In With Hanson
A decade after ''MMMBop,'' Isaac, Taylor, and Zac talk about
the problems with radio, pitching a reality show, and Carson Daly
By Mandi Bierly
In case you haven't kept tabs on Hanson since they were on Entertainment
Weekly's cover 10 years ago, here's a quick primer on what's changed
for the Oklahoma trio — Isaac, now 26; Taylor, 24; and Zac, 21
— since ''MMMBop'':
(1) The key of that song:
''Dramatically,'' Taylor notes.
(2) Their backstage rider:
Now with beer. Preferably Corona or Newcastle.
(3) The number of people
crammed onto their tour bus: When they hit the road next month, they'll
be joined by their three wives and four children. (Taylor has three;
Isaac has one.)
We recently sat down with
the brothers in the basement of the Virgin Megastore in Times Square,
where they were waiting to mark the release of their fourth studio album,
The Walk, with an in-store performance and signing. After they told
us that retail stores trash their backstage areas worse than rock clubs
— ''Well, they have less penises drawn on the wall, I will say
that,'' Isaac conceded — we found out why running their own label
made The Walk their best CD yet (EW did give it a B+); why they wouldn't
stand next to Britney Spears; and why Carson Daly needs ''a knee in
So it's been 10 years since ''MMMBop.'' What's new?
Zac: We probably have more facial hair. [Laughs] It depends on how deep
you want to go. One thing that I've been seeing recently is that what
"MMMBop" represents to our fans has changed a lot. When it
first came out, it was just this catchy ditty. Now, when we play that
song, it's sorta like this landmark of ''I've been a fan for 10 years.
I've bought all the albums. I know the lyrics.''
Isaac: I think that the lyrics in the verses of ''MMMBop'' have a lot
more significance, because the song does actually talk about finding
out what's valuable to you and holding on to it. I think in many cases,
our fans feel like their relationship with us has been something that's
really mattered to them.
Were your wives fans?
How did you meet them?
Zac: We met all our wives at [Hanson] concerts, believe it or not. We
were in Atlanta, and my wife got invited by somebody who was workin'
for us, and she brought Taylor's wife.
Taylor: Our wives are actually good friends. At the time, Zac was dating
somebody else, so they didn't get together right away, but my wife and
I started dating.
Zac: They got married after two years. We got married after five. But
I was 15 when I started dating, so it wasn't like five years really
was that long.
Isaac: I basically spotted my wife in the middle of the crowd.
Zac: Their story is a little more rock-star, I guess.
Isaac: I was little more like [points into fake crowd], ''Hey, baby.
You are really cute.'' No, I thought she had a really cute smile, and
she was a little bit shy, and she's really pretty, and I just noticed
her. She was about five rows from the stage.
Zac: He went to like four people on our crew: ''Hey, you. Okay, there's
a girl.'' The guy's like, ''No.'' He's like, ''Okay, sound guy. Listen,
there's a girl...''
Isaac: It wasn't that bad. It was two people. I went to the main guitar
tech right after the show. I was like, ''Dude, I really need your help.
There's this girl... She's gonna leave.'' And he goes, ''Dude, I really
don't have time right now. Talk to the stage manager.'' So I got the
stage manager to stop my wife.
Let's talk about
running your own label. I was just watching Strong Enough to Break [the
documentary chronicling the making of Hanson's third album, 2004's Underneath,
and their split from Island Def Jam, which is now available for free
on iTunes], and it's as good as any Behind the Music.
Taylor: In some ways, we joke that having a label is just a justification
for us to have involvement in every facet.
Isaac: People always used to get annoyed, because we always [wanted
to approve] everything.
Taylor: It made things move slower. ''Why can't you just let us do our
job?'' ''But you don't do it very well. So let us do your job.'' And
so here we are.
Isaac: Doing their job.
Zac: The label's a lot more work, that's the biggest thing.... You can't
blame anybody else when something goes wrong. When the s--- hits the
fan, it's...your s---. [All laugh] We literally will work 16 hours a
day, every day. When we're in the studio, there's times we don't come
home for a week. You're just sleeping on the couch at the studio.
[To Zac] And you
snore. I saw that in the documentary.
Zac: I do. That couch I’m sleeping on, mmm, it's almost better
than my bed. It's a dangerous couch.
Isaac: I don't know what the deal is with that couch.
Taylor: It's dark, cold, and squishy back there.
Zac: It's a bass trap, too.
Isaac: Which means it vibrates slightly, which is probably why you fall
Zac: It's like a vibrating bed in a Motel 6.
Taylor: There's a dark, cold, squishy, vibrating area in the back of
Zac: [Makes vibrating noise]
Isaac: Okay, Zac. Naughty! Naughty!
How would you describe
the sound of The Walk? It's nice to hear Zac singing more leads, like
Zac: I like the fact that I'm singing a bunch of leads because for the
first time, it really shows people what we've always said: There isn't
a lead singer. It's funny to say, but we're like Three Dog Night. They
had three guys who sang vocals, and we're a band with a R&B-based
Taylor: I think the record was really meant to bring together the influences
of the last three records: Motown, gospel and blues, the more textured,
even alt-country things of the last record. ''Great Divide'' is the
song we feel represents what's unique about this album, sound-wise.
[The band went to Africa to learn more about the AIDS crisis and recorded
background vocals with a children's choir. They're donating all proceeds
from the download of the song to a hospital there.] We've always kind
of cryptically had stories and messages in our songs, but this time,
we wanted it to be a little more clear.
Isaac: [Working with the children's choir] was kinda revitalizing. Here
are these kids, and what did they do? They actually came up with the
part ''rock and roll, rock and roll'' [in the song ''Been There Before''].
They thought that was really cool to say ''rock and roll,'' so they
wanted to say it more than one time. You look at how much fun they're
having, and it's like, This is why we did music in the first place.
Let's talk about a struggle at home: Radio play. I'm frustrated for
Taylor: We're not even going to radio with a single. We haven't even
sent a CD to radio.... Regardless of Eliot Spitzer [the governor of
New York, who prosecuted labels for the practice of payola when he was
the state's Attorney General] and the good stuff that's going on on
radio, money buys radio, and we want to spend our money in other places.
Isaac: I really don't think ''MMMBop'' would be a hit today. I don't
think that pop radio would take a chance on it. One of the first people
that added the record was somewhere like Appleton, Wisconsin. Appleton,
Wisconsin can't add a record on their own. It's a slight generalization,
but for all intents and purposes, radio stations have so little autonomy
that they can't really say, ''You know what, I like that record. I'm
gonna kind of give it a fair shot.'' There's very little risk being
So how are you promoting
the record? I saw the Song for You Sweepstakes on your website. [Fans
put a Hanson banner on their personal websites, and they're entered
into the contest every time someone clicks on it. Hanson will write
a song for the randomly selected winner.] How did that come about?
Zac: We wanted to do something that no band would ever do. At first,
it was like a stupid idea. And then we just went, actually, it's kinda
genius. What fan wouldn't want their favorite band to write a song about
them? That's like the ultimate.
Isaac: Not to mention that we would push ourselves really hard to make
Zac: It's the type of thing that a lot of people might look at and go,
''Wow, that's totally uncool.'' And the rest of the people are gonna
go, ''Wow, that's the coolest thing ever.'' We've always been a band
that has been kind of polarizing. I've never met people who are like,
''Hanson? Oh yeah, I'm kind of a fan.'' I guess we're not afraid to
do things that people might respond good or bad to.
You're also filming
a pilot for a reality show that would follow you on the road, right?
Taylor: We'd call it a docuseries. We want people to really get (1)
what artists really do and (2) what it is we actually really do. When
we talk about all this stuff, and Zac's like, ''People really report
to us,'' that is what we do. What we're interested in is actually showing
Isaac: The problem is most ''docuseries'' or ''reality'' production
companies don't really want reality. They want sensationalized trainwrecks.
Taylor: Which is why we've leaned away from doing those. We've been
asked to do a lot of things we would have never been interested in doing.
Isaac: We're used to turning stuff like that down.
What's the worst
thing you've ever been offered?
Isaac: We were asked to open for Britney Spears on her Hawaiian TV special
back in 2000, during our second record [This Time Around]. Our label
was like, ''Are you nuts?'' And we're like, ''No. Here's the deal: We're
a band. And people keep going, 'Aren't you guys teen pop?' And we're
going, 'No. We're young kids in a band. It just so happens that we like
to write pop songs. But we're not the same as 'N Sync, Backstreet, and
Britney.' And we keep having to say that in every single interview,
and it hurts our brains. So we're not gonna cause more brain damage
for ourselves, and potential career damage, by standing next to Britney.''
Not that there aren't tons of Britney fans, it's just we were always
making decisions based on career, not based on Will this sell us more
records this week? Maybe it would've been a really good thing for our
record, but I'm not so sure in the long run we would've been happy about
it. I feel pretty confident that that was the right choice.
Taylor: Our whole kind of band value system is still the same. We were
asked to do a lot of things that people around us were like, ''Guys,
it's called money. Do you hate it?''
Zac: ''Guys, it's called integrity. Do you know what it is?''
Taylor: ''Underwear, lunchboxes, thermoses, dolls — perfect. Go!''
We're like... ''No.''
Is there anything
you did do back then that you wish you hadn't?
Zac: I wore some oddly colored pants that probably didn't do us any
good. You can't give someone of that age that much authority over what
When I interviewed
Carson Daly back around the time you guys first broke, he told me that
you, Zac, had gotten restless during an on-camera chat and accidentally
kneed him in the nuts. Any memorable talk show appearances recently?
Taylor: It's funny, Carson needs a knee in the nuts from a few people.
He was a really nice guy back then, but now he's just a tool, sorry
for saying. TO EW.
Zac: That's on the record!
Taylor: [Pulls his chair closer] Do you think that you could start that
feud for us? We have a bone to pick with Carson, not for us personally,
but for the friends of ours, like Samaire Armstrong [who starred in
their 2004 ''Penny & Me'' video] and Frankie Muniz [whom Zac taught
how to play the drums], that he's dissed when they have stepped out
to support us.
Isaac: No. The problem is, he's not funny. He's trying to be funny and
Taylor: No, the problem is he has the power to do the right stuff, and
he's a guy who knows what's going down, but.... Like when Ashlee Simpson
got caught [lip-synching on SNL], he made the point of like going on
all these channels talking about how it wasn't her fault and she didn't
really have tracks. He was hosting the [Radio Music Awards], which she
was featured on, and the network was like, We need a talking head, so
he covered it up. It's like, Dude, say what happened. [A representative
for Carson Daly declined to comment.]
Taylor: He's also mean-spirited, I think. But how did we start talking
Zac: I kneed him in the nuts, I think.
Taylor: Oh, some great host-attacking. Zac has some issue —
Zac: My wife, Kate, complains that I don't know my own body size.
Isaac: Actually, say strength.
Yes, that could be
taken out of context.
Zac: She's like, ''Honey, half the time you give me a hug it hurts.''
''I won't dance with you.''
Taylor: You've actually taken out a few people.
Zac: I took Rob Schneider out with a clipboard by accident. I pushed
Ashton Kutcher off a stage by accident.
Isaac: You kneed Carson Daly in the nuts by accident.
Zac: I kneed Carson Daly in the nuts by accident... I still think I'm
like this big, honestly. I still think I weigh like a 110 pounds, and