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Hanson brothers perform in LA

05:30 PM PDT on Monday, August 13, 2007

By MELISSA HARRISON
The Press-Enterprise

It's easy to dismiss Hanson as simply the teeny-bopper trio who penned the smash pop single "Mmmbop" a decade ago.

But to do so would overlook the fact that over the past few years, brothers Isaac, 26; Taylor, 24; and Zac, 21, have managed to earn themselves a steady fan base, critical acclaim and the respect of the independent music industry.

"It's been 10 years since 'Mmmbop,' and just like any other band that wants to challenge itself creatively, we've grown. Our sound has evolved," said Taylor. "We've fought a lot of battles in the past few years, and our hope is that people will give us a listen."

Their most notable battle was a public clash with their former record company Island Def Jam, which merged in 1999 to become a mostly rap label. This left the brothers in an environment that, according to Taylor, was completely contrary to what they had signed up for. So they took a gamble -- and left.

"We basically had to start from scratch," said Taylor of the brothers' decision to form their own independent label.

"It became so easy to lose your identity on the larger labels. But it wasn't so much that we didn't have control -- because we did. We just wanted to make sure we'd never have to give it up."

The move paid off, when their subsequent release, 2004's "Underneath," debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Independent Chart.

The brothers are now touring the country in support of their latest album, "The Walk," which hit shelves last month. The record reflects what Taylor calls the band's biggest musical influence: '60s rock 'n' roll.

"Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, Otis Redding. We grew up listening to guys like them, and their music has always stuck with us," Taylor said.

The influences are evident on the album, which leans toward a skilled mix of tight harmonies, bluesy guitars and classic piano hooks.

The first single, "The Great Divide" -- a soulful anthem inspired by the group's recent trip to South Africa -- serves dual purposes: musical and charitable. All proceeds from the single, released through iTunes on World AIDS Day last November, go toward funding HIV research at a South African hospital. According to Taylor, it was Hanson's way of doing their part to help combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

"We left South Africa with a sense of purpose. The battles they're facing are very relevant to us and our generation. Music speaks a different language, and we wanted to write a song about hope," said Taylor, who also noted that Hanson enlisted an African children's choir to lend its voice to three tracks on the record.

"Writing the song was a small step for a very large issue -- but it's something that we felt passionate about, and it's something that we knew we could do."