Hanson: Walk a Mile in Their Shoes, Hear Them Play
Friday, 17 October 2008
Sat. Oct. 18 & Sun. Oct. 19

Nothing can be called “the original anything” anymore, but Hanson, back in 1997, could be called the "original boy” band – at least for a certain generation – when the Tulsa trio, ages 11-16, scored huge with “MMMBop.” Issac Hanson, singer-guitarist spoke with us about that and much more, on a tour stop prior to their Saturday Oct. 18 and Sunday Oct. 19 shows at the new Live Showcase in Foxborough.

“We’d been doing it for five years before that,” says Isaac Hanson. “For us it was a humbling experience, like. ‘I can’t believe we’re really here.’ At the same time, we felt this was exactly where we were supposed to be there. That also meant you better not take it for granted. The boy band characterization is definitely one that is a category, but we feel it’s inaccurate.” That is, to say, they write and play their own material.

Boy band, continues Issac, “implies a contrived unit of people, a choreographed dance act that may or may not be able to pull of singing. We respectfully have felt that category was not one we fit into. That being said, I’m very proud of who we are and what we’ve been. We have the great privilege of being the songwriters.”

Isaac and his younger brothers, Taylor, 25, and Zac, 22, are more than that now. They weathered a downturn, a nasty split with the major label Def Jam, and have re-emerged on their own terms, on their own indy label, 3CG, with “Underneath” in 2004 and now “The Walk.”

Is it a Hanson re-launch? : I view this as a career,” says Issac, “and a career is like a roller coaster. Sometimes, it’s a long pull to the top of the hill, sometimes it goes really fast, but one way or another; there are ups and downs, scary moments, exciting moments. We’re continuing to move forward. I don’t spend much time looking backward.”

They chose the title for the new album a long time ago – it was a song on “Underneath” that Isaac says they liked. Issac: “We did it in 2003, loved the message - living life without fear, walking the tightrope. And the tagline: Don’t lose yourself in your fear.’”

It turned into something they do, as well. They play a half-dozen songs a night in concert, but they also do a mile-long barefoot walk with fans prior to the show. Not for the heck of it. A barefoot mile represents the time a child in South Africa takes to get to school. It’s a continuing campaign to raise funds for shoes for impoverished children in that South Africa. Hanson donates $1 per walker. Their goal: $24, 902 – the number of miles around the earth.
How does a pre-show walk affect Hanson? “In some ways I feel like I should be more tired, but I’m not,” says Isaac. “I’m glad I’m not too worn out by out. If I was really worn that would be another thing. But you cannot ask someone to do something you won’t do yourself.” Some celebrities do seem to do that . Says Isaac: “I don’t look at myself as being a celebrity. I’m a lucky guy with a great job. People like the songs that I write and thousands come out every night to see us play. Ultimately, I’m a guy in a band trying to stay real to who I am, stay true. It’s more about people showing up. They’re showing up to walk is proving they are the kind of people that are ready when the call is made. We start in front of venue - you walk, you talk, let them know the causes are … Hopefully, you inspire them a little bit, for our generation to really engage on a world issue that is wiping out a continent. This isn’t a convenient challenge; it’s a challenge that’s far away, but it’s like a world war, with 25 million orphans 25 million kids expected by 2010.”

Back to charity, but also back to “MMMBop.” On the December 13, 1997 episode of “Saturday Night Live” hosted by Helen Hunt, Hanson appeared in a sketch in which Hunt and Will Ferrell hijack an elevator at gunpoint and force the captives to listen to “MMMBop” as they slowly go insane. (Hanson played "MMMBop" earlier that that night.) “Life is too short not to have a sense of humor,” says Issac, noting thehe repetition in the song and on the radio. On the plus side, the catchy song has been praised by U2’s Bono, who called it “one of my favorite songs of all time.”

“Bono was very, very gracious many times,” says Isaac. “Our connection with him became [reality] by our charitable connection. We had some correspondence. Being in the business and being fans of who they were and what they were about, having seen shows, met them to talk with them. And they’ve said very kind things to us in private meetings.”

Of Hanson’s mission, Isaac says, “We didn’t pick this cavalierly. Where it came from, our home-town in Tulsa, some friends of ours were taking a trip to South Africa to do small start up technology company. They were givingaway equipment to a small research lab in South Africa. (It sped up the process of how AIDS/HIV patients could get treated.) We decided to join them and take a look first hand, see whether we felt we could be involved in. We were very aware of the issues and supportive of what was going on… You don’t know your place in it. It was an educational trip. We came away sayng, as clichéd as this is, ‘We need to start now, and ask why and how later.’ This is not an issue that’s going to wait for us to do a perfect charitable concerts. Unless we take simple steps forward. So, we started with a charitable single and t-shirt and then, thought ‘We’re a band, we do music, do shows, we could talk in front of stage.’ But unless there’s a context you’re probably going to nnoy people. You need to talk to them face to face. This beautiful symbolism of the album called the walk and we said we should take walks in every city. Helped TOMS shoes donate 50,000 pairs.”

Back to music and the new disc which the LA Times called "intelligent mainstream rock with a soulful influence” adding "These brothers must be seen live.” Issac: “Musically, what inspires us is late ‘50s/early ‘60s R&B and rock and roll, the rhythms and the songwriting. That’s still who we are. Maybe we’re a little more aggressive in our interpretation of it. Because frankly we’re a little bit more jaded. I mean that in a playful way. We love pop songs and are not afraid to write them, but our most seemingly lighthearted hit, ‘MMMBop,’ the lyrics were attempting to address an issue of perceived importance – that life’s short, live it well, and the people you think are your best buds may not be in the end. As heavy as that sounds, that’s what that was talking about. The chorus and lift was about the fleeting nature of time. We joked we were good at making sad songs sound happy. I mean it in hunble way.