THE VERMONT CYNIC
BACK TO
HANSON
Mmmbop! Hanson is still at it and now they are all grown up
By: Molly Shaker
Posted: 4/8/08
Hanson's back.

And on April 23 their upcoming tour calls for a performance at our very own Higher Ground in South Burlington.

Yes, we're talking about the same Hanson you're likely thinking about - the same three brothers that brought you "Mmmbop" 11 years ago.

The funny thing is that Isaac, 27, Taylor, 25, and Zac, 22, just put out their fourth studio album. This might come as a surprise to those of us who obsessed over "Mmmbop" and drooled over Taylor as teens and then, growing up, forgot about the Tulsa-bred brothers.

But last July, Hanson released The Walk - an album that not only reveals the band's musical growth, but also their maturation from boyhood to a sophisticated group of musicians seeking to leave their mark through charity and donation.

"We want to use music as a tool to do good and raise awareness," Taylor Hanson, now 25, told the Cynic.

The Walk brings Hanson listeners more than just an indie rock album - which is a far different sound than us mmmboppers would expect from the trio. Hanson's new sound has dubbed them as one of the best "straight-up rock" groups in America by New York publication 'Village Voice.'

Along with the big steps that Hanson has taken in terms of their sound, the brothers are determined to use their talent as a tool for raising awareness about the disease and poverty that plague all of Africa, but South Africa and Mozambique in particular.

After a group of Hanson's friends from a Tulsa medical firm began donating technology to a hospital in South Africa to help fight HIV/AIDS, the brothers were inspired to take a trip to South Africa and Mozambique to leave their own mark, as well, Taylor said.

This was the trip that sparked Hanson's desire to use music as an awareness tool. Staying in an orphanage in Mozambique, Taylor recalled being in awe of the optimism of people surrounded by such disease and poverty.

So, the band set up their laptops in the orphanage cafeteria and recorded the children's choir for "Great Divide" - a track off The Walk. "The choir is singing 'ngi ne themba,' which means 'I have hope,'" Taylor said.

After recording, Hanson decided to put the music to good use. "Literally all proceeds from "Great Divide" downloads go to the Perinatal HIV research Unit in South Africa," Taylor said. "It can be as simple as spending $0.99 on a song. It doesn't mean we must all go to Africa. It means we all have a role to play."

Hanson has taken their most recent album's title rather literally in their effort to expose people to Africa's poor conditions. The band kicked off their "The Walk Tour" with TOMS shoes - a business that donates a pair of their shoes every time a pair is bought, Taylor said.

"TOMS shoes had a goal of selling 50,000 pairs of shoes," Taylor said. "We did barefoot walks on our tour where everyone walked barefoot. We want people to connect with the idea that something that we take for granted like a pair of shoes, is so important." With Hanson's support, TOMS shoes reached their goal. "We literally went to Africa and delivered the shoes," he said. "It was amazing."

When the Hanson brothers formed their band in 1992 - nearly 15 years ago - no one predicted that when they'd sing their bubble gummy tune "Mmmbop" five years later thousands of fans would be singing along with them. In fact, the song was such a hit that the state governor declared an unofficial "Hanson Day" in the group's home state of Oklahoma, Taylor said.

And now, years later, the Hanson brothers - who are all married with children - continue to play "Mmmbop". But Taylor is grateful for the band's devoted fans that aren't just following them around for a song they sang as children.

"We have really devoted, passion¬ate fans," Taylor said. "Many of them were introduced to us with that song and when we play it, it's like 'Oh, yeah, that's fine. But we want to hear the new stuff!' But we do still play it. You'd also be amazed how similar it sounds even though we're much older. We're still very proud of it."

For Isaac, Taylor and Zac, life before Hanson is hard to imagine. "We started as a band when I was nine years old, so this has been most of my life," Taylor said. "We've always worked really well together. We know what each of us brings to the table now that we're older. We're kind of like an old married couple."

Hanson is scheduled to perform at Higher Ground on April 23 with Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers & Kate Voegele.