Posted on 24 August 2009
Really all you need to know is that this interview is with Zac, the youngest
brother of Hanson. If seeing the word “Hanson” here means
something to you, read on because you’ll probably be surprised by
how much you didn’t know about this group and how far they’ve
come since “MMMBop.” If Hanson doesn’t mean something
to you, read on because you clearly have been living under a rock and
need to become aware. Plus, this interview has a dance off challenge.
Bethany, PopWreckoning: You guys are about to start your “Use
Your Sole Tour” and it is kind of like a themed tour. Can you
kind of just talk to me about that theme and tell our readers what it
is all about?
Zac Hanson, Hanson: Yeah. The reason we call it the “Use Your
Sole Tour” is because we’re continuing our different walks
that we’ve done as a tool to talk to people about what is going
on with AIDS in the world and to fight extreme poverty, particularly
in Africa. We’re continuing that and we’re partnering with
a shoe company called Toms. We’ve been partners; we’ve been
always supported through them. They’re taking a more active role
in this tour. They’re really just wanting to be a bigger part
of what we’re trying to do. That’s why it is called the
“Use Your Sole Tour” because we’re still doing these
one mile barefoot walks before every concert. We’ll be at colleges
or in front of the venues doing these walks.
It is a tour obviously about playing music. We’ll be playing new
music from our record that is going to come out in the spring of next
year. It is also about doing good with your life and the opportunity
to use your influence on the people around you and just do something
good. It isn’t mandated, we just have the opportunity and we wish
to feel empowered, too.
PW: How exactly do the walks work? Is it like each person shows up
and for each person that does Toms donates x to poverty in Africa?
ZH: The walks are, for every person that walks a mile, they register
at the end of our walk. We donate a dollar to one of five causes. One
is Toms, who supplies shoes. One is to clean water wells. One is providing
medication for anti-viral drugs for AIDS. One is donating to this technology
company that helps connect the patient to the doctors through cell phone
technology. One is schools to help educate kids and give them an opportunity
to not fall into the same situations and to better themselves to become
doctors and entrepreneurs and really treat them, teach them of the effects
of AIDS and not fall into the same stereos that many people around them
As far as the giving of the shoes, that’s how we give money and
get them. It is not as simple as just giving money, but the point is
to tell people about it and show them what they can do and that there
is a monetary value to their efforts. It is [worth] much more than a
dollar when somebody comes out and they feel passionate about it and
they use their influence to tell their friends and people around them.
It is a way to show them that hey, you need to walk because it can have
PW: And you guys have been really active. You’ve even gone to
Africa and you had a choir there sing on one of your songs. How did
these issues become so important to you? Or was it just somebody saying
you guys should pick an issue because you’re celebrities?
ZH: It was 100 percent not that. Through our entire career, we’ve
purposely have not been in the public eye with the charities and things
we’ve supported. What we have supported we’ve done quietly
at the back of the room. A couple of years back, we had these friends
from Oklahoma that developed this cell phone technology. They told us
about it and they told us some of the effects it could have and then
they told us they were going to give it away. And we were like wow.
It just seemed like something we wanted to be involved with and understand
more. So we went to Africa. This was while we were making the last record,
The Walk. We were there and we had been working on the record in Oklahoma.
When we went we just decided that maybe we could do some recording there.
That was where the whole process kind of happened for us. We ended up
at several orphanages, hospitals and hospices and recording it and just
trying to learn and figure out the course of AIDS: where it is, what
we can do and what role one can have. Basically, the conclusion we came
to was that we needed to take the same stance that our friends with
the technology had taken.
We have tools, let’s start using them even if they aren’t
that great and the end all solution that we wish they were. That’s
why we recorded this choir and trying to get with our music and use
the influence that we have to tell people about it and that it is an
important issue. Ultimately, AIDS is going to change the world; it already
has. It is up to us with how that is going to change the world if we
as a generation take on this disease that is affecting millions and
millions of people and creating orphans and broken families and killing
parents and killing babies or is it something we as a generation will
look back and say we should have done something about it.
I think one of the biggest thing with AIDS is that there is the medication
to help people live healthy lives with the right kind of education and
in some cases assistance. There are so many tools for people not to
attract this virus. We can use what we have as a generation. We have
all these tools and the ability to reach across the planet and take
action immediately. We can do something immediately.
It is not something we need to wait for our government to do or somebody
to mandate or a tax plan to give this much money to some organization.
It seems like it is something that will really be affected by a natural
grass roots approach to making a difference. We need to just do what
we can, one step at a time. Maybe that’s just in your local community.
Maybe that’s in giving your time and flying halfway around the
world and working in a hospital and starting a clinic. It can be any
of those things. The way we are going to make a difference is just by
relying on ourselves to take a more personal motivation.
PW: Perfect answer. I love hearing that is just something that moves
you and not just celebrity obligation because you hear about people
like Jolie and Pitt going, which is fine and dandy, but how real is
ZH: Right. And to be honest, that issue almost…we really struggled
with that for a long time. We never wanted people to think we were doing
it because it is a popular issue and we wanted our face on the One campaign.
There is nothing wrong with the One campaign. It is a great thing. But
a lot of people don’t feel that is genuine and this is a very
personal thing for us. It is not an issue that you can be that way with.
It is people dying so you don’t want to joke or try to profit
off it. It is a real world problem that we felt was important and something
that we can make a difference in.
PW: And you guys are taking a really innovative and fresh approach
with the barefoot walk and you are trying to walk a mile in another’s
footsteps and understand what those people are going through and even
trying to get others to understand that. I can only imagine the condition
your feet are in from all those walks.
ZH: They have very large calluses. One thing I will say is that people
need not fear needles, broken glass and razor blades on the streets.
I hear that a lot, surprisingly. Everyone thinks that there are razor
blades and needles and glass just all over the streets in every city
of the country. We have very clean sidewalks, vying a few spots in the
country, you are in very little danger. Assuming you don’t drag
your feet, you’ll be just fine.
PW: Cool. We can move on from that one. Let’s talk about your
DVD, Strong Enough to Break, which is out on iTunes, but you’re
getting ready to actually release as a hard copy.
ZH: Yeah. Strong Enough to Break is a documentary made about the album
Underneath, which was two albums ago. The documentary was never intended
to be about the music industry. It was supposed to be about making music
and showcasing us as a band: writing songs; showing fans what we do;
giving people an intimate look at making an album. It really didn’t
end up being that even though we set out to make that film; it ended
up being trying to get a record made at all. So what we did with that
film was after it was finished, we went to colleges and talked to music
business students and people that were studying entrepreneurship and
things like that. Just to talk to them about what the music industry
is and where it is going and where it has been and what we think is
wrong with it. That’s become the focus of the film.
We wanted to show people that our story wasn’t unique, but very
common and what many, many, many bands are going through. It has been
around. We put it out for free and it was on our podcast streaming on
iTunes. People can find it on YouTube and find it in parts. We more
so just wanted something people can find because it is very informational.
It is entertaining, you can sit and watch it as a film, but it gives
people a real honest and not affected look of what bands go through
and some of the things that are really wrong with making albums in a
major music industry today.
Finally, what we’ve done now, is release the film through Hanson.net.
We’ve added a bunch of demos that were done during the process
for the people that go, “What did this music sound like that the
label was hearing?” They can hear 15 of the demos we did and hear
a director’s commentary and extra footage. We talk about the film
and give people a little more insight about why we were mad about this
or what was going on at that time. We talk about songs and the extra
PW: Do you think with all you’ve seen in the music industry and
kind of growing up in it, do you ever consider what would have happened
had you been trying to enter the music industry now and in this day
ZH: Yeah. That’s a hard thing. It is not the best time to be in
this business. In some senses it is a great time because there is an
opportunity for something new to revitalize the music industry as a
whole. It is not a business that is thriving with people succeeding
and getting raises out the wazoo and bands are selling millions and
millions of copies. That’s not happening. I don’t know if
I would do it if we were just starting out now and we were younger guys
starting off in music.
The reason we started off in it in the first place was because of the
music. How could it not be a much harder time to be in a business than
it was then? We came out kind of the last breath of a really healthy
music business. Catalog sales were up of old records being reprinted
from vinyl to CDs/compact discs. The issue of mp3s and Napster hadn’t
really come about yet. There really was a corner on the market at that
Since then, there have been so many changes that were good and changes
that were bad and since then changes that make it more difficult because
the attention of the fan, the music fan or consumer, is much smaller.
They have a rough time to focus on you because there are thousands and
thousands of records being released every year.
PW: So you said your new album is coming out in Spring 2010?
ZH: Yeah. We haven’t set a release date yet. It is probably going
to be late first quarter or early second quarter.
PW: But it is pretty much done? What can people expect from this new
ZH: As usual, it is Hanson. If you like The Walk or Underneath or Middle
of Nowhere, you’ll probably like this record, I think. But as
every record has been, it is an evolution, it changes and is a new thing
to be excited about. We never feel comfortable sounding the same every
time and we always try and push ourselves as musicians with each record.
This record is more piano-based, particular more than our last album,
The Walk. It is focused on the play back and forth between guitar and
piano and focuses on the line of what the piano is doing making it more
of a pop record. Not pop in the way a lot of people think of it. I mean
pop in the way of the Beatles, Billy Joel and even Ben Folds if you
want to say that’s pop.
The way I look at pop is different than the way you might think. It
is a record that is let loose a little. There is a sense that we’ve
been here a long time and we’ve survived a lot of different situations
and I guess I mean there’s more of the excitement of wow, we’ve
done a lot and look what we’re going to do next. Not necessarily,
whoaaa, we made it another milestone, I’m so tired, but we’ve
survived. Not that kind of thing.
PW: Speaking of pop music, Taylor just did this side project as Tinted
Windows. What did you and Isaac do during that time period and do you
guys do side projects at all?
ZH: He did that record over about three years. He actually made it in
little weekend stints while we were working on other Hanson projects.
We’re always working on this or that, whether writing for the
band or whatever. We have aspirations to do all kinds of things, so
mostly just keeping wheels turning.
PW: Yeah. Plus you all have families now. How has that changed band
dynamics now that it isn’t just the Hanson brothers, but Hanson
brothers and company on the bus?
ZH: I don’t know if it has so much changed the dynamics of us
as a trio. It just means there is less time in the day, and with good
reason, there is less time in the day. You have other things to focus
on and you want to get home at night.
It makes the tour bus a lot more cramped. You’d rather have your
family on the road and be cramped than no family at all. It is good.
It definitely, there is a little different reason to write songs a little
bit and be inspired. It is just a good thing in life. It doesn’t
necessarily change us as a band, it is just adding more to who you are
and what you have to write about.
PW: As three brothers in the music business, what do you think of the
Jonas Brothers phenomenon in pop culture?
PW: They referenced you guys in a song, too, something about popping
ZH: I know. I don’t know really know anything about them.
PW: Could you take them in a dance off?
ZH: Yes. I accept.
PW: You’d accept their challenge?
ZH: I’ll take all three of them on.
PW: Alright. Let it go on record. I want to see it. I want video rights
ZH: I want to see it, too. Like I said, I don’t know any about
those dance moves, but I will learn. Is it in Jamaica they do the battle
PW: I’m not sure. I’ve usually just seen it in movies with
ZH: I will breakstep and battle and it will be crazy.
PW: Awesome. I do want to see that. For a final fun question: I don’t
want to ask you something generic about “MMMBop,” but it
did make you famous and put you in the limelight of pop culture, I guess
out of all the pop culture references to you, is there a favorite or
one that made you say, “Wow, we’ve made it?”
ZH: I think references on “The Simpsons” and “Family
Guy,” those are huge. Probably one of my favorites, were a couple
of the “MadTV” skits. They did one and it was supposed to
be like 2017 and they did our new single and called it “Ling Ling,”
you can look it up on YouTube, but that one I thought was incredibly
funny. They got certain aspects of our personality really right.
It is a character, but there were certain things like little twitches
where I was like, “Wow.” They really sat in front of interviews
of us and watched and studied. They did their job well in that one.
Also, doing the “Saturday Night Live” skit with Will Ferrell,
it is hard to live that one down.
PW: That’s awesome. I’m glad you guys are so good-humored
ZH: Yeah, whatever. Satire is the greatest compliment. I’m just
glad people know who we are for our music. When people think Hanson,
they think about our songs. They think “MMMBop.” There are
a lot of musicians out there, particularly I think of the young Disney
Channel stars now, and people don’t know them for their music.
What does Miley Cyrus’ song sound like? I don’t know. I
have absolutely no idea. No offense to the Jonas Brothers, but I have
no idea of any of their songs. Absolutely none. I couldn’t sing
a song if my life depended on it.
Thankfully, we weren’t a part of the Disney Channel, so people
didn’t have any opportunity to know us for anything except for
being a band. To be a young guy, I was 11, 12 when we accepted our first
Grammy. To be a 12-year-old and nominated for songwriting is pretty
awesome. We are super proud of that stuff.
“MMMBop” doesn’t represent what we sound like now
or what we’re writing about now, but we’re still super proud
of that song to play.
PW: It is a smart song and has great hooks.
ZH: It is funny—awhile back, somebody asked me about playing “MMMBop”
and they said Mick Jagger said he would rather die than still be singing
“Satisfaction” when he was 45. Then they were like will
you still play “MMMBop” when you’re 45, which is like
22 years from now. The thing about that song in particular, because
of what is about, if you read the lyrics to “MMMBop” it
is all about how so many things in life are fleeting and you have to
really hold on to what matters. Most people don’t know that about
the song because they didn’t take the time to read the lyrics.
I think for all the fans of that song and for us, every time we sing
that song, one more year goes by and we’re still singing it. That
song has continually changing meaning of oh yeah, we are what mattered.
The audience say that to us and we say it. Of the things that mattered
in life you were one that I cared about, but that’s not what matters
now, but it is something I’m going to shows for and still buying
clothes for because you’re a band and still relevant to my life.
It is like this ultimate, really cool compliment to still be singing
that song now or even then.
PW: Thank you so much. You had great answers. I look forward to seeing
the Jonas Brothers dance off. Start practicing.
ZH: I look forward to seeing it, too. Nice talking to you.