Hanson's all grown up and all about the indie life
By Andy Argyrakis
Jan. 15, 2008
Those who previously pegged Hanson as a pre-fabricated, pre-pubescent pop band have a lot of catching up to do. Not only were the three teenage brothers a product of their own creative will when debuting in 1997, but the band's grown up quite a bit since its ultra catchy (albeit slightly corny) smash single "MMMBop." Sure, U2's Bono gave the boys early props for their slick Jackson 5-influenced sounds and hearty harmonies, but the group was written off to a certain extent by critics for bordering on gimmickry. But in the decade that's passed, the trio comprised of Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson not only evolved their sounds into a more soulful (and mature), acoustic pop/rock pedigree, but also shed major record label ties in favor of independent recording on its own dime. Despite not having the huge profile that accompanied the group's years on Mercury and Island Records, the move helped give the band more artistic freedom, not to mention a closer connection with fans. Isaac (now 27) recently chatted talk about all the changes, the band's latest CD The Walk and the group's New Year's resolution to give back to the less fortunate.
Livewire: A lot of teenage stars fall off the map after a few years, or even worse, get pretty messed up. How have you guys managed to stay out of trouble?
Isaac: I've been in the public eye since I've been 16 and it was a huge opportunity to have success at that point in your life. For some it's less of a blessing than others, but for us, it was very natural as artists- the fact that we recorded, played and performed our own songs. That process helped enable us in a lot of ways to maintain longevity and a connection with our fans. In other situations, we've unfortunately seen bands get in the spotlight at an early part of their lives and either become complacent about their careers, disimpassioned or have other issues take hold. We've been really lucky and I thank my brothers for being a huge source of common sense!
Livewire: What's it like to be a bunch of brothers in the same band?
Isaac: One of the biggest advantages over the years is that we were never in this alone. We've always held each other accountable, which played a big part in sticking this out and not getting too screwed up, even though we are freaks in our own right! (laughter)
Livewire: What types of record label limbo did the band experience after the initial burst of fame?
Isaac: [After our initial success], we spent two an a half years making a record with a major company, which isn't any way to maintain, sustain or grow a career. It doesn't matter how many records you've sold- that's not a way to succeed! You can't spend hundreds of thousands or potentially millions of dollars in silence not connecting with you fans, but that was situation we were in. We saw being on major record company was more of a risk than going indie!
Livewire: How does it feel finally able to make your own career decisions?
Isaac: We're going at it alone now, but it improved our relationship with the fans through our concerts and the fact that we're in constant communication. I thank the people at Mercury who signed us originally and we still maintain friendships with them in almost all cases. But we eventually lost our company, plus the second record we released came during a corporate restructuring where there was an incredible amount of quicksand under us. Ultimately in the long run, it led to us [forming our own 3CG Records] which has been a huge blessing.
Livewire: Do you ever look back at the past and cringe when you hear the old songs just because you were so young when they were recorded?
Isaac: I'm really proud of the first record Middle of Nowhere and all its songs people know best: "MMMBop," "Where's the Love," "I Will Come To You" and "Weird." As young songwriters and musicians, we were really doing everything we possibly could to make best record and we had the privilege of recently re-recording the album acoustically, which we'll release as a ten year celebration. It's really funny, but these songs really do stand up! I think there were a handful of misunderstandings image wise with "MMMBop" and that Middle of Nowhere is something it's not, but we were the guys who wrote those songs and we have an incredible amount of pride in what we achieved with that record. We continue to play those songs with the same excitement and passion as the first time!
Livewire: For those who haven't caught up with Hanson since the old days, what has the progression between albums been like up to this point?
Isaac: On The Walk, it definitely accentuates a lot of the old school musical roots we've always appreciated in a very holistic way. With Middle of Nowhere, we featured a lot of Motown influences and our [second CD] This Time Around covered a lot of gospel and blues oriented influences. [The next CD] Underneath is more mellow than those records and takes more of a singer/songwriter approach, but The Walk takes all those things together and puts them into one complete album that's also more aggressive and rootsy. It has the most raw quality out of all the records because it was recorded mostly live yet still says "this is Hanson the band."
Livewire: How do you hope to improve either professionally or personally throughout the New Year?
Isaac: As many of us know, there are huge issues with AIDS and poverty in Africa that are wiping out millions of people every yearÉWe felt like the issue was too huge to ignore, but if we are called to be part of this solution, the first thing we need to do is learn about it. So we [went to] Africa to become fully engaged on the issue, and in turn, felt the need to encourage our generation to reach out and do something about it. I don't want my son to look at me after reading his history book and ask "why didn't anyone do anything about AIDS ten years ago?" I do want to be that guy and I want to be able to look at my son and say "you know what, I felt like we had the opportunity do something and we encouraged people to get involved." Awareness is good, but action is better and [this generation] has more power than ever before. (Author's note: Fans who want to get involved can purchase a pair of TOMS shoes on the current tour and another pair will be sent to the less fortunate in Africa).