November 29, 2007

Grown-up Hanson won’t hide from past From “Saturday Night Live” to “Family Guy,”
Hanson has been the butt of many a joke. Ask eldest band member Issac Hanson about the
reputation his band has earned in the decade since “MMMBop” became a part of the American lexicon, though, and he’s fine with it. Rather than hide from the superficial status around which the song swarmed he and his brothers, he appreciates the opportunities the song gave the group.

“I realize first of all how incredibly rare it was to have that kind of success around the world,” he said during a recent phone interview. “I look back on it and say, ‘Wow, I am so blown away by the successes over the years.’ ”

Guitarist Issac (age 27), keyboardist/singer Taylor (24) and drummer Zak (22) were teenagers when their breakthrough album “Nowhere” was released in May 1997.
Other singles such as “Where’s the Love” and “I Will Come to You” helped the trio from Tulsa, Okla., garner three Grammy nominations and move 10 million copies of “Middle of Nowhere” worldwide.

Having already released two independent albums by that point and written most of the material for “Nowhere,” the boys considered the album’s success a precursor of future fame, Issac said. “You don’t have as much perspective,” he said. “You believe in your music. You believe your music should be doing well.”

Hanson proved the Notorious B.I.G. right, however, as more money did in fact cause more problems. Hanson’s next major label release, “This Time Around,” had disappointing sales despite receiving critical raves for its more adult sound. It peaked at No. 19 on the
Billboard charts, but at less than 500,000 units sold in the United States its commercial mediocrity prompted the band’s label, Island/Def Jam Records, to pull their support for the record and subsequent tour.

The Hanson brothers spent more than two years after that working on their next album, but the label refused more than 80 songs, claiming they weren’t marketable. The brothers had reached their boiling point and left the label.

“We were stuck in a really bad situation,” Issac said. “There was no real, reasonable way we were going to be able to make a record.”

Rather than go through a fight like that again, Hanson formed its own label, the independent 3CG Records. Another 18 months of work had to be put into “Underneath” before it was released in April 2004, and its appearance at No. 25 on the Billboard chart made it
among the most successful independent albums ever (the album spawned “Penny & Me,” which reached No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart and provides appropriate background music when driving my daughter around).

With all the work put into the album and tours embarked upon in between studio time, Issac chuckles when the word “comeback” is mentioned. “On some level, it was a comeback in that we were able to come back from a major label that almost strangled us,” he said.

The band toured over the next few years after that, with all three brothers by that point wedding and the older two having children. That maturity extended into their view of the outside world, as Hanson has gotten involved in the fight against poverty in Africa.

Hanson has aligned with TOMS shoes in a deal whereby for every pair of shoes bought by the public, the company donates a pair to South Africans. The group also organizes walks prior to each stop on their The Walk tour (which is in town this weekend), where participants
walk 1 mile barefoot to better understand what poor people endure.

The brothers recently returned from South Africa, where they delivered more than 50,000 shoes. “It’s not just been about concerts. It’s also been about engaging with our fans, encouraging them to take action,” Issac said. “The right thing to do is to help those people who need help.”

Hanson may never again move millions of records — thanks to a digital market that discourages album ownership as much as the inability to recapture lighting in a bottle — but the band can’t complain about living out a lifelong dream before being able to drink

“You go from being an 11-year-old kid on a stage in a local art festival in Tulsa, Okla., singing ’50s covers to performing before thousands,” Issac said. “We just feel like this is just one more day, one more chapter and hopefully just the beginning.” -

Paul Lane