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Ever-transitioning Hanson makes stop at The Rave

By Pam Rose
Special to OnMilwaukee.com

It's been almost 11 years since Hanson charted with its debut hit "MMMBop," and although the boys may have left their long, golden tresses and pre-pubescent voices in the past, they maintained the important ingredients for any good band -- drive and passion for music and the innate ability to create smooth harmonies and undeniably catchy melodies and hooks.

The brothers Hanson are all grown up now, and all three are married with children and / or expecting (take a moment to feel very old). Currently, they are set to embark on the second leg of the Walk Tour in support of the 2007 album "The Walk," and stop at The Rave on Friday, April 11.

But Isaac (27), Taylor (25), and Zac (22) are making their mark in the industry with more than just their music these days. We caught up with Taylor recently to chat about the upcoming tour, as well as some other exciting projects that the band has been involved with.

OnMilwaukee.com: OK, so let me get this question out of the way first. I have to ask about "Man From Milwaukee." Do you guys feel morally obligated to play it every time you do a show in Milwaukee?

Taylor Hanson: I wouldn't say we feel morally obligated -- I mean, I don't feel like we would be struck down in the street if we didn't play it, but you play music that you feel is great for that show, and every show for us is a different show, so it's always a coin toss. But to be honest, I think it usually feels like the right thing when we're in Milwaukee because it's special for them.

OMC: Do you guys consciously notice a difference in the fans from city to city?

TH: Yeah, we do. I mean, there's definitely a contingent of fans that will travel to multiple shows, so there's a certain group that you know has seen a bunch shows and they might squeeze up to the front row a lot. But as far as the vibe of the audiences, I don't know if I can describe specific characteristics of all audiences, like this is what a New York fan is like, or this is what, but there is definitely a different vibe in some places. Like when you go to the West Coast, it just seems like they respond a little bit more to kind of doing slightly more musical things or sort of doing a longer jam session.

I don't know why that is, maybe we just feel like we should, but it seems like at the Fillmore or even some of the random small shows we've done in L.A., it just seemed like the vibe was kind of like they wanted to hear a little bit more random stuff here and there, kind of drawn-out songs. But in general I think we always try to create a really energetic show.

For me, as a music fan, I enjoy feeling like the band is trying to draw me in and let me let my own hair down. As an audience member, I hate it when a band stands there like they're almost embarrassed to be on stage. You're like, "OK, well I'm here to see you." My attitude is just to try and engage people with the music and everything from being able to play an acoustic set where people feel kind of really close to you and connect, all the way to getting people to scream their lungs out and just have a good time. I think that's the same for all of our shows - it really just depends on what seems like right that night and changing it up and keeping it different.

OMC: What can people expect on the set list? Is it mainly going to be songs from "The Walk" or is it going to be a mix?

TH: This show is definitely going to be a lot of "The Walk" stuff. It's not going to change significantly from the fall run of shows that we did, but we are going to throw in a few other random songs just to keep it different for fans who may have seen other shows. And there's also a few songs we've been working on in the interim, some songs we're probably going to include on maybe an EP release as well as some fan club exclusive music which we'll play -- which will be brand new for people. And, as always, we'll probably throw in a couple of new covers, just songs that feel inspired to play. It'll be a mix of things, but there will definitely be changes from the more recent run of shows we've done.

OMC: And you're doing AIDS and Africa related walks again before the shows, right?

TH: Yes, we are. One of the cool things that we're doing with this leg of the tour is trying to find a way to just keep that fresh and interesting. Who knows if every tour we'll be able to continue all the walks -- it's a crazy endeavor to do every show, but we still feel very passionate about it.

We've also seen a strong response from our fans, so one of the things that we've just kicked off which will be available at the shows is a Limited Edition TOMS shoe which has a custom stamp on it. It says, "We can conquer this Great Divide" on one side and "Take The Walk" on the other and has the walk men from our album artwork on there, as well.

The shoes also come with an exclusive download card that is benefiting the research hospital in Soweto that we've raised money for through the song "Great Divide," and it includes the original recording plus an exclusive acoustic recording we did in Africa where we sat in a room and recorded the song acoustically with the choir that sang on the original version.

That's the first time that download will be available, and for both songs, the money goes to raise money for the research hospital. We wanted to find a way to make the TOMS shoes even more unique and give people kind of a sense of it being connected with the tour and the band and TOMS was willing to help set that up.

We're also really trying to encourage fans across the country to kind of take the lead with doing walks. We want to really just give the people an idea and let them run with it and say it's easy to gather -- even if it's you and 10 friends or if it turns out it's you and 100 friends -- but just to gather and kind of make yourself known.

I think everybody needs to be inspired by the fact that we're a generation of people that can begin to change the world in ways that nobody could in the past - it might just be looking at something that you do every day as a way to make a difference, and walking is a nice place to start.


OMC: I have to ask you about the documentary, "Strong Enough To Break," which chronicled the difficulties the band endured while recording the third studio album. Do you have any plans to release it as a DVD or is it just going to be left as a podcast?

TH: We do not -- we've looked for a DVD partner, and it seems like every time we've gone down that road it just felt limiting for the product. That's why we put it on the podcast, because we really feel like it's the sort of thing that we just want everybody to be able to get a hold of, and it's not something that we look to as something to make money off of.

Definitely won't rule it out -- it could absolutely happen -- we've talked about the idea of releasing all the podcasts and the documentary together as one package because it's something that's sort of one long story, but no specific plans right now.

OMC: Have you gotten any feedback from other artists in the industry about it?

TH: Tons of artists. It's amazing how more and more people talk to us about it. We were just at South by Southwest and countless other bands and people that we never connected with directly talked about having heard of it or seen it. It was a really awesome reaction, just talking about being or having been in the situations and it being eye-opening -- and that's really why we did it. It a parallel to so many other artists and hopefully when people look back they'll see that this was timely and it was something that reflected an aspect of the business, and I hope it encourages other artists to step out and do what they need to do.

OMC: You guys have always been about the evolution of your sound and how it's constantly evolving from record to record. I noticed that this is the first album where you haven't all collaborated in writing on every track. Was that a conscious thing?

TH: It's an interesting question. Yeah, I mean, we've always tried to tell people that it really is just about the song. It isn't that this is what an album has to sound like -- it really is inspired by, "Hey these are the best songs," or, "These are the songs that are right," and that's just what happened.

There were certain songs that were written where everybody didn't write on them and we all just felt like they needed to be on the record. It's not an absolute rule that everyone has to have written on the songs. It does happen that in many cases we're all collaborating and somebody is contributing something on all the tunes. That will continue to be the case, but I think that it just shows on "The Walk" that we're not limited to one approach as far as the writing goes.