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Interview with Taylor Hanson
Posted: October 10, 2008

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Hanson, 2008: Isaac, Zac, Taylor
(photo credit: Laura Thompson/CBC)

Admit it - you loved MMMBop. In fact, you still do. It's been eleven years since that flawless pop single tore up the charts, and in that time the Hanson brothers have all married and had children, while continuing to record together on their own 3CG label.

On their current Walk Around the World Tour, Hanson have invited fans to join them in a mile-long walk before each concert to raise money for poverty and AIDS research in Africa, among other causes. Their most recent effort, 2007's The Walk, is a socially conscious rock album partly inspired by a trip to that continent.

Hanson will be performing at Carnegie Library Music Hall in Homestead on Monday. Taylor Hanson, now 25 and a father of three with a fourth on the way, called in to chat with us about The Walk campaign, battling corporate record labels, and what's it like being spoofed on Family Guy and SNL.

Let me ask you about The Walk campaign. What inspired you guys to get involved with poverty and AIDS issues in Africa?
The main reason was because we took a trip to South Africa with a group of people that we respected. Some friends in our hometown, Tulsa, Oklahoma, donated some medical technology to a hospital in South Africa, so we just went there to learn. When we went to Africa, it struck us how much our generation is being affected and being wiped out by AIDS. It’s unlike any other disease because you’ve got mothers and fathers of the working class dying, you’ve got grandparents raising grandchildren. What’s also unique about the challenge is the fact that there are more ways to make an impact than there’s ever been before.

So that was the initial feeling and inspiration, and it was inspiring to see there are already so many people that are providing solutions we really need. We need individuals to internalize it and say, ‘This is my problem and it’s something I can be a part of helping to heal.’

You’ve been inviting fans to walk with you before each show. What have you taken away from those experiences?
What we’ve learned, more than anything, is everybody needs encouragement and that continual reminder that they have the power to make a difference. It’s an age-old concept to say “you can do your part,” but everybody gets sort of caught up in whether they really can. What we’ve been trying to impress upon people is that these walks are walks for action. The people who are coming, it’s about empowering them to do more, and to recognize their ability to reach people. I’ve been really encouraged by how many people say, ‘I was supportive of you guys and I was into what you’re doing as a band, but being a part of the walks and being part of this outreach has kind of sealed the connection even more,’ because we’re really doing something together.

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The Walk is your second release on 3CG Records. How have things been going for the band on your own label, vs. being on a major?
The music business itself has really shifted since we were signed. Most of the record business is still run by this corporate mindset, which came into play in a big way after our first record started to become really prevalent. The difference in the music business now for us is that we are navigating a new business and we are taking ownership of all of our masters. As far as our day to day work, it’s a challenge to balance all the things that we’re doing, but I wouldn’t have it any other way right now.

After record company mergers Hanson were moved to Island Def Jam. They rejected a lot of your music and you ended up leaving the label. What exactly were they looking for from you?
You’re dealing with a big corporation, a rap label that suddenly is working with a band they wouldn’t have signed from the beginning. It was the same kind of pattern that’s happened with hundreds of bands over the last several years – whatever’s happening at the moment, at the top of the charts - ‘Okay, let’s work with that producer. Okay, let’s work with this writer.’ The idea of chasing hits is really all that was going on. It was corporate people afraid to say, ‘Hey, this is what we want.’ There wasn’t a vision in that company for what the band was supposed to be doing.

When Middle of Nowhere came out you kind of got lumped in with the Spice Girls and the fabricated boy bands, even though what you do is obviously different. Do you still have to fight against the fact that when people hear the name Hanson, they might have these pre-conceived notions?
There’s always the potential that association could still be there, because at the time when we came out there was a wave of more pop music, and obviously what we did was more pop than the grunge music that was being played at the time, or right before us. So I think inherently there’s going to be an association with that time period. But as we go forward, it’s really a question of just doing what you’re doing, making great records you’re proud of. As far as people having pre-conceived notions, I think the only way to sort of dull them is to continue to make records that you feel passionate about and let the true colors of what you are come through.

That period of your life, when you were doing Oprah, Letterman, award shows, one tv show after another, with screaming girls everywhere - from an outsider's perspective it seemed like a crazy whirlwind of a time. Is that how it felt for you, being in the middle of it?
Yeah... we had incredible experiences when the first record launched. It definitely was a whirlwind of sorts. It was very surreal and having the experiences we had for the first time can definitely be kind of an out-of-body experience (laughs). That being said, at that time, we felt like that was where we wanted to be. It was kind of everything we hoped to accomplish, so it was a great privilege.

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You guys lost a Grammy to Jamiroquai, which I always thought was a miscarriage of justice. Would you agree?
(Laughs) Well, I wouldn’t be one to bestow credit on our own music looking backwards, but it was an honor to be nominated. I know that may sound like a cliché but it is obviously an honor. I will tell you I know a lot of people that I respect, that said, ‘MMMBop was the song of the year - how could that not get a Grammy?’ But we’ll leave that to other people to say. It’s totally an honor to have that on your list of accomplishments, and hopefully in the future there will be others like that.

Something I’ve always been curious about – Gregg Alexander had that song with New Radicals where he threatens to kick Hanson’s ass in (“You Get What You Give”). A few years later, you ended up writing with him. How did you guys hook up, and did you give him any grief about that lyric?
Yeah in fact, we did. We worked with him because we thought there was a mesh between what he was doing and our sensibility. His name came up and he kind of reached out to us, and we were excited about it. You know, it’s kind of a funny pop culture reference. He claims he was talking about “Beck Hansen.” It definitely sounds like ”Beck and Hanson” though.

I know you guys enjoy those pop culture references – being featured on Family Guy, Saturday Night Live, and so forth. Which of the skits and spoofs of yourselves is your favorite?
First of all, you have to laugh at and with random references on shows because it really is such a big compliment. Regardless of whether you’re being made fun of, it’s a compliment to have people aware enough that it’s actually funny. One of the things that I thought was kind of absurd but really funny was a skit done years ago on MAD TV that was spoofing us as being over the hill after years and years. We were releasing a new song that was called “Ling Ling.” It was just awful, and pretty hysterical.

Finally, what’s the breakdown of newer material vs. old in your live show, and what can fans expect when they see you play in Pittsburgh?
A few things. There’s a special project that’s coming out called Take the Walk - it’s a coffee table book, and we have five new songs that we recorded for it. So in the show we’ll be premiering some brand new songs from this EP. Plus, you’ll hear a bunch of tunes from The Walk. We mix it up with songs from each album and we’ll be throwing in some cover songs that we haven’t performed in the past. I always feel like a concert is your opportunity to almost comment on your own music by showing people where your influences are, and it’s an opportunity for you to share new things with your audience. We can’t wait for the show.