been through thick and thin, puberty to wives, and now, Hanson is back,
stronger than ever.
Inferno Interview: Mmmbop! Hanson is back
Admit it! You loved "MmmBop," and you still do. Hanson is back with their new album "The Walk" after leaving their record label, Island Def Jam Records. A lot has changed since you last remembered Hanson: they have gotten hair-cuts, are all married and now, they have another chance at rising back to the top of the billboard charts. Zac Hanson, the youngest brother in the band, was gracious enough to talk with Eli Ortiz about Hanson's early success, AIDS and their two-date concert at the House of Blues.
Eli Ortiz: The last time a majority of people heard from Hanson was during the release of "Middle of Nowhere," which was over 10 years ago. In your life, what has been the biggest change?
Zac Hanson: I guess a lot of things have changed in the band and in my life. Our music has really changed a lot from that record. I mean, that was our first record and since then a lot of things have happened. We have gotten older but I mean, we are still that record. That was us 10 years ago. But now our music has gotten a lot more aggressive or something like that. "Middle of Nowhere" was our first major release and it's definitely a big part of us today. Our music has changed, but we are still who we were.
EO: What's more important to you, keeping your old fans or making new fans?
ZH: I think holding onto fans is more of an important thing because it shows that people have devotion to a band. If you have the ability to remain relevant to people I think you must be doing something right with your music. A lot of our fans are our ages. So right now I am 21 and when the first CD came out, I was 11. If your fans are 11 and now they are 21 and they are still listening to the same band, and you are playing things they want to hear, you must be playing or doing something right if they are still your fans.
EO: If a fan were to come up to you and comment to you about your early music, would you feel offended that the fan doesn't connect with your newer music from "The Walk"?
ZH: Well I'll deal with that when that comes, but no. I am still proud of our early stuff. Like I said, it's not exactly what we are doing now but it is still a part of what we are. It's part of the journey of what we are doing now. We still play songs from that early record. We still play "Mmm Bop" and "Where's The Love?" These songs that were on our first record is still who we are today. There are things in our past that I look back and just go "Wow. I shouldn't have worn those pants" or maybe I shouldn't have said something in an interview. But as far as our music, I don't have any regrets with anything we have done. We've always said we won't put out anything we wouldn't be proud of.
EO: Back to "The Walk," your new album. I was reading up on it and read you went to Africa to an orphanage. I guess you were on a 'crusade against AIDS'?
ZH: (laughing) Sure, that's one way to put it. I don't know if I would call it a 'crusade against AIDS' since crusade has a negativity that comes along with it. What happened was that we were really inspired by some guys in our hometown. They were giving away some technology that they had developed. It assisted doctors in communicating with their patients, staff and other doctors. It was kind of a simple idea but the technology was something that no one had done. It wasn't that it was earth shattering, but it was so simple and the doctors needed it. It really gave us a spark in our minds to go out and do something. We realized we need to do something in an active way. Using the tools that we have, we can help and only through an accumulation of many, many smaller steps can we actually make a difference.
EO: Are you working with "Red" or are you working separately from that?
ZH: No, we are not directly linked with "Red." I think "Red" is good. I think, unfortunately, I wish they would donate a little bit more percentages because they are selling a hell of a lot of iPods and not giving away that much in comparison to what they are getting. But I think it is a good start. The company that we are affiliated with is called TOMS Shoes. Basically what they do is if I buy a pair a shoes, they give away a pair of shoes to a child in Africa. It's just a really cool group because they are not a charity. They are a company that is for profit but they are making charity a part of what they do. They are making charity a part of their business and I think it is really cool. I think we need to see more and more of that where part of what you do with your life and your success of your company is to give back and make a difference.
EO: Are any other proceeds from your ongoing tour or from "The Walk" for your AIDS program?
ZH: Well "The Great Divide," all the proceeds from that song and the t-shirts we sell on our website. What we've done really is bring TOMS Shoes along with us. What we are doing is a one-mile walk at every city and people can come with us. We are trying to get people to buy TOMS Shoes. That has kind of been our focus for right now.
EO: I want to talk a little bit about your independent label that Hanson has put together. How do you feel your label has brought you closer as a band or even changed you as a band?
ZH: I think being the label, running the label, has definitely been new too. We've really always been involved in our own music business. When you are running a label, you aren't really managing someone else to do their job, you are actually doing the job. It's actually been a big shift. People were asking "What was different about this record?" You know it's been a lot harder to make because you have this dynamic of trying to make music and run a business and not sacrifice either one. I mean yeah, it changed things. I don't really know if it brought us closer together as a band, we've been maybe too close. We've been making music together for like 15 years. It has definitely put some different kinds of strains and stresses on what we do and how we do it. More than anything, it's put us in a position when you realize it doesn't matter how well you do the business job if you don't put out a good record. And so you've put everything aside and say you have to make a good record and take the time to finish the album the way it should sound. Then, who cares about how much money you spend on adverting in Best Buy and Walmart if the record sucks? In the end, where the music industry is, or where it is not, where there really isn't a model to sell music. The money coming in from record sales is going way down. Which means less people are buying more music less often. So how do you work when people aren't buying albums? I think being in our own label puts us in a position to make all EPs, or release only singles, or lets us do whatever the new idea is that we wanna try. We can find the things that are going to really work and do them.
EO: Do you listen to more independent music or mainstream music?
ZH: Probably a mix of both, but more independent music. Usually I listen to the different bands we find while on the road. One thing we've done is have opening band contests so we have different local bands from each city so that you can hear all this cool new music. I guess in those cases a lot of music is independent. Some of these guys are label stuff, but the majority of them aren't.
EO: With your label, are you trying to expand and sign other bands or to liberate yourselves?
ZH: Well right now, we haven't signed any other bands to this date but that's always kind of been our underlining goal. It's just a matter of getting that going. We feel we can give artists the type of focus and attention they need. There's no point in starting a label and being a crappy label for other artists because then you are just useless. We want to sign other bands; It's just a matter of getting to it.
EO: The last topic I have to talk about is your current tour. Your tour is headed for two dates at the House of Blues. Any reason why Chicago is the only city currently with two tour dates in a row?
ZH: I think Chicago has been a really good city to us. I know we have always done well in Chicago. That's one place where we've felt we can play good dates. We're going to be touring a lot more through the beginning of next year and a lot of these cities we will be going back to. I don't know, Chicago is just...whether it's the fact that Chicago is a big mid-America city and we are guys from mid-America, I don't know. But Chicago has always been good to us and always has a lot of fans at our shows. We like Chicago.
EO: I would hate for you to dislike Chicago and never want to come back.
ZH: Well I'm just saying playing there has always been fun. And when we get days off there, it always seems to be a good city to have fun in.
EO: Are there any cities or venues that you have been to that you had trouble playing at?
ZH: Well, in Kansas, (laughing) that was where we did a gig before we got signed for the first time. It was like one of the worst dates of our career. The whole audience was like watching paint dry. They were like "Wow! We can watch this band or we can sit here and watch the grass grow. Let's go watch the grass." It was just one of those places where you are like, "Wow, this sucks: these people really don't like music." We haven't been back. Maybe we need to give it a second try.
EO: What is it like returning to your hometown with your band? Do you still get a ticker tape parade when you come by?
ZH: We're definitely hometown sweethearts. Being from Tulsa, OK., it really does have a decently rich history of music with people like Leon Russell. There are some cool bands from there but as far as modern music, there are a lot fewer. We're proud to be from Oklahoma. We're happy to be there, they treat us well.
EO: Do you think Oklahoma has influenced your music, or has your music influenced Oklahoma?
ZH: That's a good question. I guess more recently, Oklahoma has taken a more active part in our music. I think our music is seeping in a lot more than originally. So, maybe a little of both. I hope we end up in the history of Oklahoma music and that would be something cool to be proud of.
EO: Any closing comments on anything we've covered or even missed?
ZH: You know, I think we got it all. I talked a little bit about TOMS Shoes and that's something we are really excited about. I think what they are doing is really cool. One thing we've been doing is before every show we are asking anyone to come and take a one-mile walk with us but without shoes. The whole idea is to show people how a small item like a pair of shoes can mean a lot. We've done it in every city so far and after walking a mile, which isn't really that long at all, your feet start to hurt. You are sore and you might have cuts or scratches. Then you realize a pair of shoes can really make a difference. It's been a really cool thing, and it's been growing from city to city.