Hanson more than just 'MmmBop'

By John W. Barry
Poughkeepsie Journal

September 20, 2007
Madonna gave us a new way to dress. Pearl Jam and Nirvana introduced us to grunge. But Hanson, the pop trio of brothers who hit the big time before hitting their teens, might have outdone them all.

This ensemble didn't just set a mere fashion trend or bring an underground scene aboveground. No, these maestros injected a new word into our lexicon, an assemblage of vowels and consonants that 15 years later still rolls off the tongues of fans and critics alike.

Do you remember "MmmBop?"

Angela Gallo, a 2007 graduate of Marist College and resident of Trumbull, Conn., isn't likely to forget. She has seen Hanson five times and will make it an even half dozen when she sees the brothers from Tulsa, Okla., perform Saturday night at The Chance in Poughkeepsie.

"They're absolutely wonderful," said Gallo. "I love seeing them live. They really connect with their fans."

Hanson isn't your typical band. Drummer Zac Hanson, who is 21, has been connecting with fans since he was 6. Rounding out the trio are Taylor Hanson, 24, and Isaac Hanson, 26.

Ask Zac about some of his earliest musical memories and he will take you on a trip, back more than two decades.

"After one of our shows, our third or fourth show, somebody came up to us, this guy asked for our autograph," the soft-spoken sticks-and-skins man said. "He said, 'You guys are going to be famous one day.' And that was kind of like, 'This is weird.' "

Weird or not, that guy was right.

While small children, the Hanson brothers lived around the world - Ecuador, Trinidad, Venezuela.

Zac was 4 and the future stars were listening to a lot of 1950s and '60s music they had brought with them on compilation cassettes they made.

"After we came back, there was something that started to happen," Zac said during a recent telephone interview with the Journal. "Isaac sang these songs and Taylor would sing along. I was kind of around and we needed the third part. They'd say, 'Zac, you sing it.'... I remember sitting at a table, playing G.I. Joe and writing songs."

Fans grew up with them

That's how the music started. The fame began percolating 15 years ago, with an independent album release.

In 1997, Hanson's fans - many of whom were the same age as the three brothers - celebrated their favorite band's success by singing a song whose title could be something you say after drinking a glass of delicious soda - "MmmBop."

"We were the same age," Gallo said about one of the driving forces behind her fan-musician relationship with Hanson.

"MmmBop" sold more than a million copies.

"You're standing on stage in front of 30,000 people or you go to do an in-store and 15,000 people show up - it was definitely something that was a little unexpected," Zac said.

The unexpected occurred shortly after the release of "Middle of Nowhere," the album that included "MmmBop." The brothers were scheduled to perform on David Letterman's show and while they wanted to rehearse, they were forced to travel to Paramus Park Mall in New Jersey for one of those "in-store" shows.

Waiting to hear Hanson were 15,000 people.

"Anybody in that situation is a little bit like, 'Wow, are you sure these people are here for me?' " Zac said. "I've always taken an approach like, 'Wow. This is not a position that I uniquely hold. It's something that can be gone at any moment. I need to not let myself get too caught up in this.' "

The Hansons have been enjoying a 15-year moment.

The band's 2004 album, "Underneath," reached No. 1 on the Billboard Independent Chart and featured "Penny and Me," which reached No. 2.

Hanson's latest release, "The Walk," made its debut in the Top 5 on Billboard's Independent Chart. The album was co-produced with Danny Kortchmar, who has worked with Billy Joel, James Taylor and the Eagles.

"The Walk" was partly inspired by the band's recent trip to South Africa and Mozambique. While in Africa, the trio from Oklahoma recruited children from the local orphanage to form a choir, recorded them and included them on two songs from "The Walk."

"I love Hanson," Gallo said. "I like the fact that after 10 years, I'm just as much of a fan as I was in 1997."