Hanson keeping it real
Focus on music and message as it takes a more mature tone
By John J. Moser

Of The Morning Call

April 26, 2008

The hottest music act these days is a trio of teen siblings, featuring a high-voiced lead singer.

The Jonas Brothers of New Jersey are topping the charts and selling out concert halls.

But 11 years ago, that same description fit another threesome -- Hanson from Tulsa, Okla.

And Taylor Hanson says he and his brothers Zac and Isaac -- now all married and, when Zac's wife gives birth next month, all fathers -- can tell the Jonases a thing or two about success and how to have a lasting career in music.

It's not idle talk: More than a decade after they were long-haired, tow-headed teens and their hit ''MMMBop'' saturated radio and sold millions, Hanson still is releasing strong, well-received albums, such as last year's rock-and-soul flavored ''The Walk,'' which looked at the personal and social responsibilities that come with maturity.

And they're also still selling out venues, including shows on Friday at Allentown's Crocodile Rock and next Saturday at Lancaster's Chameleon Club.

It's not just love of family and fans that unites the Hansons and Jonases. Both were ''discovered'' by record producer Steve Greenberg.

Taylor, 25, says that he and his brothers have been able to sustain their career because they put music first.

''I think more than anything the reason we're still here is because it was always about the music, and it was always about finding a connection with your fans and holding onto it,'' Taylor says.

''If you're interested in actually being a band for a long time ... every step you make you have to keep in mind, 'Well, what's this mean five years from now -- what does it mean to be a band that wasn't just successful in the '90s and wants to retire a few years later.'

''That's really the way we always looked at it -- [that] we're just young now. We jokingly used to say, 'Think of us as old guys with high voices.' We're not in this for the moment right now; this is just the beginning.

Hanson says he takes it as a compliment that ''people are looking back and drawing comparisons that are the real comparisons -- writing, playing the music and being brothers and being successful at it.'' But he says, ''I think musically it's clearly a very, very different thing.''

Especially now. There's a maturity on ''The Walk,'' the second disc Hanson has released on their own 3CG Records since leaving the Island/Def Jam label amid disputes.

''I don't want to be on the defensive, but I think we were always writing about stuff that was, to be honest, it was probably beyond our age group,'' says Taylor.

''So in a lot of ways I think people are able to see today kind of more honestly what we've always been: literally in the sound of our voices, in the sound of our presentation, guys in our mid-20s,'' he says, laughing. ''And so I guess in a way I don't really see if it's 'more mature,' but it is definitely mature.

''Every album, your life has been that much more rich. The last couple years we have been starting a record company and embracing some of these social issues, our trip to Africa during the making of this album.''

While maturity added richness to Hanson's music, it also brought a startling reminder of mortality.

At the end of a 2007 tour last year (they played Crocodile Rock in March 2007) Isaac, the oldest brother at 27, had a life-threatening affliction called a pulmonary embolism -- a pinched blood vessel that causes a blood clot that went to his lung. He had surgery to correct it -- it included removing a rib, Taylor says -- in December and took an extended rest.

The surgery was ''really successful and his doctors recommended that he actually try to stay active now that he's had time to heal,'' Taylor says.

Taylor, a father of three, describes he and his brothers as ''just guys raising families and trying to keep things afloat, but then we go out and we do the touring and get in the bus and we travel around the world.

''We all have amazing wives -- I mean, my wife is a complete gold medalist in survival and she's just an incredible sport for me and makes everything possible for us. In fact, when we're on the long tours, we try and take the family with us. My 5-year-old periodically says 'When are we getting on the bus?'

Speaking of singing siblings, does the future hold a second generation of Hansons, ala The Osmonds?

''Gosh, I can't predict the future, so I can't say there won't be,'' he says. ''We sort of joke that we're a band that happens to be brothers; it wasn't like the Hanson family [was the] Von Trapps ... So I don't know if that'll transfer completely into other bands.

''But they're creative. My kids all sing and they hear melody really well and Â… you know what? It could happen. There could definitely be some other musicians in the family. In fact, I'm sure there will be. It's just a question of whether people will decide that they're going to go make it a career, and go for it.

''Look, you cannot fabricate it or force it. If it's there, it is. If it's not Â… you're probably lucky,'' he says, laughing.

With that outlook, he says he doesn't foresee an end to the band.

''Look, unless something tragic happens, the world's going to have to deal with us until we die,'' he says. ''Ultimately it's the kind of thing where you can't not do it. And that's the way we are. We love many things, but ultimately we're artists, so we'll be doing it.''