Beyond 'Bop'
Popular 90s trio Hanson brings their act, humanitarianism to State College

By: Jimmy Mincin
Posted: October 3, 2008

Courtesy photo
Hanson (from left, Isaac, Taylor and Zach Hanson) will play the State Theatre on Oct. 12.

If 1997's phenomenally popular "MMMBop" were any indication, the guys in Hanson have a penchant for writing a catchy melody.

"We've always wanted to write songs that people can sing to," said Taylor Hanson, the trio's 25-year-old keyboardist, in a phone interview from Knoxville, Tenn. "It comes from the anatomy of the body of groups we grew up listening to - The Beatles, Beach Boys, Otis Redding and Simon and Garfunkel. Even artists like Billy Joel and Neil Diamond - we've always loved those melodies."

Hanson, whose 1997 album, "Middle of Nowhere," catapulted them to mega-stardom while they were mere teenagers, will perform at 8 p.m. Oct. 12 at the State Theatre in State College as part of their "The Walk Around the World Tour."

The tour began last fall when the group teamed up with TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie to conduct what they called "shoe drops," whereby every time a pair of the California-based company's shoes are purchased, an equal pair is donated to a child living in poverty in South Africa, Hanson said. The group brought awareness to the campaign by asking fans to join them in a one-mile barefoot walk before each concert - to represent what a typical African child goes through on a daily basis.

The effort stems from the group's trip to Africa in 2006 to record the charity single "The Great Divide."

"Obviously, that's why it's called the 'Walk Around the World Tour,'" Taylor said. "It's all about expanding on being a fan's band, and making an impact on social issues with a direct, action-oriented approach. We want to inspire people to do the same."

The trio's latest effort, 2007's "The Walk," represents the group's second release on its own 3CG label.

But it all started 15 years ago when Taylor Hanson, who was all of 10 years old, and his two brothers, Isaac and Zach, who were 13 and 11, repectively, formed a Partridge Family-esque pop rock band simply called Hanson in Tulsa, Okla., Taylor said.

The trio began playing at local festivals, at school and around town. The brothers first attempted to break into the music industry around 1992, when they approached music attorney Christopher Sabec and sang a capella for him. Impressed with their talents, he shopped them around to various major labels. During the next three years, five labels would reject the group.

But they were never deterred.

"Not at all," Taylor said. "Obviously, when you're trying to make it big in the music business, you're going to have disappointments. The record execs kept saying there was no place for three blond-haired, pre-pubescent kids on the radio. Sometimes you just have to be relentless."

And relentless they were. By 1997, the entire world would be singing along with their No. 1 smash hit - "MMMBop" - no small feat considering that, at the time, the gloom of grunge dominated the musical landscape.

"The entire grunge world was like, 'What are you guys doing? What's up with this?'" Taylor said. "It was just something surreal - going from performing at shopping malls to mega-packed arenas. We experienced something a small percentage of people in the world get to experience."

But the band, who some critics said set the stage for late-'90s teen phenoms like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, the Backstreet Boys and 'NSYNC, never set out to start a pop music revolution, he said.

"In so many ways, timing is everything," he said. "I think there was just a hunger at the time for something a little fresh. It wasn't just pop stations playing 'MMMBop,' either. It was played on rock and college rock stations. We were just thrilled that such a large population of people embraced our music."

As far as their being tagged as trailblazers for a new pop generation, Taylor agreed to a point.

"Well, that's a tricky thing," he said. "The success of Hanson was definitely one of the first boulders in the landslide of teen pop music in the '90s, but what came after us was completely different than what we were. Ours was a different brand of pop."

With their sophomore effort, "This Time Around," the group leaned more toward rock, blues and gospel, Taylor said, while 2004's "Underneath" was what he called "a more richly textured and organic" take on the group's pop rock sound. Last year's "The Walk" was a further exploration of that sound, he said - a sound that prompted New York's Village Voice to proclaim Hanson as "the best straight-up rock band in America, now sowing sonic oats as independents."

Indeed, the group has come a long way.

"We were really just a young garage band that wrote pop songs," Taylor said. "I think we've changed the way we finish the process of recording and the way we play, but our influences and melodic sensibilities have remained true. We've just refined the process."

Those planning to attend the show in State College can expect to rock, he said.

"Our shows are eclectic," he said. "We'll play a Radiohead cover, then go to a Sly and the Family Stone cover. And we always have a stripped-down acoustic set. We just try and engage the audience - pull them in, you know?

"We might even finish the night with an AC/DC song. It's just a rock and roll show."