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Checking 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 the nuts.''

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: 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 asleep.
Zac: It's like a vibrating bed in a Motel 6.
Taylor: There's a dark, cold, squishy, vibrating area in the back of the studio.
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 on ''Go''.
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 rhythm section.
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.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let's talk about a struggle at home: Radio play. I'm frustrated for you guys.
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 taken.

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 it cool.
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 reality.
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 they wear.

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 about him?
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 I'm 4'8''.