Hanson Go To Africa
Monday August 20, 2007 @ 03:00 PM
By: Staff

by Angela Kozak

They may always be long-haired, pop-singing scamps to anyone who had a radio in the mid-'90s, but Hanson would like that to change. Fifteen years into their career, guitarist Isaac, keyboardist Taylor and drummer Zac are still releasing music, only they've become socially-aware, created their own record label and gotten married. Zac talked to ChartAttack about traveling to Africa, taking control in the studio and the looming musical apocalypse.

ChartAttack: Did your plan to go to Africa and take action against HIV and AIDS always include writing a song ("Great Divide") about it?
Zac Hanson: It didn't. That idea of recording with the children's choirs was something that happened. It was about a week-and-a-half before we were leaving to go and it was like, "We need to record while we're there, we need to find some way to record this experience and put it into our music." The feeling just kept going and then we were like, "We need to give with this music. This is the best way we can speak to people with what we're doing and want to do, by using our music and who we are and what we represent, to speak about it." I think with a lot of celebrities and whatever, it's like, "Africa... whatever." I've gotten that as I talk to people, like, "It's a hot topic, and aren't you just one more?" I can see how people could think of it that way, but for me what we're doing is we're not joining a cause over here, we're representing the cause with who we are and what people know us by, which is our music. We're not doing it as a side thing that nobody sees, or that stays on one website. We're saying, "This is important." We're selling merchandise on our website to support the cause and if you buy it all the money goes to this hospital.

You've said that your new record The Walk is the most important album you've ever made and that it's the first time you've made one completely by yourselves and all in the form you wanted. How did your other albums fall short of that?
It's not that we sacrificed the music on the other ones and did things we weren't happy with. It's just that the process of doing it was never able to be focused in the same way we could on this album, in the sense that when you're working with a label — our last album before this one, which we finished and released on our own label, but we worked on most of it while we were on a major label — there was a lot of times where they would ask us to work with this person, or ask us to work with that person. And to keep the relationship good with your label, you'd have to work with these people. And in the end, you knew going into it that it wasn't a very good combination. So what ends up happening is you spend a lot of money to record something that doesn't sound very good, or doesn't fit with who you are or your style. And then you can't use it, and you've just wasted money and time. And so it's those types of things where with this record we were able to focus in more on the way we really wanted to make this album, what we wanted it to sound like, and start from the beginning and do it with only the people that we really felt passionate about, and not spend that time dilly-dallying with label politics and things like that.

You said before that on The Walk you really wanted to bring back the R&B sound that you focused on in the past. Why was that a priority?
That was a priority just because I think we always struggled to find a way to see what we sound like, because we have three guys that all write and all sing. To me, when somebody who doesn't know what the band is and what our music's like and asks me what we sound like, I can never quite find a way to describe who we are as a band. In one way I like that, but also we just felt like bringing back those influences, things that we were originally inspired by. It's part of what's rooted in all of our music. Even the rockier stuff we do tends to have a little more of an R&B backbeat in the drums and the bass lines, and so it was just a decision to say, "You know what, we need to make sure that we keep that rooted in everything we do because it's such a part of what still inspires us today." We just felt like part of that was being able to connect all of our records together and say, "You know what, we are still Middle Of Nowhere, that's still in there."

When you hear songs like "Been There Before" or "Tearing It Down," that have this kind of R&B, groovy, soulful thing to them, then it was us saying those songs, though different and stylistically not exactly the same, are still rooted in those same ideals. Each record is still a part of who we are. We still have elements of our second album, This Time Around, and our first record, Middle Of Nowhere, and our last record, Underneath. They're all still a part of what we do.

What's the biggest challenge for Hanson right now?
The balance of the label and the band, being creative and being business. That's definitely a huge challenge. The music industry is a huge challenge in my mind right now. It's just harder and harder for people to focus on music as being an important medium, with the proliferation of the internet. And I think people look at whole other kinds of entertainment first and music is a secondary thing, and that's an ongoing trend, and I think musicians just in general have a challenge to make themselves viable and interesting today. This is going to be the first year ever that video games outsell music and I don't think it's going to ever change until something changes about music, like a wave of artists speaking to people in a different way than they are now, and maybe something in the overall culture of this country and the world. And until something really drastic like that happens, I don't think there's going to be a change. We've been lucky to always have really devoted fans that are just really passionate about music, the kind of fans that always make me say that every band wants Hanson fans, because they camp out in front of shows and know every lyric to every song. They're real music fans. They're the type of fans that you want to open up for Hanson, because our fans are listening to them. Anybody that goes onstage and plays music, they're listening because they want to find new music. And we pride ourselves on that. I don't know how we got that, but I never want it to go away if at all possible, because they're just great, great fans. I think we've always tried to focus on trying to give them really quality things with everything we do, and never doing anything in a way that would, you know, throwing stuff out there with each record we make. Unfortunately, it seems to always take longer than we'd like it to, but you always have to say, "If it's not the best we can do, then we've just got to keep working on it." And I don't know exactly why our fans have been the way they are, but you can't ask for better fans. You can't give them enough credit for being as passionate and great as they are.