Posted April 10, 2008

Still crushin' on Hanson

Before the Jonas Brothers, Isaac, Taylor and Zac worked their own teen magic

By Kendra Meinert

The last time Green Bay laid eyes on Hanson, Isaac, Taylor and Zac were dreamy teens who made 5,000 girls scream.

And cry hysterically. And faint. And get so excited they thought they were going to wet their pants.

Take that, Jonas Brothers. No Disney Channel publicity machine required.

Don't look for a repeat of that scene at Bay Beach Amusement Park from eight years ago when the brothers from Oklahoma return to play the Meyer Theatre on Sunday. But don't discount the staying power of Hanson fans, either — even if their former pop heartthrobs are now married with children.

The band's inescapable single, "MMMBop,'' is 11 years in the rear-view mirror. Fans who were singing along then are still singing along now. The band has never felt the need to slam the door on its boy-band era even as it has moved forward and made more mature musical inroads.

"First of all, to have a career for the last 10 years and only be 27 is a pretty huge thing for me and for us,'' Isaac Hanson, the oldest brother, said by phone. "And I feel very, very proud of that. I also feel incredibly lucky that we have the fans that we have. We have some of the most loyal, most passionate music fans that you could possibly have.''

While fans probably aren't as likely to show up these days toting homemade signs that read "Drop 'em, Taylor,'' they're still crushing on Hanson. It turns out it really was about the upbeat pop-rock with the big hooks and shimmering harmonies after all.

"I think there is a similar level of excitement and passion from our fan base even now. It's just that people are less biased to what it is they see and realize these people are belting out the words to every single song. These people are engaged in what this band is doing — intensely engaged,'' Hanson said.

"I would go so far as to say that kind of enthusiasm doesn't dwindle away but continues in some way. Look at the great bands of the last 50 years, they had that. And if you don't have that, you're probably not great enough.''

All the love from fans helped get the band through some rocky times once the feeding frenzy over their 1997 debut, "Middle of Nowhere,'' subsided. Their follow-up, "This Time Around,'' couldn't match that monster success. A corporate merger later landed them on a label that dealt mostly in hip-hop artists and didn't know what to do with a group like Hanson.

"The worst thing you can do is sit there and wait. … We've learned from our 'mistakes,' or as a friend of ours said a couple of years back, 'You were lucky enough to get screwed early,' '' Hanson said.

"When you send a record company 80 songs over the course of two and a half years (and they're refused) … there's nothing more you can do except say good-bye.''

Knowing they were losing fans by not touring or getting an album out, the brothers launched their own 3CG Records (named for the three-car garage they first rehearsed in). After more than three years of wrangling with their former label, within nine months they had self-released 2004's "Underneath'' and launched a 60-city acoustic tour to get fans excited again.

"For me, it's always been about perseverance,'' Hanson said. "You have to be willing to do whatever, whenever in order to get attention. We've also been lucky enough that we have been singing together for as long as we have, and also that we're a band. I kind of joke that we're like a vocal group and a band at the same time.''

Hanson — Isaac, 27, soon to be a father of two; Taylor, 25, father of three; and Zac, 22, to be a first-time father next month — are touring in support of their fourth studio album, "The Walk,'' a 2007 release that has earned them some of the best reviews of their career.

In between music and babies, they've worked to raise awareness of poverty and HIV in South Africa. Last month, they did a couple of sets at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, where they generated big buzz, no snickers, at the edgy alternative music fest.

It was a sweet reward for three little kids who once piled in the car with their parents and drove to Austin to play on the streets in front of the fancy hotels, in hopes of catching the ear of record execs in town for SXSW.

"It was like early '90s grunge, and here we are a couple of average, middle-class kids from Tulsa, Okla., coming down to Austin, Texas, to sing people some '50s and '60s covers and songs we've written,'' said Hanson, who was 14 at the time. "…We'd start a cappella and then hit the boom box with the backing tracks behind us. … You just do whatever you can do to get people's attention.''

And hold it.

Remember that, Jonas Brothers.