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Zac Hanson PCM Interview

PCM's Emily had the chance to fulfill a childhood dream by speaking with Zac Hanson. He and his brothers Taylor and Isaac are about to go on tour this fall and will be releasing their eighth studio album in the spring!

Q: So how are you today?
Zac: Doing pretty good, can't complain. Didn't crash or anything while I drove to the office, so it's all good.

Q. Well, that's always a good thing! So, you are about to embark on a tour. Can you give us a few details about it?
Z. Sure, well it's called the "Use Your Sole" tour. With this tour, we're going out with a few different bands - HelloGoodbye is one of them, also a couple openers, Steel Train and a band called Sherwood. But one of the things about this tour - and the reason it's called "Use Your Sole" - is Tom's Shoes is getting involved again with this tour, because it's a continuation of our Walk campaign that we've tried to encourage and go out there and talk to our fans and anybody who will listen about, which is where we - basically before every show, we take a one-mile barefoot walk to talk to people about what's going on with AIDS, particularly in Africa, and the issues that surround that: children getting an education, access to medication, clean water, and shoes - and we're trying to encourage our fans, and like I said anybody who's there, that this is a unique time for us as a generation, and that we have tools to fight this problem that no one's ever had before, and that we have an opportunity to live up to our potential and really take on a disease that's going to change the world whether we do anything about it or not, and that we want to have a role in what it does - we want to stop the horrific effects of AIDS in whatever way we can and really give a whole generation and a continent of people the opportunity to...live.

Q. I have heard about the Barefoot Walk - how long have you been doing it?
Z. We've been doing the Barefoot Walk for a couple years now. We've personally done a couple - I guess its about 150 of them or something like that, and one of the things we've done is really ask people to host their own walk, and all over the ocuntry and the world there have been walks hosted by people who said, "Yeah, I'm willing to organize a walk and get my friends, or my church, or my high school, or my college, or my rotary club, to come out and walk and help raise money and talk to them about why I'm passionate about doing this and maybe get a few more people excited and realizing that this is an issue they should care about."

Q. That's really great! Also with this tour, I heard something about an EP that you'll be releasing and selling at shows?
Z. Yeah, one of these things that we're doing with this tour is releasing something called the Stand up, Stand Up EP, and basically what it is is four acoustic performances of brand new songs off the new record that we just finished recording, which will come out in spring 2010, and there's one full electric song from the new record, called "World on Fire." The message of the song really fits more with the tour and the walks, and also the sound of the song I think is a much better bridge from our last album. There were lots of reasons we felt like releasing the one electric song was a good thing to do, it was the right time, and so that EP will be available on our tour, so people can pick it up and get a vibe of what the new record sounds like.

Q. So what can fans expect to hear with this new record?
Z. I think as usual, its really a continuation of Hanson. We don't try to sound like anything, we just try to make music we enjoy and are passionate about. I mean, it definitely sounds like Hanson, but it's a continuation forward, like every record has been. I think we let loose a little more with this record - there's kind of a sense of "We've done it, we've survived, we've been around, this is record number five, we're way past a decade of being a band." So I think there's a certain sense of release in the message and sound of this record that's different from other albums. I also think it's a little more of a pop record than our last record. The Walk had a little more guitars and was a little rougher around the edges, the way we recorded it. This record, because a lot of it was either written or started on tour, it's a lot more piano-driven as a whole, so I think that kind of affects the whole sound of the album.

Q. So it's a little bit of a different sound, but still sounds like you, is what you're saying?
Z. I think every record evolves and pulls from new - you have a new tendency to write songs like this or like that, so I guess what I'm saying is this record, like all our records, has continued to do that. It doesn't sound like The Walk or Middle of Nowhere or This Time Around or Underneath - it sounds like a new iteration of what Hanson is.

Q. What do you think affects that kind of evolution? Do you think it's getting older, different events in your life - what affects that for you?
Z. I think it's probably all those things. Obviously when writing a song you're pulling from feelings and emotions, and sometimes real-life events, and sometimes made up things that you want to write about. But I think that if you have kids, get married, reach some milestone in your life or career - those things are gonna affect your music, they're gonna affect the things you write or the way you write or add something to what you're writing. Mostly I think this record sounds the way it does because we're really happy to be what we are, that we feel, like I said, we've made it through a lot as a band, we've been doing it now for quite a few years. I think you can tell that we're happy to still be doing it, that we're proud of what we've accomplished but still excited for what we haven't done yet.

Q. A while ago you moved from a major label to your very own indie label, so how would you say that has affected your career and the way you write music?
Z. We formed 3CG records, which is a record label that we're on - I guess it was '04 when we created the label, and obviously it affects things in a huge way. For us, we're really happy to be here and feel like we've made the right decisions, partly from looking at our friends in the music business and seeing how many are now leading labels and doing it themselves and trying to form their own lables, or just completely unsatisfied and stuck in a rut with being on a major label. That has made us feel good about that decision, but also I think we've always been, even from when I was 10 and 11, really involved in every decision that was made about our career. There's a reason why there was never Hanson Barbie Dolls or lunch boxes and things like that. We never wanted to do that, we never felt that represented our music very well. So I think being the label, it's not easier, but there's one middle man removed. When you're on a major label, you're trying to manage what people are doing and what people are saying about you and your music, and you're going, "Ok, what's the radio guy doing, what's the press person doing, make sure they don't say the wrong thing or go to the wrong magazine or put us in the wrong place as a band." Whereas now, because we're the label, those people are directly accountable to us, so it makes that easier. But it also sometimes means that you have one less person on your team, but we're happy to have that extra workload if it means it can be done right and in a way that we feel represents us best and gives us the most flexibilty to do new things.

Q. I do have to say, though - going back to the lunchbox thing - that I remember a time when there was a lot of Hanson merchandise available.
Z. Yeah, you're probably right, but we never really did - we did things like T-shirts and posters, but that's the type of stuff all bands do. Anything like Hanson binders and whatever, those all tended to be done by people who were breaking copyright laws and doing unofficial Hanson merchandise, not stuff we really supported.

 

Q. I see! Well, you have a pretty solid fan base. Do you feel that the majority of your fans are ones that have been with you from the beginning, or are you always accumulating new ones along the way?
Z. I think it's usually combination of both. I think there's a core of our fans that have definitely been with us for twelve years, that have been coming to tour after tour and buying records for a long time. But in particular I think there's a younger generation of Hanson fans, that younger sister or brother of someone who's been a fan for 12 years. When we started out, our fans were just like us, they were kids - I mean I was 11 when our first record came out, so most of our fans were around 11. And so as they've grown up they've gone through high school and college and probably have a younger brother or sister who's about to do those things, and suddenly you see the rite of passage, I guess, being passed down. Our fans, in a lot of ways, are more like Deadheads than anything - I mean they don't stink or sell weed in the parking lot, there's not a frisbee and drum circle contingency, but there is a sense of "We've been here for a long time, it's important to go and see live shows, to see more than one." There's a whole subculture, I guess is what I mean, in our fanbase. It's not just a normal guy who goes to a couple shows a year - a lot of our fans know our music, they know every lyric, they know what songs are about, they know when it was written - things like that make it a little different than just any fanbase. I may like the Counting Crows, but I don't know what "Mr. Jones" is about or whatever, or I don't know why they made Hard Candy and called it that, but I like the band. I think our fans tend to be the people who know that "MMMbop" is about getting old, or This Time Around is about surviving a record label as it was changing out from under us, things like that.

Q. I do have to tell you that I once worked at a summer camp and put on Middle of Nowhere, just for fun, and the kids loved it. They were around 11 or 12 - it was their new favorite thing!
Z. Oh, awesome! Thank you!

Q. Your band is in a pretty unique situation in that you're brothers, you're family. Do you think that sometimes makes writing or playing music together easier, or more difficult?
Z. For us I think its been a good thing. It's part of what we sound like and why we've been able to be a band. I think you do see a lot of bands with brothers and siblings and relatives, whether it's Oasis or Kings of Leon or the Beach Boys or Stone Temple Pilots - there's a lot of bands that have brothers in them, and I think there's a reason. Especially when you're relatively close in age, growing up listening to all the same records, listening on the same sound system, and you probably have similiar vocal chords and a similar outlook on life because you grew up together and experiencing a lot of the same things together. It tends to be a good thing for music, because there's an unsaid language that goes on with like twins or something, where you're onstage and you can tell, "Ok, this is what we're gonna do next, lets just keep going on this and jam for a little longer because its working." Obviously there are cases like the Gallaghers who don't get along very well, of course from other people I've heard that was a complete act, so who knows what the truth is about that. I think in general, you do see a lot of bands with brothers and family because of that natural connection there that's different than with other people. but I know when bands have been working together forever they tend to feel like they're brothers, like "I've spent so much time with this guy, I know him so well that we're basically related, we are family." So I think it can work the other way too, obviously. But in our case, I think it's been a good thing.

Q. I know Taylor joined up with the supergroup Tinted Windows -
Z. Yes, they can all shoot lasers out of their eyes!

Q. (laughs) There's just so many famous names in that group! Do you think you, or Isaac, or all three of you even - do you ever see yourself working on a side project like that?
Z. I think we always said from the very beginning, we love making music and we'll make music in lots of diffferent ways in the course of our lives and careers, whether it's side bands or scoring something or producing for other people. I guess there's a good chance you might see side projects from other members of this band. I have nothing to tell you about particularly that needs to be made public at this moment, but I think what Tay's done with Tinted Windows is awesome. It's super cool, it's something different from what we do, but still has a little hint of Hanson in there because it's got one part Hanson. It's a cool combination of guys who come from different places, but it seems to work - there's a kinship there and a style they've been able to find together. It's proof to me once again of how genres suck - genres don't tend to make much sense when you get people who love making music and are talented. We do a yearly songwriting retreat where we get a bunch of different friends from different bands to come out to Oklahoma, and spend about a week recording. We group up in different groups of 3 every day, so one day it'll be me and Pedro from Morning Wood and Andrew W.K, or Al Yankovic and the guy who wrote Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and all of a sudden you write all these songs and the styles that you're known for - it doesn't quite make sense that you would write a song that sounds like Neil Diamond or Bob Dylan or the Beatles, or the latest dance club hit from DJ Whats-His-Face. I think we tend to box things in a little too much with music, and I love it when things break the mold.

Q. There's this Mick Jagger quote, where he claimed that he would rather be dead than singing "Satisfaction" at 45. Do you think you'll still be singing "MMMBop" when you're 45?
Z. (laughs) I fully intend to be! I think it's funny, a lot of people over the years - particularly early on - would ask questions like that. It's almost like they expect you to be not happy with the art you've created. I think one thing we've always done is never make anything we're not proud of, so if there's a record out there, it's songs that we wanna play, it's songs we're proud to play. And particularly that song, I think with every passing year it means a lot more to our fanbase and more to us about the ability to survive and keep going, to still mean something to our fans. That song is all about surviving. If you look at the lyrics to that song, it's all about - there's few things in life that are really going to matter, and you've got to hold onto those things. I think the cool thing about that for us is, now twelve or thirteen years later, when you sing those lyrics, what it's saying - it's a conversation between us and the audience where we're both saying to each other, "You're what matters, you're the thing we're gonna hold on to." And so if were still singing it at 45, which I guess 45 is 22 years from now, then that would mean - at least to a select group of people - that they're still what matters, it's still one of the most important things. So it's the hugest compliment to our music and everything we do when we get to play that song.

Q. Well, my own personal question that I would like you to answer is what are some of your favorite songs that you have written, that you enjoy playing the most?
Z. Oh, that's a hard one! It's hard because different songs mean different things to you as you go through life. I mean, we just talked about "MMMBop," it means something different now than from the day we wrote it. I'm really excited about the new music that we're writing and that we're gonna put out, just because in particular I really feel like this record, for me as a drummer, has been a huge leap. I'm having a lot more fun with what I'm playing. I think drums on this record have played a bigger part than they've ever played in the vibe and feel of songs, so that's just something I'm enjoying a lot with this new music. But, you know, there's a song called "A Song to Sing" which is a song we love that we wrote on our second record, or "Broken Angel" from our third record, or "Great Divide" from our last record - I love that song and it's something I'm proud of, everything it talks about and what it means. Or "Fire on the Mountain" from our last record, which is a simple short song that I think says a lot.

Q. It's great to hear that you're still passionate about everything that you've written, as a fan.
Z. Thank you! Not every song that we've ever put out is what I would sit down and be the first thing to come out of my mouth when I grab a guitar or piano or a drum set, but it's something that we're able to enjoy and be proud of.