Hanson walks 'The Walk'
By Rosemary Ford
Staff writer

You can learn a lot about a person by walking a mile in his shoes.

And, perhaps, you can learn a lot about the devastation of poverty by walking a mile without any shoes at all.

At least, that's what the brothers Hanson hope. They plan to walk a mile barefoot with fans hours before their show Saturday at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom.

The once cherub-faced boys — now men ranging in age from 22 to 27 — will play the Casino in support of their fourth studio album, "The Walk," which debuted in the Top 5 of Billboard's Independent Chart.

The stroll is part of the brothers' commitment to fighting poverty and AIDS in Africa. They took a trip there last year in the middle of recording the album, and it changed their personal path as well as the path of the record.

"There are so many things that fell together that seem purposeful now, but they were really their own events," said 22-year-old Zac Hanson, best known for playing the drums in the group.

"I didn't realize how much we were preparing ourselves for what we were about to experience," he said.

In Africa, Zac and his brothers, Taylor and Isaac, were struck by the poverty and the devastation of AIDS. At one school, they found that as many as 60 percent of the students lived with their grandparents because their parents had died from the disease. Others were living in households run by brothers and sisters who were under 18 years old.

While there, the band recorded tracks that appear on "The Walk." And when they came home, they started thinking of ways to help. They came up with "Great Divide" — a single available for download on iTunes. The proceeds will go to HIVSA, an HIV research hospital in Soweto, South Africa.

They also developed a relationship with TOMS shoes. For every TOMS "Great Divide" shoe sold, the company will donate a shoe to a child in Africa. So far, 58,000 have been donated.

To help fans realize how much these shoes mean, the brothers devised their one-mile barefoot walks. On the first leg of the tour last fall, Hanson covered 48 miles — at times with as many as 800 fans.

"It's something real, something tangible that has an effect," said Zac, who recently played (and trod barefoot) in upstate New York. "You walk away with an understanding of the basic importance of shoes."

The exact location of each day's walk will be announced on three hours in advance (if you participate in the walk, you'll get to "jump the line" for the concert that night). Each walk is a little different, Zac said.

"It certainly feels different when it's you and 150 people or you and 800 people," he said.

While the title of the album coincides with their desire to give back, it wasn't inspired by Africa. Rather, it was a product of Hanson's journey — from teens with "MmmBop" success to married fathers.

Zac has four nieces and nephews already, with another on the way. And he's got his own bun in the oven with his wife, Kate.

"Who we are as a band has always been a walk," Zac said. "We have never run away from anything we tried. We have moved forward with music we are inspired by."

"The Walk" follows the record-breaking 2004 debut release on their 3CG (3 Car Garage) label, "Underneath," which went to No. 1 on the Billboard Independent chart, producing the No. 2 single, "Penny and Me."

As independent artists, the brothers — who share writing and singing duties — have taken greater control of their music. For example, on "The Walk," they recorded the album in the studio playing together, instead of playing separately in tracks that would later be mixed.

Zac said it felt more natural that way, and he likes the minimalist approach.

"It's the punchiest record we have ever done," he said.

The band's 1997 debut "Middle of Nowhere" sold more than 4 million albums in the United States, thanks to the chart-topping hit "MmmBop." U2's Bono has called the song "one of my favorite songs of all time."