Music Preview: Indie band Hanson has moved beyond 'MMMbop'
Thursday, September 27, 2007
By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

And so, Hanson has been lampooned on everything from "Saturday Night Live" to "MadTV" to "The Family Guy," where Quagmire, asked if he could have any woman in the world, says "Taylor Hanson."

"The other day," says Zachary Hanson, " 'The Daily Show' did something making fun of Hanson. That record was so cultural it hit beyond the reach of music, so you have that hurdle of people that don't have the musical reference. It's not, 'I hate that 'Speechless' song from the first album or I hate this song from their second record. They go 'They did the mmm thing and they're young, right, and they're blond ... blond kids ...' They don't even know how 'MMMbop' goes."

Not that it bothers him.

"If you can't laugh at yourself," he says, "go get another job. Because being a musician, you get put in the public eye. That's just part of life."

It would be overstating it to say Hanson is getting the last laugh, but the members of the group at least have reason to smile. Ten years after the sibling group's multi-platinum breakout with "Middle of Nowhere," the Hanson brothers aren't in rehab, selling themselves to reality TV or running with Paris Hilton. Rather, they're still making music, and doing it on their own terms.

The band's latest effort, "The Walk," is catchy, well-crafted guitar-based pop-rock from a band that has matured quite nicely. The group split with its label, Def Jam, in 2000 and now this is the second record on its own label, 3 Car Garage.

"The thing about forming a label was really a choice not to change," says drummer Zac, who was 11 when "MMMbop" broke and now sounds like he majored in Music Business, which he probably did. "We didn't want to be forced into making so many compromises to try to make the attorney who is the head of the A&R department happy. We wanted to put ourselves in a situation where we could continue the natural process of being a band and grow with the times, because the music business is not the way it was 10 years ago or even five years ago."

"The Walk," 17 tracks starting with the South African funk of "The Great Divide," is loaded with songs as catchy as anything by hit-makers such as Maroon 5 and Justin Timberlake. But despite the group's near-iconic status, there's little chance you'll encounter them on the airwaves.

"We haven't gone to radio at all, we haven't gone to MTV," Zac says. "We're not going to spend hundreds of thousands trying to get a radio station to play the song when all they play are hits, and hits have to be proven elsewhere, and it's just this cyclical process. If you spend enough then it will be a hit. But once you spend that much, will you sell enough to make back what you spent? Radio listenership is down and record sales are down. You can't bank on this major-label idea of 'I'll just go buy myself some spins.' Before you know it, you've spent yourself into debt and the end of a career."

Hanson, which started as a garage band releasing its records independently, has gone back to a grassroots approach, this time reaching its fan base through the Internet. A lot of those people buying "The Walk" are the same ones who were grooving to "MMMbop" 10 years ago.

"We must have done something right if the fan that was 11 or 14 when they first heard the band and now they're 21 or 24 can still listen to the same band and it can still be relevant. There's a big difference in who you are, what you think and the ability to vote and drive and drink alcohol."

Along with pushing the record, Hanson has put some energy into raising awareness about and money for AIDS in Africa, where the group recorded a children's choir for the record. In each city on the tour, the Hanson brothers have been walking a mile in bare feet with their fans as a promotion with TOMS Shoes, which is sending a pair to a child in Africa for every pair sold here (for details on the walk in Pittsburgh, go to hanson.net).

It's a refreshing alternative to former child stars being totally screwed up. The three Hanson brothers are all married, and between them, have given their parents four grandchildren. What's kept them on the straight and narrow?

"We're part of that other group of people who are normal, relatively sane people who drink and have friends and smoke," Zac says. "It's part of your life, but those things don't become so obsessive that you get in the car and accidently kill someone or get pulled over and have cocaine in the car. We're just part of the group of people who aren't that -- which is the average human being. It's also a matter of being three guys who keep each other in check, and being guys from Oklahoma, not guys from California or New York. Things like that have a played a natural role in our personal sensibilities."

Sounds like Ma and Pa Hanson, who have four younger children, raised them well.

"Yeah, I guess we were raised well. I don't know how other people were raised. Our parents seemed to think that when you were 6 it was all right to start playing in a band."