Hanson's still making music — it's good, too

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Ten years have passed since the brothers Hanson Mmmbopped their way out of the rock 'n' roll hotbed of Tulsa, Okla., with an infectious little chart-topping pop tune.

Since then the brothers — Isaac, now 26, Taylor, 24, and Zac, 22 — got parodied by Saturday Night Live, released three more records, started their own label and savvily courted and cultivated a substantial fan base from the original mass that squealed to Mmmbop. They're no longer chart-toppers, but they still call Tulsa home, and they still pull a couple of thousand fans per show; loud fans, too. If Hanson's performances don't require earplugs, their audiences often do.

Three years before it became chic to ditch a major label for the DIY path, the brothers did so with their 3CG label. The band's new album is The Walk, which runs a little long but is still stuffed with some fine, irresistible pop tunes.

Drummer Zac fielded a few questions from the Chronicle's Andrew Dansby about bickering brothers, being the boss and 10 years of Mmmbop.

Q: You already made one album without a label standing over your shoulder. Did you change your approach with The Walk?

A: The overall approach was more to get back to that live energy. For a long time, we told people to go see the live show to get the full experience. We did this live in the studio so we wouldn't have to say that anymore. We wanted to craft songs that are what we sound like as a band.

Q: How has fan reaction been so far?

A: Really good. A lot of things in the music business have changed over the past 10 years. But we've been focused on building a community. Not even so much about a song or a record, but making it almost more of a lifestyle. Letting people become a part of it, so they're not just buying a product. You want them to be a part of what you're doing. Otherwise you're competing with Transformers and Halo 3. We're not going to win that battle.

Q: Are you the best boss you've ever had?

A: Yes. (Pauses.) No. (Laughs.) You know, being your own boss kind of sucks. There's nobody to be mad at if something doesn't get done. Or if you decide to take time off, it's your fault that there's no paycheck coming. There is no The Man.

Q: But it seems to be working for you.

A: So far we're proud of the idea that we don't fit. It's always been that way. When Mmmbop came out, you could still hear Nirvana on the radio. Who were we? Three white kids from Middle America with blond hair writing Motown-influenced songs.

Q: Rock has a rich history of fighting siblings. Are you guys the exception?

A: We don't do our laundry in public. We're guys; we don't always get along. There are a lot of brothers in rock. It's probably because bands aren't as much about having the best player as having the best chemistry. And that comes naturally with brothers, whether it's good or bad. Sometimes it means you're an antagonist, but it can work, too.

Q: Do you feel the chemistry has gotten better over 15 years?

A: A little bit. When we got started, we all listened to the same stuff, we all had the same influences. We were in bunk beds in the same bedroom, sharing the same boombox. You couldn't listen to anything different. Now I think we're more different than we've ever been. But we've also learned to find a balance. Sometimes we understand what one of us is trying to get at, and other times we push buttons. Because we know where the buttons are.

Q: Was one brother a boombox bully?

A: (Laughs.) Well, in the early days, it was Isaac's boombox; he got it for his birthday. He chose more of the music it played than I did, I'll put it that way. But when we got Walkmen, that didn't matter as much.

Q: So there's not one iPod on the tour bus now?

A: No, everybody has his iPod. Well, Isaac has an iPhone. I have to admit, I'm always on the X-box. I won't deny it. I'm that brother. Somebody's got to be that guy in the band.

Q: Some people run from an early hit, but you guys have embraced Mmmbop. Was that a deliberate decision?

A: In a sense, it was just another song we wrote. And we started writing that one when I was 8. I don't think it would fit on a Hanson record today, but that doesn't mean we're not proud of it. We're so lucky so many of those fans stuck with us. We have fans with Hanson tattoos, lyrics written all over their bodies. We don't want to run from our past. When bands say bad things about their past, it's like punching those fans in the face.

Q: When I was 8, I played in the dirt.

A: Well, I did some playing in the dirt, too. (Laughs.) Or in the garage. But I also found some time to play the drums. I'm kind of glad I managed to do that.

Q: Did you buy anything stupid with your first royalty check?

A: (Laughs.) You know, I honestly didn't buy any dumb stuff. Probably the closest thing was a dirt bike. Even now, I don't buy much stupid stuff. My car isn't that crazy. It's a Subaru STI. (Long pause.) It's really fast; I guess that's a little stupid. But we've never been those guys. We spent a lot of money building a studio, buying vintage microphones and instruments. We do our best to spend wisely. We've had enough success touring, and people still want to see us, to allow us to continue what we're doing. Success can go any time, so you've got to respect the success.