They've come along way from the being the teen sensation you probably
can't help but remember thanks to their once ubiquitous single MMMBop.
The brothers have all gotten hitched, perfected their musical chops,
and developed quite a conscience, dedicating their current album and
tour to the fight against AIDS in Africa. Three years ago they started
their own label, 3 Car Garage Records, in order to produce what they
wanted rather than what was expected of them. The result has been cooler
commercial reception, but the members of Hanson seem very unconcerned.
They're doing what they love and under their own terms, regardless of
how anyone feels about that one infamous song.
In Toronto on a sweltering summer day, the band was kind enough to
meet with The Strand. As we fittingly drank pop in the restaurant of
the Metropolitan Hotel, the Hanson brothers told us about their vices,
marrying fans, and how to beat the record industry at its own game.
The Strand: I almost didn't recognize you! How's Toronto treating you
Taylor Hanson: We've had a crazy travel day and an early morning on
Canada AM. Which means you're up before the crack of dawn...
Zac Hanson: (interjects) The buttcrack of dawn!
TH: There are certain times that God didn't intend for humans to see,
unless you were staying up the night before - after a binge. Drinking
Are you guys into that? You have such a wholesome image.
ZH: I protest! We did not have a wholesome image. I was just eleven!
I was not a wholesome eleven-year-old; I was just not Drew Barrymore.
I think we're good guys - there's a difference between people who live
in excess and people who enjoy life. We're the second set. We're not
the guys who are just so drunk all the time that we can barely put together
TH: Honestly, it is funny - so many bands' goal is to become in excess
in every way. Like...
International rock stars?
TH: Yeah, drugs, you know what I mean - that's actually the goal, as
opposed to the music. For us, we got started so young, obviously we
weren't at the point where it was all about getting girls. It was too
early. I think in some ways that sort of focused our energy in a different
way. I think we're more like normal people - sure you go out and have
a good time, sure you drink or smoke or whatever, do what most people
do. As opposed to [what is] categorized as "normal" for bands,
which is like drunk, lying in a pool of your own vomit - you know.
Speaking of getting started so early, back then every girl I knew had
a poster of you guys or The Moffats on their wall. What was it like
being turned into pop idols or sex symbols at such a young age?
TH: It was kind of surreal - you don't really have much to compare it
to. So when it first happens, it's sort of like "well, there's
nothing wrong with this!"
Yeah, it couldn't have been all bad - I mean, you guys ended up marrying
TH: Well, in one way or another, yeah.
ZH: All our wives were fans of the band. We met them all at concerts,
in varying forms...
TH: Sort of like how you'd meet people at work, you know? That's our
I think I saw this on Wikipedia, so I don't know if it's true or not,
but one of you guys actually saw a girl in the fifth row of a concert?
TH: That was Ike. He actually did! Our stories were different, but his
literally was ("chik chik" sound).
ZH: (My wife was) invited by somebody who was working for us; we met
TH: Zac was dating someone else at the time, but about a year after...
ZH: About a year after I met Kate I started to see a relationship.
TH: They were definitely fans too, but it was a few more steps removed
- it wasn't the same, like "hey you!"
A sort of visual connection (at the concert)?
TH: Yeah, visual connection - that's a really good way to put it.
You've been playing music for 15 years now, ever since your very first
show - you probably weren't thinking about your future at the time,
but where do you think you might have gone if the music hadn't panned
out so well? Would you have had nice safe careers as accountants?
TH: We had no choice in the matter. We are musicians, we would be musicians.
It's like you can't turn it off. Honestly, there's a lot of stuff that
we're really interested in. We would probably be leaning more on "okay,
the band hasn't gone quite so well; I'll be a writer, I'll be an artist,
I'll work on films, I'll produce other people's records." We still
do all those things, but those are augmenting the band as opposed to
the other way around. One way or another, I think the thing is not being
able to not be that. That's what we always told people, even when we
were so young, they'd look at us and be like "you guys are 14,"
and they'd be so condescending. -"you guys don't know what you
want to do!" We're like "um, excuse me - what were you doing
when you were 14? That's what I thought. You were picking your nose.
We were selling records, and we were in a band." And not in a cocky
way, just like "we know what we want to do." We're doing what
we want to do.
I'm sure you get it a lot, but I want to talk about Mmmbop. It's the
hit that launched you guys, and is probably the song that most would
immediately associate you with. But listening to your new album The
Walk, that impression really doesn't do you justice. Have you grown
to hate the sound, like Radiohead couldn't stand "Creep" anymore
and Nirvana wouldn't play "Smells Like Teen Spirit?"
TH: I hate it when other people do that, because I think it's an insult
to their own fans. I think "MmmBop" to our fans now means
something completely different from what it meant when they first
heard it. I think bands should be proud of what they've done, and the
music they've put out. On this side note, when you hear us play a show,
obviously the impetus is always the stuff that's new, because that's
what's exciting to you. That's honestly what you expect from the band.
One thing we've never done is be like "oh, that's not us."
Actually, when we came out, that was the assumption - "oh, that
isn't really these guys." Yeah, we're really young, and we probably
wouldn't write that song today, but we were a garage band, and we wrote
this song, and we're proud of it. It's just who we were ten years ago.
The thing about our fans that I think is cool is that when the song
first came out, the reaction was purely based on this catchy song on
the radio, that kinda thing. Now when our fans hear that song, it's
something different -
ZH: It's more of a survival anthem.
TH: I've been here for ten years! It's no longer about the catchiness
of it; it's the lyrics within the song they're talking about, that few
things in your life really matter, and you've gotta hold onto the things
ZH: It is funny that it lasts.
TH: Sometimes you can seem like you're trying to make a song more than
it is, but "MmmBop" really was when we first wrote it, we
used to play it almost like a ballad. (Singing) "You have so many
relationships in this life, only one or two will last," whatever.
And as time's gone by and fans really know the music, they're hearing
the lyrics. Even though it's an upbeat song - whatever, it's MMMBop
- but that's what they think of it as.
(at this point Zac has to leave)
You seem like you have heavier things on your mind these days. I mean,
what's the one song, "Your Illusion" - it's pretty suicidal,
and it's the AIDS-album, right?
TH: I wouldn't call it the "AIDS-album," but yeah, it is influenced
by that. Probably the most significant difference about this record
is that we (used to record more) eclectic records. But with this whole
record, with the lyrics and with the performance, we want to remove
some colors from our palette, and focus more on recording it the way
we would if we played a live show. We're limiting ourselves a little
bit. We didn't want people to be able to miss some of the lyrics. We
used to take pride in the fact that you'd have to listen through to
be able to get it - "oh, I get it. Lots of metaphors and stuff,"
but on this record it's like "the earth's shaking under siege,
every breath will meet its fate, still we hunger for our moment of freedom,
even though the hour's late." Those are the first words on the
record, and regardless of whether you get everything it's saying, it's
obvious that that's not a love song.
[in reference to the song "Your Illusion"] It's very Biblical
- a lot of Gospel overtones to it.
TH: It is very Biblical! There's definitely very spiritual qualities
to the record. Our generation, we can get really heavy really quick,
because there are some things we're genuinely so passionate about. But
I think our generation is so spoiled. We have so much - and Canadians
and Americans are pretty much in the same boat - economically we have
a lot at our fingertips, and I think talking about things, not from
a downer point of view but real things that are relevant to us, is really
important. I think you can put that in a way that is motivating and
not a downer - "Great Divide" talks about it from a point
of hope. If I can find hope in the worst, then where else? I find hope
in your hate. If you can find hope in hate, then you can find it anywhere.
Did you find hope while down in South Africa (doing AIDS work)? From
what I've read, it's pretty bleak.
TH: We did. The thing about Africa is interesting because I think it's
been almost a victim of the public beginning to see Africa as a celebrity
haven. There's been a lot - who've actually done really significant
things - but for us, the deal with Africa was it's where it's the worst.
You have to go where it's the worst; you have to be willing. We're from
the Midwest U.S., and that's where the every-day person hasn't yet realized
or recognized the issues of AIDS and HIV as being relevant to them.
Our hometown is average America, and it's the number three per capita
city with AIDS and HIV cases. When we learned that, we were like "our
generation has a stake in this," and we need to be responsible
for doing something about it. It's not foreign; it just happens that
where there's poverty and where there's corruption and where there's
infrastructural problems, they can't deal with it. We didn't feel like
we were going to finish the record until we went. We needed to go, and
it blanketed the whole record.
You're sonically maturing. On "Great Divide" you guys are
- dare I say it - almost rocking out, and on "Tearing It Down"you're
getting your funk on pretty hard.
TH: Yeah, and these songs are live. I mean, they are based on live performance.
We resisted our own tendencies as producers to be like "wouldn't
it be awesome if we put a... you know what? We don't need that."
It was difficult, but it was very satisfying to finish the record that
I wouldn't have guessed - it sounds produced, it's so spot on. Must
be the years of playing together?
TH: If you play together for a long, long time, it's like... we've never
been all about ripping solos. We can all jam and we can all solo and
stuff, but on our records it's all about the songs. You sit down and
beat the crap out of an arrangement, just beat it into submission until
we're like "this is right, there's nothing that's a waste of space."
Once you do that - you've played it fifty times - you go, "okay,
let's record it." That was the course we took.
So there's no noodling.
TH: If you see a Hanson show, and this is not me tooting my own horn
at all, our shows are very... we do jam around. Live it should be different;
it is more of an experience. It's more of a... connection (laughs).
So where might you take your sound in the future?
TH: One thing we genuinely want to do more - it's a little bit of an
offshoot - is take more time out to write and produce with other people,
just because you can never be all the stuff you like in music, with
one band. You have to decide at some point "this is who we are."
And so, one of the things we've done is set up a yearly songwriting
retreat, where we bring together 10-15 artists of every shape and creed,
just all over the map, and write for several days. We record a song
every day - we produce about 20 songs in about five days. Everybody
just goes nuts. That's one of the things, going forward with the record
That's very prolific. Like you said, it's in your blood, right?
TH: It's more like some kind of unhealthy addiction (laughing).
Well, as far as addictions go, it's pretty healthy. I'm really impressed
with how - other rock stars get into a lot of trouble. Rehab, divorces,
TH: Poor Lindsay Lohan.
And the rest. But you guys are actually role models. How do you resist
all the various temptations that must be in your life?
TH: Thank you! I don't know, maybe we're just lucky that we've had just
enough people around us that would call us on our shit. I think people
like Linsday Lohan end up with a lot of yes-men - and yes-women - that
never say "hey, you're kinda acting like a jackass." I think
that's really important... I don't know. There's a core value system
we've always adhered to, as much as I avoid saying that; we just had
different things that made us happy. Know what I mean? We love to rock.
We do what bands do, but we've never lost ourselves in some addiction.
It usually stops for me at nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine.
I have the same vices! Classic ones.
TH: Yeah! Other than that, no problem here.
You guys went independent a while back...
TH: Four or five years ago. When we first got signed, we had a pretty
good situation with our major label. It was like the last breath of
major labels, before they all got so consolidated that there's no focus.
The difference now is that we're flexible; we're in a position to change
with the times. Even on this record, we're actually not focused on having
some crazy big first week. Spending tons of money on radio... we decided
with this record, we were going to purposefully make it a slow build,
make it about fan discovery, the pod casts, "Great Divide"
online, things that speak to what we think the future of the music business
It's clever - it means you're staying vibrant.
TH: Yeah, that's what you gotta do. It's not about "can we sell,
can we give you a #1 (single)", it's about what (we) do six weeks
down the line. In a lot of the industry, six weeks down the line you're
done. We're in a position where we're really happy to own our music.
That's the bottom line.
Do you have advice for other aspiring artists, now that you're an indie
TH: Well, I would say that no one has quite figured out a model that
is really catering to what indie bands need now. We've had success,
so we could fund ourselves, (but) every band's not going to start a
label because it's too expensive; it's too hard to handle. What you
can do is not wait for somebody to show up with a deal and press a big
red button. Focus on really building a base, making a band, selling
your records direct, and maintaining ownership - build your own story.
You can now! Then you can say "you know what, label X, good indie
label, whatever. You can license it, and I'll still own the record,
and you help us promote it." That's the way to start, I think.
I've got just one more question for you: if you could tour with anybody,
who would it be?
TH: Tour with anybody, truly? Honestly, we'd love to open for somebody
like Tom Petty or U2 - that would be an amazing thing. We'd probably
connect with those guys in some ways even more than with our peers.
We've met those guys a few times - they're phenomenal, and not just
because they're U2, but really good guys. Very down to earth. Current
bands - we're friends with the Maroon 5 guys, Gavin Degraw, Josh Kelly
- those are different guys that are among a scene, which would all be
good bands to play with.
Well, thanks so much for your time!
TH: Thanks so much, man! Good questions; I appreciate your thoroughness.