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Hanson: They were the 'MMMBop' teen heartthrobs of the '90s, but now the Hanson boys are fathers, bandmates and ... brothers in arms

By TOM ALESIA
608-252-6122
April 5, 2008

At age 12, singer Taylor Hanson co-wrote "MMMBop" with his two brothers. Two years later, the band Hanson dominated radio airwaves with the song and, like it or not, planted an impossibly catchy tune in our collective brains. It made the Tulsa, Okla., trio rich and famous -- but given the shelf life of boy-band acts, circa late 1990s, probably should have ended their career.

And it did, to a degree ... Hanson never sold 10 million albums again, of course. But the group survived, clinging just below the pop-culture radar and avoiding boy-band extinction because, well, they were never a manufactured boy band. They wrote their own songs. They sang. They played their instruments. Taylor may have been a teen heartthrob, but he wasn't plucked from obscurity by a quick-money producer or manager.

Hanson also never broke up. They kept writing. They kept performing. And the band 's recent fourth album, "The Walk " is a delightful rock and soul effort that will entertain loyal and curious concertgoers at the Barrymore Theatre Saturday night. Tough critics have raved about the album.

Surprise! Hanson didn 't just get older; it got better.

Taylor Hanson, now 25, talked about sudden and swarming fame; "MMMBop " (yes, they 'll gladly play it in concert); artistic integrity; and -- whoaBop -- African relief efforts and social activism.

State Journal: "The Walk " is an outstanding album. Do bands improve that much after 10-plus years together?

Taylor: As kids, we were crazy and confident. We 're at a different place now. It 's been 15 years since our first (Tulsa) show. Every band changes. But one thing that hopefully history will say about Hanson, if they say anything (laughs), is we were always writing and playing. It 's our music.

State Journal: On tour, you don 't play the lucrative fair circuit as a nostalgia act. You 've always played theaters. I can 't imagine anyone now going to your show just for "MMMBop. "

Taylor: We 've been lucky that we are the age of the first generation growing up with the Web. I 'm 25. Ten years ago, an AOL account sounded crazy. It moved so fast. We 've connected with fans in a direct way. (pauses) We 're also workaholics.

State Journal: At 3 p.m. the day of each show on this tour, you have fans walk with you guys for one mile starting at the venue to support a charity distributing shoes in Africa. That 's a noble idea.

Taylor: We wanted to find a tangible thing that could connect individuals with issues we think are important. Talking about the Internet generation, people have the opportunity to do much more directly to make a difference. We went to Africa and wanted to do something.

State Journal: You guys (guitarist Issac is 27, Zac is 22) have started families of your own and they 're getting big ...

Taylor: And growing. I was married at 19 and my wife and I have 3 children under the age of 5. Isaac and his wife are expecting their second child. Zac and his wife are expecting their first. By default, it 's a family affair. We joke that we 're really more like bandmates that happen to be brothers than the other way around. It 's weird. We live this dual lifestyle of being as normal as possible then go on tour. If they can, our families join us. My 5-year-old asks me, "When am I getting on the bus? "

State Journal: You made a lot of money as teens. Was it invested wisely to help you now?

Taylor: It was invested wisely. We did well. Our parents were the opposite of the stage parent that you think of. The money sat in bank accounts. That let us take our initial success and put it back into what we do. We have our own studio. We are all geeks about music gear. And we started our own record company. We created a sustainable business.

State Journal: You didn 't promote a single to radio for "The Walk, " but the song "Great Divide " belongs on progressive or alternative pop-rock stations.

Taylor: One Chicago station played it. And it got a positive reaction. Then the station changed its format to "heavier " rock. This is an album that is about truly staking our claim as an indie label. We want to do things that we think will enhance our the future by investing in online marketing and doing an extensive podcast. We didn 't turn our back on radio. We just decided not to make it our bread and butter. We 're not chasing hits.

State Journal: Bono said he loved "MMMBop. " Do you remember when he said that?

Taylor: Yes, yes. He said it on TV (in England) in 2004 or 2005. We had our last record out. What a huge compliment.

State Journal: Where do you put "MMMBop " in the setlist?

Taylor: It 's been 10 years now and that 's turned it into a celebration of the song. We do it acoustically now in the middle of the show. Someone not as familiar with the band will see us, though, as a rock band. We do an AC/DC cover to songs off our first album. We grew up listening to soul music. We idolize Otis Redding. We hope there 's some of that in our music.

State Journal: I have a picture of the band emerging from a Detroit radio station in 1997. There are swarms of screaming girls and beefy security are trying to create a path. Do you look back on that time fondly?

Taylor: That 's a surreal thing. Honestly, it was phenomenal. I remember it all vividly. When I look at pictures from that first year and pictures from shows now, there 's still some of that energy. It looks different. We have more guys now with the girls. But there 's still the same spirit. There was a genuine connection that was made and I 'm surprised and honored how much is still there. As far as the insanity of the situation at the time, so few people have memories like, "Remember that time we walked into that Melbourne record store and thousands of people showed up. " You can never quite explain it to someone. I 'm just extraordinarily honored that we 're still here. We never did anything only in the moment. We didn 't perform then to be a kid band and retire at 20.

State Journal: Have you had offers to tour in a '90s bands package tour?

Taylor: There have been a couple of things. (Promoters) have wanted to put us with bands that we were never connected with other than the '90s -- it 's odd to talk about the '90s as if it was "Way back in the '90s. " There have been things that were perceived as the cash cow of the moment, but we know any moves like that mean you think that it 's over. There has been pressure to do some ( '90s band tours), but we 're not throwing in the towel. We started out to make music and that 's all we want to do.