Bono called their music ‘genius’. Hip producers like the Dust Brothers and Stephen Lironi worked with them early on, even before millions of fans screamed their names and critics applauded them. But for Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson, it's always been about the music, and there's always been a message in the music for those who were really listening.
On HANSON's fourth studio
album, The Walk, the messages are more direct. “It's
the first record in a decade that we made completely from scratch as
an indie”, Taylor says. “We've stepped it up a notch creatively,
writing songs that connect to really personal experiences and recording
them live ‘from the floor’” (playing together in the
studio as they would in front of an audience). It’s a further
exploration of the sound that prompted New York's ‘Village Voice’
to proclaim Hanson as simply “the best straight-up rock band in
America, now sowing sonic oats as independents”. And it’s
the independence in the approach to both recording and releasing their
music that fans and critics alike will appreciate about The Walk.
To kick off the series, the band released their documentary “Strong Enough To Break” on iTunes -- for free. The critically acclaimed film chronicles their departure from a major label and the founding of 3CG. “We wanted to give everyone a chance to watch the documentary and see where we’ve been, before we show them where we’re going with ‘Taking The Walk,’” Taylor says.
For a band that's always written, sung and played nearly everything themselves, the freedom of having no major label ties was a tremendous creative boon, particularly for Zac, the youngest HANSON brother. For the first time, Zac takes the lead vocals on two of the album’s lead singles, the moving ballad “Go” and the ebullient “Running Man”, with its party chatter intro and handclaps. “I've hit more of my stride as a writer and have been able to bring more to the table because of that”, he says. “I pushed myself beyond the plateau. You have to do that as an instrumentalist to find progressions that are going to be unique, and to dig deeper into your emotions as a lyricist”.
The Walk expands upon the more introspective songwriting that the band began to delve into on Underneath. And for HANSON, looking inward means looking outward as well, at the state of the music industry and at their community. “The Walk is the walk of life”, Zac says. “People make decisions to go for dreams, to do something difficult, or they decide to be part of the crowd that watches. You have to make those decisions by yourself.”
Nowhere is that more evident
than on the download-only release of “Great Divide”. Released
in November in honor of World AIDS Day, the song opens with Isaac's
funky guitar riffing and the poignant sound of an African children's
choir, recorded during a trip the band took to Mozambique and South
HANSON took off for South Africa and Mozambique, bringing with them a handful of songs for the upcoming album and some bare bones recording gear. They stayed at an orphanage in Mozambique and were awed by the overwhelming sense of optimism of the people they met, despite being surrounded by disease and poverty. “We began planning our trip to Africa right as we were finishing a song about hope called “Great Divide”. Certainly the AIDS crisis was in the forefront of our minds, but I think it was the message of hope that led us to Africa”, Taylor says.
The group strung up some
mics in the orphanage cafeteria to record the children's choir onto
a laptop. After playing a few songs for the kids and a teacher who helped
translate, they found a handful of phrases that worked for the songs.
“On “Great Divide”, they're singing ‘ngi ne
themba’ which essentially means ‘I have hope’”,
Isaac says. “I got chills when I heard that.”
The Walk, however,
is more than just the story of three brothers whose interest and compassion
led them halfway around the world. It's one more step in a journey that
began when HANSON extricated itself from a major label. “Our last
album was a three and a half year process of writing, recording and
moving labels”, Taylor says. “It was half major, half indie.
On the new album, we took a different approach – everything was
done from the ground up.”
The Walk combines all three approaches as seamlessly as HANSON itself, drawn together by the tight performances that are the foundation of the album, with each member of the band bringing a distinct sensibility to the fold. Zac, understated and poetic, is the master of the sweeping and structured melody, audible on songs he initiated like the anthemic “Fire On The Mountain”. Taylor, forever in search of the perfect hook, adds the soulful pop punch of “Georgia” and the relentless drive of “Blue Sky”. Isaac, technically-minded and truthful, brings the groove, which you can hear on the album's opener, “Great Divide”, and the straight-to-the heart emotion of “Watch Over Me”, a song he co-wrote during one of HANSON's annual songwriter retreats.
“Every year we invite
about 15 songwriter friends to Tulsa Oklahoma”, says Zac, who
co-wrote “Go” and “Running Man” at the last
retreat. “But it's less about what comes out of it and more about
community building. It used to be that musicians would drop in on each
other's recording sessions, and you'd have really big events like the
‘Concert for Bangladesh’, where everyone played together.
That type of thing is far less common these days.”
Even a great message, though,
is lost without great songs, and writing great songs, as you'll hear
on The Walk, is what HANSON does best. Each brother brings
his own artistic inclinations into the studio, but their collective
vision and extraordinary talent result in a band that's in it for the
For more information and full discography go to www.Hanson.net