Thursday, November 15, 2007


Hanson talks with CB Music

Written By:Tyler Kennedy

By any standard of measure, Hanson is an upstanding act. The brothers, Isaac, Zac and Taylor, write their own music, have a social conscience, are extremely gracious with their fans and have accomplished a feat that few artists have in popular music; they’ve maintained their integrity, while creating music that reflects their personal growth.

We first saw Hanson when they performed live on Sunset Boulevard in late October. The brothers had walked a mile from West Hollywood’s city hall to promote global AIDS awareness before giving a concert in the (now-defunct) Tower Records parking lot. Having also partnered with TOMS Shoes to provide shoes to children in developing nations, Hanson also permitted TOMS to sell their shoes at the concerts on their current Walk Tour.We caught up with the band again for their concert at the Avalon in Hollywood. The show was awesome; strong live vocals, audience involvement like we’ve never seen and an updated, acoustic version of MMMbop.

The next morning, we spoke to Taylor about Hanson’s tour and their experiences with their Los Angeles and West Coast fans (whom they love, by the way) before getting to the serious questions.

Celebrity Babylon: So what prompted your initial involvement with AIDS work?

Taylor Hanson: We have a friend who’s the CEO of a company called DocVia (which provides encrypted patient-physician access via the web and cell phones), who donated technology to the Perinatal HIV Research Unit of Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, one of the world's largest hospitals in Soweto, South Africa. We became really interested in what they were doing.

Celebrity Babylon: And you’ve traveled to Sub-Saharan Africa, right?

Taylor Hanson: Yeah, we’ve been to South Africa and Mozambique. [In Mozambique] We recorded a children’s choir in the cafeteria of an orphanage, you can hear it in the opening of [download-only single] Great Divide.

(Hanson is modest and didn’t mention that they actually stayed in that orphanage, instead of opting for more upscale accommodations and that all proceeds from their single Great Divide will go to benefit the Perinatal HIV Research Unit in Soweto.)

TH: And, you know, AIDS really is a global issue. Tulsa, Oklahoma has a very high rate of HIV-infection. It really struck a chord when you realize that this is happening in America’s Heartland.

And he’s right: 0.0027% of Tulsa’s population is HIV-positive, compared with the national average of 0.0018%.

TH: We’re entering a new era of impact, using technology to connect directly [with causes].

Their work is not exclusive to HIV/AIDS. Hanson is also actively involved with TOMS Shoes, a company that donates one pair of its shoes to children in developing nations for each pair purchased by consumers.

CB: What was it about TOMS that really piqued your interest?

TH: It’s the idea of TOMS. They’re a great example of how we can achieve change doing what we can. We use our music, for example; TOMS uses shoes. It also coincides with our Walk Tour and allows us to incorporate our fans into the cause.
Incorporating their fans into their charity work has been something that Hanson has advocated for a while.

Taylor told us “We’ve asked our fans to go to food banks or Salvation Army stores in their communities instead of sending us gifts.”

Acutely aware of humanitarian work, Taylor also discussed the evolution in giving:

“There’s been a change in the culture of giving. In the next era of our work in Africa, we’re going directly to doctors, for example. We’ve been allowed to circumvent the bureaucracy of larger organizations. With less money spent on overhead, we can deliver so much more directly to those in need.”

CB: And you guys have certainly not shied away from America’s issues.

TH: Not at all. America has massive issues, too. We’ve worked with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, we’ve been advocates of music programs in American schools; there’s such a lack of arts programs in US schools.

CB: What propelled you guys to advocate for so many causes?

TH: I guess the stars sort of came together for us. We were getting uncomfortable not making these things happen. It was difficult, though. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to do this earlier, but doing all this work at such a young age wouldn’t have seemed genuine.

CB: But the concern was there?

TH: Yeah, always.

CB: Are these causes something that your families are also involved with?

TH: Well, it’s natural that these causes trickle down. My son asked about Africa, gave me ideas. He’ll actually accompany us on our next trip to Africa. I’d say that we’ve definitely instilled this in our families.

CB: So there’s also this question about music. You guys, after leaving your label, have gone on to be one of the most successful acts in the history of independent music.

TH: Well, we were on a rap label, caught up in the consolidated music business. They just didn’t share the vision of what we wanted to do. It was a situation where they didn’t want to lose us and were afraid to identify what we needed to do.

CB: Where they looking for a replication of the Middle of Nowhere formula?

TH: Yeah, but we really just didn’t share a vision. There was no unified mission for us.

CB: So where do you guys proceed from here?

TH: Well, we have an upcoming trip to Africa. We’ll take a break for the holidays, which actually coincides with the 6-8 week recovery that Isaac will need after the surgery to fix a pinched vein. You heard about that?

CB: We did.

TH: He has a rare kind of condition called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. It's basically when the vein gets pinched between your collarbone and causes clotting. So he’ll have his surgery to fix that and then we’ll continue. We’ll continue our work with TOMS and other partnerships and encourage people to really engage in the world. We want to shorten gaps between our projects, expedite the process of making music and make sure our fans stay involved.

From the concert in West Hollywood until the end of our interview, Celebrity Babylon is thrilled to have gotten to know Hanson. With so many celebrities begging for endorsement deals and self-promotion, it's reassuring to know that one act has maintained its integrity and is commited to social change.