by Anton Djamoos
So, I’m going to start off by asking—this interview is for Absolutepunk.net. Now, you guys, not a punk band...
Taylor: Not a punk band.
Why did you agree to do this interview?
T: Well, what is it to be punk? To be punk is to not give a crap. It’s like the counter culture.
Isaac: Well, on the other hand, we did just do an interview with Jonesy—Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, the ultimate punk band.
T: Yeah, sort of the original. I think we also like talking about our music and what’s going on.
Zac: We probably have more in common with a lot of punk bands than we do with a lot of pop bands. We call ourselves a pop-rock band, but we call ourselves that in a traditional sense. What people think of as pop nowadays is not what we think of as pop. When we say pop, we mean it in the way that all music that you can remember, in a sense, is pop music. It’s something that has a chorus where you go, “Yeah, I remember that!” That riff, that thing that stays in your head, that’s based on the idea of writing pop music, whether it’s punk or not, whether it’s rock or not. So that’s more how we think of pop music.
Isaac: Plus, we feel like with all the opportunity to potentially speak to an audience that wouldn’t necessarily know our music particularly well.
Z: Punk music! Hanson! …wait.
Speaking of people that don’t necessarily know your music… a lot of people know your music. They know “MMMBop” and that’s it. Now, no one knows This Time Around, no one knows Underneath, Snowed In even, even though that was around the same time. You’ve released so many albums since “MMMBop” but that’s still the song that everyone associates your band with and a lot of people have a negative connotation as a result. What do you think about that whole situation? Is it unfair to you as a band?
Z: I think the thing about “MMMBop” is, there’s sort of two groups of people who know who Hanson are. There’s people who bought our first record and bought records since then. And then there’s people who were hit by a cultural effect of a song like “MMMBop.” I mean that song…
I: …and they potentially bought the record and stuff.
Z: Well, probably didn’t. Probably didn’t buy the record. Probably didn’t buy the song. Probably couldn’t sing the song. They probably go, “Mmm-dibbedy-bop!”
T: You know, “It’s those little kids with the brothers and the long hair and that catchy—I HATE THAT SONG.” You know, there’s those people and that’s where you kinda have to distinguish the two because it became such a cultural thing, it’s way beyond Hanson as a band; it became something that, you know, when they’re making fun of you on Family Guy and they’re doing skits about you on Saturday Night Live…
I: That we were in.
Z: …you know, when you turn on The Daily Show and you see a joke made about yourself and you go, “OK, that’s kind of beyond being a band.”
T: When a song is #1 in 27 countries at the same time, it’s cultural; it’s not based on music anymore. And so, I think that’s why people still recognize the band, that group of people that go, “Hanson…young, blonde kids that sing that ‘Mmm’ song” because those are the people that never knew the really knew the song in the first place. They got caught in this cultural element; they get caught by the fact that we were in magazines; they’re in TV. You’re on these things but they never went out and bought a record to decide whether to like it or not. They just got caught by the sensation of it.
A waiter comes by and hands us menus.
T: You guys want to order any drinks?
I: I’m caught between alcohol and coffee.
T: Yeah, well it is 1:00, 2:00.
I: I should probably go with coffee.
Z: Do you have iced tea? Is it fruit tea?
Waiter: No, just regular iced tea.
Z: Thank you. I hate that. That is like my number one pet peeve. I order iced tea, and someone gives you passion fruit iced tea. Or a pink whatever iced tea. It’s like, that’s not iced tea. What country are you from?
T: The thing about “MMMBop,” also, yeah there’s a huge group of people that, I mean, it’s rare to hit as many people who know, around the world, who we are. It’s rare to ever get to people but the group of people who have maintained passion over time for ten years is still surprising and so strong for us and to what most bands reach period. You know, just having…I mean, you’re comparing it to this insane thing which happens so rarely but who we are as a band today and with the fans that stuck by us for over ten years. Our base is so strong, we can do what we’re doing now, playing to a thousand or two thousand kids across the country or the world forever. To have fans around the world like that is just amazing. You don’t spend a lot of time, we always say you’re not playing for people that didn’t get what you do, you play for the people that respond to you. And for itself. You can’t be a musician until you can’t not do it, so we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about people that don’t get it.
I: I will say one last thing about it because it does get talked about a lot. There’s another element: we did invent a word.
T: We’re going for Webster’s Dictionary.
I: There’s this kind of quality, when we invented this new phrase, there’s this quality that when it became a hit, it created this thing that is beyond whether or not it was a successful song; it never happened before.
Z: No one’s ever going to say “MMMBop” and not be talking about Hanson.
Z: They probably will never say it again. It’s unique in that way.
I: I think people know other songs by Hanson they just don’t necessarily relate to them in that same iconic way like “Where’s the Love” and “I Will Come to You” or “Weird.” I think when people hear those songs, they’re like, “Oh yeah! I know that song.” But “MMMBop” has this kind of whole creative thing that Taylor, Zac, and I were talking about, which you never forget. God knows when we were making that record…
Z: That’s what happens when you let an eight year old write on a song. You come up with weird words.
I: Yeah, it started off as a doo-wop style, background part idea for a song that was on our first kind of proper indie record that rolled into kind of like a chorus idea that we kept singing over and over for the course of a couple years and then one day Tay was like, “I’ve got this progression idea…check this out.” And he starts playing out this like this could really work. And he’s rolling it out into the MMMBop part and it really worked. And songs happen like that all the time, you just never really know exactly when or where that will happen and it just so happens that he coined a phrase.
You guys were just talking about how it was a doo-wop influence. Now, you guys are really influenced by the blues and you cite Otis Redding and Chuck Berry as your main influences. Middle of Nowhere was primarily a sugary pop record. Each album that has come out since then has progressed to, sort of, less that and more of an indie-type record. And that’s gone with the record label situation as well. Why do you think that is? Is it because you’re getting older? Is it your different taste in music?
T: It’s a different combination of things. I think when people say “indie” that it’s less-polished. The first record, it was more like sugary but mostly high voices and it was Motown-influenced.
I: I think if you took away the younger voices I think the record would sound a very different way.
T: It’s a natural progression. On every record, it’s a different time period, we pull from different influences of that time. The second record was a little “rootsier,” a little more gospel and songs like “This Time Around” which is the title track…that’s just what was in the air at the time. With Underneath, we began listening to bands like Travis and Coldplay and these different acts that had slightly more texture, leaning more toward the acoustic. But this record, it was like we made a conscious effort because the last album, Underneath, was done in this peaceful way because of our record company situation. We were signed to a rap label and were working with tons of different producers and it was really a bad situation.
I: It’s like trying to apply rap concepts to rock and roll. It just doesn’t really work.
T: In juxtaposition to the record that had been us holding the record together and fighting back problems of a label, this album, The Walk, is one that we wanted to make as holistic as possible. We can’t sell it, so we brought it back to our studios in Oklahoma, worked with Danny Cortzmar, who’s known for being and playing in these amazing bands, with James Taylor, Carol King or Jackson Browne or Billy Joel. He knows what it’s like to capture things. The progression is the fact that we’re musicians and we progress. And to be honest, I think that’s why we’re sitting here today. Our tendency is to want to start a label, maintain as many devoted fans as possible as we had.
I: Which I’m not sure we’re fully responsible for.
T: No, but I think a lot of it is caused by the fact that every time we [make a record], we have to be interested in it and that’s why every show we change the set list. We never walk out there and go, “Yeah, here’s the tour, let’s play.” I think fans feel that. The records are definitely not the same.
I: I think The Walk sums up the band in a more complete way than any other record because really, I think you get truly more pop elements here and there but you consistently hear who this band, as a three piece, is. I think you also hear the various kinds of style progressions over the last ten years. Motown elements of the gospel albums, more introspective…it more kind of comes together.
T: The first record is really kind of holistic in the interpretation and the style of the way it represents this band.
You guys were talking about Island Records just now. The label, the rap label. Now, there are a lot of bands that…oh, I don’t need these sunglasses anymore. [Taylor earlier lent me his sunglasses because the sun was in my eyes]
T: You sure? They look so good on you.
A lot of bands that we cover on the site such as Thrice and Thursday were on Island Records and they’ve had problems with them too. I don’t know what your experience with Island was but you kind of touched upon this already: why did you want to move away from a major label and take it into your own hands with 3CG Records and do it your own way?
T: The best way to describe it is we actually made a documentary. We’ve got a record out now but the record before that was when we left and we made a documentary called “Strong Enough to Break” which was not supposed to be about leaving a label. It wasn’t supposed to be the way the record industry works.
I: It was supposed to be about, “Hey, check out this band and look at how they work in the studio.”
Z: It was supposed to be about, you know, being a part of making music in a very intimate way. And it ended up being this film about the process of getting music made, not the process of making music. I think with Island…
T: In a nutshell, Island is an example of the way the system, the major labels, have become. Island is, for all intensive purposes, an emblem that they bought. They bought a logo that says Island and nothing else is what it used to be. A lot of people from Def Jam are there, but now they’re split up. It was a matter of we got signed to a label that got this band, understood what it was about, understood developing artists, at least were with us.
I: We had this A&R guy who didn’t always agree with us but at least had a pretty damn good sense of pop music.
T: So when we were at Island, we were this band that just got kept by a huge corporation, because it was an asset, not because anyone “got” it.
Z: Well, because we were another brand.
T: We were just Hanson. “Oh, another logo. We should keep that.” And so, it was a matter of looking at what a lot of majors have in common. They’re so ruled by the bottom dollar, they’re so ruled by the public (the fact that they’re public companies) that nobody has any power to take risk. Most of their staff is overworked so there’s not a lot of people championing anything.
Z: Because they’re trying to cut costs and so they cut all the staff and then they have people doing jobs that they don’t know how to do and they’ve got people working way too many projects…
I: And therefore there are too many projects so everything only lasts six weeks because no one can focus longer than six weeks. It’s not efficient in their mind, in their system, to work a record because if it’s not working than it’s not working. God forbid if you have a Maroon 5 record or a John Mayer record…
T: It took two and a half years for them to break [Maroon 5].
I: All of them, which will have very long careers.
T: Or Taking Back Sunday, who is an example who worked the right way and developed their career…
I: For a long time.
T: …for a couple albums and then just built built built built built. Or, Modest Mouse or any band. What you see now are all these “indie” bands are actually starting to be the ones that are starting to become mainstream. And there’s a very simple reason for that. Most of those labels are doing what labels have done historically and are staying focused; they’re developing the artists, they’re finding the fan base, they’re nurturing the fan base…
I: They’re not keeping bands out on the road.
T: They’re not impatiently like, “Hmm…quarterly earnings. What happened this week…ah, that record—can it! We spent $3 million on it but it didn’t work, get it out.” You know? There’s this sense of we wanted to be in this situation where we could call somebody up, be like, “Great, you’re passionate about this project. Let’s work together to release it.” Let’s be a band with a career. Let’s not be talking to a rap guy and an attorney and an accountant and a guy who is sitting on a board of directors for Vivendi, which is, like, a toilet bowl company. A toilet product company, they sell toilet bowl piping and stuff like that. You’re like, this is surreal! I feel like we’re in the twilight zone.
I: But it makes a lot of sense because the record business is in the shitter. [laughter] Thank you, I’ll be here all week.
T: It was more about maintaining our path than it was about than becoming indie. Because, to be honest, we’ve always been a very indie-minded band. From the day we started, we made indie records. We had to give ourselves excuses to do more. I remember we’d be like, “You guys really want to mess with that?” And we’d be like, “Yeah we wanna mess with it, it’s our band.”
Z: We’ve always been a little bit of outcasts in the way we do things. “You guys are how young?” “You’re starting a label?” The things that we’ve done with our lives, it’s always been kinda odd, by comparison to the norm and the standard. Our friends, they’re in school and we’re like, “Oh, sorry, got a gig. You can’t come over, I’ve got a show, but maybe tomorrow.”
I: There’s always been some element, which everyone’s looked at Hanson and thought, “How?” and “Where?”
T: We’re kind of proud of that. We never could quite fit in to a particular…we’re the most indie band you’ll ever meet in reality. But we’re a mainstream name, we’re perceived as a mainstream brand.
I: And we write songs that I believe are kind of aimed at more of a mainstream audience. Not because we aim at it, but because that’s what we like to write.
And your ethics are more the indie type.
I: To the potential detriment of ourselves. [laughs] You know, psychologically.
T: And physically. OK, I’ll let you ask your question. I just feel like we’re in this insane time right now where we’re going to look back on the business and music and intellectual property period and I’m really curious with what’s going to happen because we have this great opportunity to either step up in a huge way, the whole industry, artists and labels, and make this the golden age of taking back control to what it could be and improving relationships with fans and growing the quality of music that’s distributed in the mainstream. Or, Rupert Murdoch can buy Myspace. And there’s this weird decision, it’s like that’s why we went to colleges with our documentary years ago. What we were saying to people was we wanted to kind of show you this film because it’s about Hanson, but it’s more about we can tell you twenty bands who are all our friends who you probably know who’ve gone through some story like this and it’s up to us, as fans and as artists…
Z: And as people who are going to take over the jobs in the music business.
T: And [speaking to Anton] you’re probably somewhat our age and you’re the journalist now. It’s our job to decide if we want it to be better and we’re willing to pursue it and build it, or whether we’re going to sit on the sidelines and just allow the 55 year old stock broker right now to take everything that’s potentially amazing about technology and entrepreneurial spirit of these labels and have it become the same thing that frustrated with.
I: We need to allow our fans to realize that our songs are at least as valuable as this cup of coffee. Right now this [motions to cup of coffee] cup of coffee costs probably about three or four songs, at least. I could have bought an EP with this!
Z: How long did that coffee last you?
I: Ten minutes. It’s this perceived value too. I think fans have this really messed up perspective on what the value of music is because corporate music business has f’d it up worse and worse.
T: The music industry was to slow to create avenues for people to find digital music in a real way, in an official…
Z: In a way that people can use in their everyday lives. They kinda said, “No CDs will last forever! Ha ha! We’ll keep selling plastic! They’ll buy whatever we do!” Suddenly this avenue comes across where people don’t have to buy music and if there was a Lamborghini sitting across the street and you saw the keys in it and you knew nobody was going to find out, the temptation is there and is understandable. What has to be done is somehow finding a way to make it so easy for people to support the bands they like that they don’t mind spending that little bit of money to support the bands so that they can make another record. Because if you can have it for free and it’s easy, then you’re gonna do it. Unfortunately, I wish it was not true but it is.
T: As an industry, you need to make it easier to buy it than it is to steal it. This is awesome; I’m going to add something else on here. It’s sort of like deciding as a city or a municipality can say, we’re going to reward people for moving their business to the inner city or downtown circle instead of moving to the suburbs where they can get cheaper real estate and they can buy more land out there but then the tax space gets spread out so much that you’re like, “Oh, we don’t have any roads downtown.” And all of a sudden, everyone went where it’s cheapest and there’s a mall over here and there’s some decrepit buildings over here and, it’s like the music industry…we have to bring people into the loop, downtown. We have to say to fans, “Hey you should get this nice apartment instead of the house in the suburbs. It’d be a lot cooler if you did that.” You’d like it a lot more and you’d be a lot happier because we’d have friends downtown, and we’d have people wanting to play music together…
Z: And a barbecue out on the fire escape…
T: People are listening right now thinking, “What is he talking about? You lost me at interspersal loop.
I: People like, “Oh my god, Hanson just started talking about economics.”
T: It’s the same idea. Cultivate it or just hope it works?
Talking about making music better, you guys host a songwriting workshop.
Z: I think that’s the way we should start saying it. Workshop.
T: It’s a retreat. It’s more like a retreat.
I: It’s like a spa.
Z: It’s a place where we give people free food and free beer and free studio time.
T: And they bring their own ‘other products.’
Z: …In order that they will make music. It’s something we do every year and we just bring…it’s generally what, 15 people?
T: It’s one of the most fun things we do. It came from the inspiration that it’s just hard to get artists together. A lot of your friends become musicians but everybody’s lifestyle is like, “I’m on a train,” or “I’m on a bus.” Everybody’s life is shifts in the night.
Z: “I’m in Europe.” “I’m in Asia.”
T: It’s so awesome to get to collaborate with people you respect or you have relationships with but it’s so hard to get it together.
I: As small as the music business is, it’s still increasingly large enough that it becomes difficult to keep the community strong. The way that the business evolves is that the managers tend to manage the bands or labels tend to market bands there’s this thing where it’s like, “Oh, you can’t work with that band because it doesn’t fit your image.” Everyone became so image conscious that they forgot that the music was the thing that is important. So what you get is the heavy rock guy and the folk guy and the in between guy together and you write songs and it just so happens that it kind of kicks ass.
T: It’s basically five days of big rural space and a major main studio set up and secondary and third room in the house with rehearsal space. We have so much gear it’s like guitars and vintage keyboards and people basically spend the day living in the house together and every day we wake up and we’re like, “Get in pairs of three.”
Z: “You three, you three, and you three.” Most of the time it’s people that don’t even know each other.
T: We’re the ones that know everybody there and people are meeting each other so each day you wake up and record a song. By the end of the day, you recorded a song.
I: We actually created some really cool friendships because of it. You know, for us but also an after effect of it is that people who didn’t know each other before have gone on to work with each other after.
T: Some good people came to it. Vast is a good one. John Crosby is a great one. Adam Sesslinger from Fountains of Wayne.
I know you guys had Eisley there.
T: Eisley was there, they were awesome. They’re all amazing but especially Chantelle, who doesn’t do as much singing. She came out of her shell…everybody was like, “Oh my god.”
Z: That song, it kills me. Her voice is so goodcreepy. In the sense that it’s haunting. Hearing her sing that song, I was just like, “Oh. So awesome!”
T: It’s a great combination because John Crobsy from Vast, Zac, and her…the style. Those are the kinds of things that make that cool. Stuff happens and you could never put it in a petri dish and have that come out. By the end of five days, there’s not a lot of sleeping going on and it’s ends up being twenty songs.
I: By the end of five days, your voice is trashed.
Z: And you start writing songs called “Devils Nachos” and things like that. It’s about music, it’s about building a community of artists and that’s something that we feel passionate about—the idea of not being confined into boxes and saying, “For everyone who wants to call us this, we’re going to show you, we just blew your mind and did the exact opposite.” Not just us, but the artists. Music is so much bigger than you’re able to think that we’re going to put a folk artist and a rap artist. Andrew W.K. and Sandra McCraken…
T: Our friend Sandra who’s this amazing country-folk singer and Stephen Trask, well they didn’t actually do one together. But our friend Stephen Trask who wrote, among other things, “Hedwig and the Angry Itch.”
This is sort of going in a different direction, but what sort of music are you listening to right now?
T: Oh, wow. That’s actually a really interesting question.
Z: One of the bands that I like [points to his shirt] is a California band called Everybody Else. Really great band.
T: We were just in LA for a couple weeks doing some really fun random shows and a few artists that are kind of in this more acoustic thing, this girl named Mico. This place called Hotel Café in LA, super cool. Keith Simons…
Z: Keith is so great, so talented…
I: That guy is like soul in a bottle.
T: I really like the Foreign Born record. They did a set with us. We did four really random shows in LA. We did one at Space Land and Foreign Born played with us. That was cool. We really, really like their new record.
I: This band that’s opening up for us is totally indie, a band called Locksley, is like 60s pop meets punk rock, kind of?
T: They’re a really tight sounding band.
I: Really cool.
T: Sha Na Na, do you know Sha Na Na?
I: In general, I’m a fan of hip hop…rhythmic stuff. It’s not a guilty pleasure but I wish I had more time to produce stuff. Old school stuff is just so great. It combines an amazing backbeat with really great songs whereas these days far too often the song gets lost in the production.
Z: No it doesn’t! They just take hit songs and put them on a new beat and then rap over that. The lyrics, they’re like [singing], “I’m your friend/And I think you’re cool!” Doesn’t that sound like another song? Maybe by a guy named Bill Withers…a while ago, called “Lean on Me”…?
T: It always bugs me when people are like, “Did you hear that new Kanye West song, ‘Gold Digger’?” I’m like [vents frustration]
Z: And that also bugs me when they call rappers like that genius. What are you talking about? The guy wrote that song that they put on their song and called their own song…
I: That’s actually where Eminem has really risen above, he has actually been original, has actually gone
out of his way to write his own songs. T: He may be a bully or a baby, but he’s actually a talented rapper.
I don’t mean to judge any of you guys but I totally wouldn’t have expected a rap liking from any of you. What other bands do you like that people wouldn’t necessarily expect Hanson to like?
I: I don’t know what people expect us to listen to. I mean, I love AC/DC. Talk about a band that made a career out of three chords.
Z: Three chords and they somehow define badass. It’s like, “I’m going to play the simplest drum beat, the simplest guitar pattern, we’re only going to use three chords and we’re going to solo on two notes…
I: And somehow, they include oi in that.
Taylor and Zac: Oi! Oi! Oi! Oi!
T: I’m wearing schoolboy short knee socks. I don’t know what they would expect us to listen to. We still listen to all kinds of stuff.
I: [to Zac] I agree with you on the DMX thing. DMX’s lyrics are really cool.
Z: Luda, just turned 30. Taylor and I like the ones from Atlanta, you know the whole crunk scene.
T: We understand, you know, the dirrty south.
Z: I can’t help myself that the music that I like listening to is usually always based on a great song or a great melody. I do find myself probably listening to more kind of pop rock bands or more singer songwriter stuff. Billy Joel, when you think of great songwriting, or Paul Simon’s most recent record is incredible. I just love that record. And it doesn’t necessarily have a hit single on it but it’s just so well-crafted and you listen to it and you go, “There’s a reason why this guy is the first artist inducted into the Library of Congress as American songsmith.” Just incredible.
T: Some New York bands, Cloud Room and Versions. I have their record and they’re great.
I: Electric Six.
T: Electric Six is great. Moving Units. I really like some Sufjan Stevens stuff.
Z: “She’s a sexy woman/She has super sexy thighs…”
I: I’d have to look through my iPod extensively to figure it out.
Z: I think we’ve done enough, haha.
You’ve been together over ten years now. Right now in this conversation, you’re still having fun together or you’re putting on a really good act.
Z: I have to tell you, I think we could run for public office. What I’m saying is I really think that I’m a great liar.
Z: I really do. I could stare someone in the face and…
I: What did Bono say?
T: Bono said something to the effect that he goes on stage every night and lies. You’re a performer in some degree, a professional liar.
Didn’t Bono say that you guys were one of the greatest musicians out right now?
T: Yeah, he was lying!
Z: He wasn’t lying then. That was honest.
I: It was a moment of clarity. The clouds parted, the light shined down, he said it.
T: Even your sister’s here. You understand that, even though the perception of brothers and sisters seems to be you can’t stand to be together, you can actually spend time together without wanting to punch each other in the nose. We have a great relationship.
Z: We have a good relationship because it’s for our mutual benefit that we work well together and have a career together and make music together. Screwing that up would be a bad thing for you, personally. We don’t always get along.
I: I want to punch Zac in the face very often.
Z: Thankfully, he knows that as a drummer I hit things as a living.
T: We figured out how to put aside some of the stupid stuff when it’s important. That’s probably the biggest thing. We have lots of different interests, different personalities. In the end, we share this connection that we don’t share with other people. It’s not the same.
I: I would never want to be a politician. It would require me to truly on some level compromise my personal integrity that I wouldn’t want to have to. Then again, there are some things where being a musician is really…
Z: I think the best way to say it is that when we’re making music and we’re doing things that are about music, playing-wise, and even doing interviews where we get to talk about music and we’re not actually talking about the fact that we’re married young or...
T: It’s like, “Why are you a young celebrity that didn’t go off the deep end?” And that’s all they want to talk about.
Z: Those are actually the times when we really get along because there’s disagreement still when we’re making music. When you’re in the studio together and you’re putting down a song, you’re putting down the guitar part or the drum part, the change is there. It hits that core, that proverbial core. It’s an undeniable energy where you’re like, “Yeah!” We were in the studio the other day on one of our days off. We spent the whole day working on a projects Somebody was like, “Oh, sorry dude you spent your whole day off in the studio.” And I’m like, “No, this is good. We love this.” When you spend a day in the studio, yeah, you’re tired. But you feel this energy that you’re making something that nobody else owns that nobody else could do. It’s like art to the nth degree. Painting or film or whatever, but music is like…air.
I: There’s also something else. We don’t air our laundry in public.
I: We don’t do our dirty laundry in public.
T: We have to put our clothes in the dryer.
I: As much as I talked about being politicians, we’re pretty pragmatic about stuff, especially given the right opportunity.
So, my next question has to be…so! You guys got married at a young age…
Let’s talk about The Walk that you’re doing right now. Not literally right now, but the walk that you’re doing in every city on this tour. For those that don’t know for the readers and the listeners of the site, why did you get involved with that?
T: We have to rewind just a bit. In the process of making this record, one of the things that happened was we were really impacted by guys in our hometown. We recorded the record in Tulsa, it’s like the first record in a decade that we’ve done that consistently. We were inspired by some people that were in this little technology company. They developed this medical technology and they spent a lot of money doing it and they said that it was a thing that was going to help average Americans but it was also going to be a thing that could save lives. It would let them be in contact with doctors using cell phones or using the Internet. It was a really simple but amazing thing. They were going to donate it to a hospital in Africa because there’s this issue where people can’t get to a doctor or they have to travel three days and wait in line and then not get an appointment and not get seen. They were just going to give it away! And there was this light that clicked and these issues, AIDS and issues with poverty that surrounded. Oh my god, there’s this idea that hasn’t hit home yet and that’s that everybody has something. We all have something. It’s not even like that Red product idea of consuming products in a good way. It’s actually that we all have something to put to use. So we spent a little time in Africa during the record, more from the point of view that we just had to go. We just need to go and we recorded the song “Great Divide” and with an African children’s choir and we left with this basic mission of, “OK. We’re going to start by using what we have. We’re going to put out the Great Divide.” It’s a charity single, goes directly to a hospital that focuses on mother-child transmission of AIDS.
I: It helped reduce the mother-child transmission rate 33%.
T: Today, our goal is to inspire people and motivate people that everybody has something to use. We need to focus on moving away from awareness and moving into action, a state of action and looking for clear, tangible ways that we can do things to help each other. Not from a point of view of just raising money in a huge bank or trying to send money to a hut, but looking for tangible things to do that allow you to make a difference. Tom’s Shoes is this great company and every time you buy one of their shoes, they take a second pair of shoes and they give it away to a kid in poverty. We basically met with Blake, who started the company and just brainstormed. We decided to stage walks in every city, walk a mile as part of the tour, as a way to galvanize our fans.
I: We walk a mile barefoot in urban cities.
Z: Let’s take a moment to see what it’s like to not have shoes. And you walk down downtown areas with no shoes on and you think it’d be nice to have a pair of shoes.
T: Obviously it’s a bit of an extreme example but, for us, it was a tangible way to get people to take action in something and be a part of spreading the message and the idea in a real way. It’s this weird thing where people are always bombarded with messages.
I: People our age are really frustrated with it.
T: There’s this divide of our age where people are comfortable being passive and there are consumers. We just feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, go to college, get a good job, wake up at 65 and retire. And then there’s this group that is feeling this tension of kind of, “Wow, I see how much resources there are and I’m not comfortable just standing by. I’m not comfortable having so much energy to make a difference and not engage.” Our message with the walks is…everybody walks. You’re taking this one mile and there’s 300-400 kids filling the street and people are walking by wondering what the heck is going on. They’re all holding their shoes up in the air. You finish it and you’re like, “Great. This was kind of mundane, we just walked.” But today we unified behind a simple action and tomorrow what will we do? If you buy a pair of Tom’s shoes, you know a result. It’s just lots of those clear steps and it’s actually pretty amazing because…
Z: Small things. That’s like saying, “Once a year, I’m going to give my charitable donation to the local charity or to the food bank.”
T: Which is good.
Z: Which is good, but it’s like saying maybe you could make a bit of changes in the way you live your life with the shoes you buy or the t-shirt you buy or the this or the that. Just adding little things to your life or just changing it slightly the way you live it could enrich your life and other peoples’.
I: I’m just think that there are a gazillion ideas like at Tom’s Shoes, that there are people that can come up with that in their place of passion that they have and come up with a way to create a similar kind of compassion.
Z: Companies, the new companies starting, the young entrepreneurs, making the act of giving a part of their success of their companies. Not charity, but companies that say, “The success of my company is based also on giving back and making something impactful out of what we do.”
T: It’s kind of crazy to think about it. If you raise money for something, you’re raising money to go and do something with it. To buy goods, to buy medicine, to drill wells for water…or—you could go directly to drills water, go to the person that makes shoes, the person that makes drugs and say, “We’re just going to raise money and buy it from you,” or you can justify a way or a reason to make that a part of what you’re doing and make that part of your success. And that’s what Tom’s is saying. And that’s what we’re saying with “Great Divide.”
Z: I think in the more selfish way, it makes people proud to be a part of being with you. You know I didn’t just buy something I needed, I’m making a difference with what I do.
T: It’s our job to try and relay the message, put it into…
I: We don’t want to be soapbox teachers. We don’t want to…that’s not what it’s about. We’re not saying, “Hey everybody needs do this.” We’re just saying that there are other ways to tackle problems and we think that you can see in Tom’s Shoes and other people who have that similar idea that there is a way to be a part of their lives and a part of their success. We just hope that we can encourage other people to have similar ideas. Be a part of the generation that saved another generation.
You said that you had 300-400 kids at the walk…
T: That was our last walk, yeah.
400 kids. That’s really great interaction. Well, one thing that I’ve noticed that a lot of people said against you guys is that you guys don’t have very good fan interaction. You’re doing the walk…
T: Fan interaction?
Fan interaction at concerts. Some people say that you guys have been very stand-offish. I don’t know because I’ve never seen it happen.
T: You’ve never seen a Hanson show?
I have. You seem to be very open, walking with 400 strangers…
Z: I don’t know where that would come from.
T: A Hanson show is really interactive.
I: That sounds like somebody who’s strangely bitter about something…
T: Who was the girl who took her bra off and handed it out and we didn’t grab it?
That could be a life-ruining experience!
T: You take your shirt off, you hand it to the band, they don’t take it! How would that make you feel?
Z: The thing about a Hanson show is when you come to one. It’s almost constant, the singing of the fans, the clapping, and the interaction of. Last night’s show, there were, what, four times when we had the audience take over? I guess there’s always off nights but we have to do our best. When was the last time you saw a show?
[my sister chimes in with the date]
T: Oh, you guys should totally come to a show tomorrow night. Our shows are very interactive.
I: I imagine that the person was trying to say something more personal. We’re fairly sarcastic, so maybe on some cases…
Z: Of course I want your address!
My sister: What you guys have to realize is that the website that this is for, bands covered are really small and the bands can walk through a show and not get attacked. Where I’d imagine that you guys can’t really do that which can make some fans bitter.
T: Yeah, we can’t really do that.
It’s usually a completely different fan base.
Z: Every night I go out and spend at least 20-30 minutes just talking with fans. There are at least about 100 fans that we know and we’re just like, “I know you. I’ve seen you at 300 gigs.”
T: You know what’s crazy? We’ve started to see fans that, like this girl said to me that tomorrow is her 200th show. Another girl said it was her 51st. Another had seen 143 shows. And I was just thinking about how I haven’t seen 143 other bands. I don’t think I’ve seen 143 shows of all bands combined. 200 gigs…
Z: Our fans are incredible. I say it whenever I can. We have the best fans period. They’re so devoted and they know every lyric to every song and every song that’s never been released, and to every song we wrote the night before…
T: The song Zac’s singing in the shower…
Z: And, you know, it’s a really cool thing. I think also for me, the cooler thing is when the bands that have opened for us come up and say, “Hey, your fans are great.” Because that means that there’s this reaction where they’re not just there. There’s something more about their compassion for music.
I: They’re music people.
Z: You know, Ingrid Mill, Michael Coltrey, or Locksley. These guys come and they say, “Hey, your fans are great. We wanted to come because we know, we’ve heard stories from other bands about how they got fans from playing with you guys.” It wasn’t about “When’s Hanson coming on?” We have incredible fans. I’m sorry if you’ve heard bad reactions from people.
This is a pretty informal interview. I’m sure you’ve done all these huge publications and have done a ton of boring interviews. You’ve been doing this for over ten years…is there any question that you’ve wanted to be ask that you’ve never been asked? One that you’ve thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” I mean, you [Zac] were just talking about Halo 3.
Z: Last night I was out picking up Halo 3. I was out at 3:13 in the morning, I was ridiculous. It was me and Isaac’s guitar tech and we were both buying a copy and he was laughing at me because I was like skipping. For me, one of the cooler questions I’ve ever been asked and it’s hard…there was a question on our last record asked about the thank yous. The question was about how the record took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, what that means. Those are the kind of questions for me that are really cool. You know that they had to read in the booklet to ask that question.
T: For one, we know the journalist knows how to read.
Z: You have to sit down and look at the lyrics, they had to take the time and figure out that there’s actually something behind this band.
I: One of my favorite interviews was with CNN The Biz…
Z: Which is a business program that we came on to talk about the music business and the guy starts throwing out all these crazy, intricate things about lyrics.
I: Because he’s sitting there reading the liner notes in the booklet and we were like, “Wow. You’re doing a lot more research than most music journalists.”
T: I guess it’s maybe it’s the fact that music journalists get so jaded and stop caring about what an artist is trying to say about their music or what a lyric means or that they just don’t care anymore. What they really want to know is, “Do I think you’re cool or not?”
I: What your image is.
T: I think the coolest stuff is when people really take the time to talk to you about music. You know, why did you write this song, why did write about this person? Those things because in a way it means that music still matters. Your questions have been good.
I’m not looking for compliments or anything…
T: No, no, no. That’s probably one of my favorite ones ever. It’s the little things that’s hard to define. Somebody walked up and said, “When you wrote ‘Fire On the Mountain’ what were you trying to say when you said ‘Can we pick the pieces up/Mend in Babylon/Try to right the wrong’?” That would be really interesting.
So… “Fire On the Mountain”…
Actually, if you guys want to explain that, that’d be great. There’s a ton of metaphor in that song.
T: There is a lot of metaphor in that song. It was finished after we came back from South Africa and Mozambique. There is definitely a part of it that is about the whole AIDS/HIV issues and whether we make an impact, whether we try to do something or we don’t, it’s changing the world whether we like it or not.
I: So the fire is burning.
Z: It’s burning the world to pieces. I think there’s definitely a spiritual element to it. That we’ll talk about less because when you talk about the things you believe that so often can’t get in the way of people listening to music and actually hearing opinions (it’s kind of funny that it happens that way). And then I think honestly there was a little bit of Iraq and Babylon and that area of the world that is in there. And it all encompasses the area.
I: There you go, Hanson knows their geography!
Hanson knows their ancient Mesopotamia!
Z: There’s pieces that get on all of it.
I: It’s overall social commentary.
T: The fire in the mountains is really trying to pull together or watch it burn. Nobody tries to put out the fire until it’s right there at the cusp, right about to come over. You know, you might want to get some water before it becomes a problem. One of the lyrics talks about ivory towers and then the flood comes and to protect ourselves we build wooden boats because we’re afraid our metal boats will rust. And it’s the wrong reason to build wooden boats. It’s just talking about the fact that we need to face our problems before they’re too big to fix.
You have a lot of great songs. I really love The Walk, I think it’s a great album. Do you have any songs that you’ve written (discounting Boomerang)…
…that you would say would be your least favorite song that you’ve written?
Z: I…why are we discounting Boomerang?
Discounting Boomerang because you were so young when it was written and most people don’t know it.
Z: Oh, OK. There is a song that we rarely play live. Honestly, there’s some songs that you write in different styles and you don’t get where you really are or what you want to be. There’s a song called…
I: Are you really going to pull this one out?
Z: There’s a song called “Love Somebody to Know” that we play periodically…
I: Oh wow.
Z: …and I just really don’t like that song because, to me, I love a great rhythm section and the way you play in the backbeat, the bass, the drums. That song is a little more Mick Jagger influenced than the rest. It’s got this shaker that’s flying around the beat and it just irritates the crap out of me.
T: It doesn’t actually have a shaker, but…
Z: It’s just that whole style of that song. It’s got that whole Mick Jagger are-you-drunk? kind of feel to it.
T: Honestly, the song is really not that all-encompassing. There’s not any song that we’ve released where we’ve been like, “Oh, I hate that.” There’s definitely the lyrics on the song “Yearbook” from our first record. We, musically, love that song. On that song, we wrote the song with Allie Shipley, a really talented writer. But we were half-committed with the comparison to a high school yearbook. Musically, I love the song. Lyrically there’s stuff on there that I’m like, “Eh.” And I felt that when I was 14.
I: And it’s hurt us from not playing it.
T: Actually, the first time we played it was this tour because we never play it.
I: Exactly. We never played it and we were like, “You know what, it’s time to pull it out.” At the very least so a handful of fans could be like, “I was there when.”
T: That’s one that we, after ten years, we put it in once in a while.
I: There are a couple of lyrics, really specific lyrics on Middle of Nowhere, like two songs and one lyrics. There are a couple of songs going back to every record looking and just wondering and cringing. We’re always trying to push ourselves but sometimes you look back and you go, “You know what? It is what it is.” I was looking back at “Penny and Me” and bridge says, “Penny likes to get away and drown her pain in lemonade.” I realized we could’ve used chardonnay. It totally rhymes. And I kind of feel like maybe it might have been better in the long run but lemonade is about the south because it was talking about when the leaves turn red.
Z: There’s often times you have to fine the fine line writing what you think people will want to hear and what you really want to write about. Chardonnay may have made more sense to a lot of people and may have picked up on the lyric faster and understood what we were saying quicker, but it’s not necessarily what you wanted to write. Lemonade is kind of a little quirky and you’re like, “Lemonade?” and other people can go “Haw haw, lemonade, little kids!”
T: That’s like your ultimate joke. That idiot thinks you’re talking about kids and they can’t understand the greater concept of the song. Good job! “Strong Enough to Break,” we were talking about Milton Bradley games? Yeah, sure. No, it’s monopoly as in the greater idea of the corporate music business.
I: My favorite review starts off, “The song’s called ‘Strong Enough to Break’ and starts off, ‘I don't feel myself today/Just a figure in a big monopoly game.”’ It was some random local newspaper in Boise, Idaho or something. The guy was full-on trying to diss us and I was like, “OK.” I’m really annoyed that he went out of his way to poke fun at us but at the same time, I’m laughing my ass off because he’s a retard. He was just dumb!
I know “Can’t Stop” is a song you don’t play often.
[My sister asks, “Can we just get a confirmation for one last time…where did Johnny go?”]
Z: We never really defined it because part of music is the fact that people have to define it for themselves. And, obviously there aren’t songs that work that way, there are songs that are really clear…
T: The answer is supposed to be we don’t know.
Z: Hold on, hold on. There are people who have said all kinds of things and I like that. People have said, “Oh, it’s all about Vietnam; it’s about the draft; it’s about murder.” I think it’s important to have that in popular music. It doesn’t just have to be the obscure stuff. There can be songs that are not just so clear that everyone knows exactly what you’re saying.
I: “Singin' along to feeling all right/We're makin' it by in the pink moonlight.” People may not get that we’re referencing Nick Drake and it makes it right off the bat because it’s supposed to be…
Z: They could be thinking that you’re feeling good while singing along in a sunset.
I: During an orange, pink whatever.
Z: We’re not going to define it because, honestly, I don’t think any of us really knew. Even writing the song, it was kind of like we don’t need to know. This isn’t a song where we need to know the beginning and the end. We just need to know what the message of the song is about.
I: Keep it consistent with the feeling. I have to comment what, I think in a lot of cases makes really good songwriting. And I don’t claim to, in any way, be…
Z: Oh no! Oh no! This is bad…
I: I think in a lot of cases, if you write too closely to yourself, you run a high risk of people not ever really getting where you’re going with a song because they can’t help but realize just your personal life and that’s what the song’s about. In some cases it may be that you wrote a great song because of it, but if your entire record becomes about that…that’s what we’ve always tried to stay just arms length away from.
T: You need to just take the emotion and write a story with it. Not necessarily your story…
I: Because it’s not going to be anyone else’s story if it’s about you.
Z: Jurassic Park wasn’t written about actual events but it’s still an awesome book about dinosaurs! Harry Potter is the biggest-selling book of all time but [JK Rowling] didn’t exactly use magic in real life, you know?
Just so you know, Taylor, earlier I was referencing “Can’t Stop” as a song that you guys don’t play often but I know that you just started playing it on this tour.
I: We did, actually and we rocked it up.
Because, I really like that song and…
Z: “Can’t Stop” is one of those songs that’s a little goofy.
T: “Can’t Stop” is actually, if you come to the show, this version that we’re playing on the tour is pretty cool.
I: We kind of salsa’d it up.
Z: Ike, you can’t give away all the ways we’ve changed the songs!
T: It’s a groove song too, so it’s like [does the beat].
So, that’s all that I’d like to know except for one thing. It’s the question that we got the most and I’m sorry to single you out on this one, Taylor. You talked about it earlier.
T: Oh, about Family Guy?
Yes, about Family Guy. The character, Quagmire…
T: My relationship with Quagmire is off the record.
I: It was purely consensual.
T: I must say I think it’s hilarious. Honestly, if you took yourself so seriously that you couldn’t laugh. David Spade goes on that Aerosmith icon thing and made some joke about the chick in Hanson. Obivously, any level of compliment like this…you know there’s t-shirts at Hot Topic that are like Mrs. Pitt…
I: Or you looked better on Myspace…
T: Yeah, there’s one like, “I made out with the chick in Hanson.” It’s the same thing. If some jerk walks up to you and does something like that, you want to knock him in the fucking head. But when you’re talking about that kind of cultural thing, it’s hilarious. We actually joke about it. We name people in our crew after things that are hilarious that they do. Quagmire, we make fun of…it’s endearing. Quaggy.
T: I think it’s hilarious.
OK, that’s all I have to ask since we’re over your half-hour limit obviously and I just want to say thank you so much for doing this interview. It really means a lot. I really appreciate it.
T: Not at all, man! Good questions. And you should come to the show tomorrow night. If you can’t come tomorrow, come another time.
I: We’ve been playing “Can’t Stop” pretty consistently, at least on these nine shows. We’re getting into a groove now.
T: This has been Hanson…Absolutepunk.net thanks for being here!
Z: You’ve been punked! This isn’t actually Hanson. This is…Slayer. We are actually a totally different band.
T: No band members were injured during the recording of this.