto—there’s a lot of love songs and fun songs, but there’s also songs about overcoming whatever it is you’re facing, at any stage in your life, and finding your place in the world.” An unceasing journey that usually starts in our teen years.
Hanson’s latest record, Red, Blue, Green, embraces the spectrum of emotions of our lifetime and showcases their burners-to-ballads songwriting range. Each brother “owns” a color (Taylor’s red, Zac’s blue, Isaac’s green) where a sampling of songs has their individual thumbprint on them—musical direction, songwriting, the whole shebang. Hanson says that thirty years in, it’s not just about making more music; it’s more about letting the music be the catalyst to tell stories. “It’s not about individualism [on this record], it’s about the parts, the unique combination of skill sets we all bring,” he says. “Isaac did something completely genuine and beautiful and wholesome, Taylor did something melancholic and contemplative, and I went somewhere completely different [with Americana rock undertones]. I think that’s what rejuvenates our sound year after year.”
We get to talking about the unfair stereotypes of our home states—he likens the “fly-over state” perception of Oklahoma to Minnesota. “Like Minnesota, a lot of amazing musicians have come from Oklahoma, but they end up going out into the world and sometimes people don’t realize that the spirit of their music came from this place.” He says people don’t go to Oklahoma for the mountains or the coastline, “there’s a way of carving your niche out in the open land.”
[In the case of Minnesota] the beauty of the cold, I think, brings out the musicianship. Minneapolis is an amazing music town—people can go listen to Jonny Lang, who’s all over our second record; we’ve been friends with him for a long time … we’re dear friends with Shannon Curfman, who plays with Kid Rock.” No connection to Lizzo though, he concedes. “But if you have her number, send it on over!”