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Q & A with Zac Hanson
By: Ilona Westfall
Posted: 9/10/07


It's easy to dismiss Hanson as one hit wonders. After all, they virtually disappeared after their immense success with their infectiously catchy single MmmBop. However, they have been quite busy in the meantime. They released three critically acclaimed Cds since then, including their latest The Walk, released on their own label. For The Walk the brothers Hanson traveled to Africa and even recorded a children's choir for use in some of the songs. They are currently touring in support of the new CD and are scheduled to put in an appearance at Cleveland's House of Blues on Sept 19. Put the image of the adolescent longhaired boys of the 90's to rest and take a look at how the band has matured.

Ilona Westfall (IW):What are some of the challenges you face by not being on a major label?

Zac Hanson (ZH):It's a challenging business to be in right now period, because there is so much change. You know, record sales are down and radio listenership is down. And it's hard to determine, at least yet, what 's the real market for music in the future. How are we really going to sell music because it's in flux? That's a challenge period, just to figure out. Luckily, with the label being ourselves and small and agile, we do have the ability to move with things. If you find something that's working you can really move towards that for selling your records or getting the word out about projects. It's probably difficult in general.

IW:You sing lead on Go and Running Man on your new record. How did you like changing positions from drumming?

ZH:I think one thing I like about this record is that some of the things we always talk about we actually accomplished so there are a few more than usual that I am singing lead on. We always say, look, there's no lead singer in this band. We are constantly changing lead vocals and there's a lot of vocal stuff that people don't know exists, where one guy sings lead here and there and in the chorus someone switches harmony to this and that. I think this record actually represents that in a way that people can listen to the album and go oh ok I get it, everybody's singing. This is a different kind of band than I'm used to. And I like that. As far as being the guy singing the lead, I just like singing music and luckily for this one we found some songs that seemed to complete the record, that I was singing lead on.

IW:How has the demographic of your fan base changed?

ZH:It's definitely, slowly getting older. In a way it's stayed what it originally was-our age groups. When we first came out I was 11 and Taylor was 14 and Isaac was 16 and so most of our fans were in that age group and now I think they're similar. I'm 21 now, Taylor is 24 and Isaac is 26. We have seen some things where we start to pick up the younger brother or sister or the original fan. And there are older fans. When you look at the hardcore base, the majority of people who are really coming out to shows and things like that, it's generally the college age people, our age.

IW:Did your trip to Africa change you in any way?

ZH:Well, I think there are personal things that changed. I think perspective is kind of changed of life in general. It wasn't, for me something that said, Boom! I'm going to change everything about my life. It was more something that kind of confirmed all your thoughts and feelings that you had and realizing that what we were doing or at least trying to do was the right thing to be spending your time doing. Recording the children's choir in Mozambique and South Africa had an effect on the music, too. I think it was the more immediate effect. What we decided to put on the record changed after being in Africa, I mean there were songs we decided to keep writing, we decided to put some different songs on there that weren't necessarily being considered in the same way until we went to Africa. I think the personal change is the music, which I guess in a silly way, kind of represents your personal outlook on life and things you're thinking. It definitely had an effect.

IW:Do you have any regrets about your musical past?

ZH:That's one thing I 'm really proud of. I think I wore some bad pants or something. Maybe, I should of cut my hair or whatever. There's always the superficial type of things that you look back and go wow, that was kind of stupid, wasn't it? It's never really been any mistakes in the records because we've always lead with things we really felt passionate about and let the music evolve naturally. We never tried to push it into a box, Because of that not all of the old music represents who I am now. I can still look at it and be proud of what it is and be proud that it represents the evolution of the band and that it's something that's real. It's not manufactured; it's not anything like that. It's just who I was. I was 8 when we wrote MmmBop. I probably wouldn't write MmmBop again, right now. But I'm still really proud of the song and when we play it live it's not something that I'm playing, cringing, it's something I'm playing and going yeah this is part of who we've been and that kind of makes you who you are and part of why your fans love you. When I go to see any number of bands you want to hear old songs you know and you want to hear the new songs off the record you just bought. Fans don't look at it that way. It's only somebody outside of the group of people that matters that ever has an opinion of old music that's bad. You don't want to look at Billy Joel and say [in a jokingly angry voice] ha! I hate all your old stuff, don't ever play that again, you were such a loser back then.

IW:On MMMBOP

ZH:One thing I really like about that song, especially now, is, I think what it is has changed a lot, some of the meanings that are in the song really ring true with each passing year. The song talks about that life is fleeting and few people will really be meaningful in your life and few relationships will really last and then there's this chorus that's like [singing] "mmmbop" that represents that life is fleeting and now when we play that song for our fans they're standing there singing that song going you're right. It's been ten years now and I know that there aren't that many things that are going to last and this kind of represents something that I want to hold on to. I want to be one of the Hanson fans. I want to come to these shows and be part of the music that we are trying to put out and I guess us doing the same, where we want to be making music that's relevant to people.

IW:Is it disappointing that you won't get widespread radio release?

ZH:We can save a lot of money and get radio play, as much as that's a little hush-hush, that's kind of what you do. You're not writing the checks but you're playing a gig for free. You can do those things and get radio play; it's just a matter of does that really get the word out anymore? Does that really compel people to go and buy or listen to an album? As the music business changes, what is really going to compel to join the fan base? For us, we haven't done anything with radio. We haven't hired any independent radio promoters or done anything for radio stations to try to get them to play this record because unless you're going to spend a lot of money, which is probably not money well spent, you have to have a hit song before they'll ever play it. For us, we've just decided to say we're going to use less traditional outlets to promote this album. Once we have something that we feel is more of a story that radio knows how to understand then we can go and if we choose, we can push it at radio. For the moment, it's not our focus. It's not what it used to be. Like I said, radio listenership is way down, record sales are way down, but there's more instances of music purchases. So people are buying less music more often We have to find a way to build a relationship with our fans, There's a trust level, that you're relationship with your fans is not just based on your latest single. It's a weird business to be in right now. In a lot of ways it's exciting because people are going to look back in 15 years and go-wow! In the early 2000's and late 90's, the music business flipped upside down and now look where we are. We're selling all of our music with coupons from soup cans.

IW:What's on your backstage rider for concerts?

ZH:There's some beer, Red Bull, Coke, Dr. Pepper, Mt Dew. Mostly we get the supplies for the tour bus on our riders. Stuff to make sandwiches, the constant food of snacking on the bus, stuff like that. It's very mild. There's no midget sushi-chefs or purple ponies or dancing bears. It's kind of what you would think of as the basics of a grocery run.

IW:What's up with you injuring celebrities?

ZH:Yeah, there's been a problem where I've accidentally hurt some people and they happened to be famous people. But I think that's just me being clumsy. I'm like a bull in a china closet. We're not known for being the most graceful or self-aware individuals and so unfortunately, or fortunately, whatever you want to call it, nobody has walked away with any broken limbs.