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Hanson takes philanthropy in stride on tour

By CARLA DI FONZO, Staff

The youngest Hanson brother, Zac, said there's a difference between having a "day off" and an a "nonshow day."

For starters, he said, it's not truly a day off if you're scheduled to talk to reporters on the phone.

"Not that I don't enjoy doing that," he added quickly. "Seriously, it's fun."

Zac is now 22, though he began playing in a band with his brothers — Isaac and Taylor — since the '90s, when he was still snacking on milk and cookies and singing "MMMBop."

These days, touring still takes up a good deal of his life, as does time spent in the studio. However, there are actual "days off" in between, in addition to vacations.

"I love traveling with my brothers, but we get sick of each other, too," Zac said. "I mean, when we tour, we're sleeping 3 feet away from each other and see each other all day long. A vacation usually means we're not around each other, enjoying personal time, which I think is healthy."

For now, Hanson's on the third leg of "The Walk Tour," which kicked off last month.

The origins of the tour go back to 2006, when the boys visited South Africa to record their benefit single, "The Great Divide." There, Hanson saw children plagued by poverty and AIDS.

"You look at them and realize they were born into a death sentence," Zac said. "Most of the kids we saw were like preteens, and some little kids. They look really healthy, and they were having a good time. And suddenly there are adults carting them off somewhere, and we were like — is it their bedtime? But it wasn't, it was time for them to take their medication. And some of them were between 2 and 5 years old.

"On top of that, they lacked basic necessities," he said.

So, in 2007, Hanson began organizing 1-mile barefoot walks for charity before each of their concerts.

During their Fall 2007 tour, they walked a total of 48 miles, joined by thousands of fans. The proceeds from the walks went toward purchasing TOMS shoes for children in Africa.

"It's just a basic need we're providing, but it's a start," Zac said. "And we make sure the shoes get there — though I don't want to sound jaded. But you know, lots of times you give to a charity and start wondering if your donation is going to make it to the people who need it. So, we follow through and get the shoes there."

TOMS has donated tens of thousands of pairs of shoes through a program of its own, and last November Hanson joined the company on a shoe drop, delivering a whopping 50,000 pairs of shoes to children in Africa. Hanson now has their own line of TOMS shoe — dubbed the "Great Divide."

Included with every pair of shoes is a download card for the titular song. The proceeds from the downloads go to an HIV research hospital in Soweto, South Africa.

The Hansons will continue their walks with fans, coinciding with their concerts across the U.S. The location of each day's walk is given on www.hanson.net.

"We'd take our shoes off for the walk, and try to get other people to take their shoes off," Zac said. "Sometimes people will, and it's painful. Or people won't because they're afraid of cutting their feet, and we're like, 'See, now imagine you're one of those kids and have no choice but to go barefoot.' People start to understand."

Obviously, the boys are all grown up. They even run their own label, 3CG, having experienced the ups and downs of being signed to bigger outfits.

"We were turned down 13 times before we were signed to Mercury, and even they turned us down three times," Zac said. "There was a certain sense at that point that the music industry was doing well. A few years later, it wasn't.

"For us, the downfall was when that label was dissolved, and we got absorbed into a huge merger. Bands got dropped, but we stuck around and made it through it."

Hanson ended up on Island/Def Jam, where they ended up working with more corporate types than "creative types."

"I guess you can say this isn't an industry that's looking to build careers," Zac said. "Labels now want to own your Web site, merchandising, touring, not just your records. We just decided it was time to go, so we made 3CG."

Zac said Hanson wants to outlive the record industry's "old model."

"The business of selling music is still alive, but the industry is dying," he said. "We want to create a new model and use tools like the Internet to even things out. We're using ourselves as guinea pigs and just experimenting now."

Zac also said Hanson doesn't worry about sounding like Hanson.

"We just worry about what sounds good," he said.

And while many things have changed in Hanson's career, some things have never changed since their "MMMBop" days, when they sported much longer hair and were constantly described as "adorable" by the teen-scene media.

Hanson seems to be a permanent fixture on the landscape of pop culture. The boys from Tulsa, Okla., have seen themselves spoofed on "Saturday Night Live," "MADtv" and even "The Family Guy."

"Oh, the pop-culture thing is surreal sometimes," Zac said. "But for us, the jokes aren't about our music, so we just usually laugh our asses off about all that stuff."

He mentioned the episode of "The Family Guy" in which Peter Griffin asks Glenn Quagmire: "If you could be stranded on a desert island with any woman in the world, who would it be?"

Glen Quagmire answers "Taylor Hanson."

When Peter reveals that Taylor is in fact, a man, Glen flies into a tizzy, yelling — "Oh my god! I've got all these magazines! Oh god!"

"That's a good one," Zac said. "But I also like when 'MADtv' did this sketch that was like Hanson in 2015.

"We're all older, but we act the same way we did when we were kids," he said. "I'm fat, Taylor has long hair but he's balding too. It's weird, because they got all the nuances right, and it's funny."

Zac said if a fledgling band asked him for advice on how to obtain success, he'd tell them to "follow your gut, and know who you are."

He paused significantly before saying, "Wait, that's terrible."

But then he seemed to change his mind a second or two later.

"Bands need to know what they want to become," Zac said. "So no one can tell you what you need to be. Play 500 shows, then decide who you are."