Beyond "Mmmbop": Hanson Retains Success By Ignoring Trends

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Hanson_by_Jiro_Schneider.jpg
Photo by Jiro Schneider
By Youa Vang

Although their 1997 heyday was a long time ago, the brothers Hanson have managed to avoid the boy-band curse and still make music today that actually means something. Hanson is set to play the Pageant on Thursday, and "Mmmbop" will most likely be in the mix, but the men -- no longer boys -- are excited to share some new material with their ever-changing crowd.

We spoke with the youngest member of the band, Zac Hanson, about where the group's music is today, Aerosmith and traveling salesmen.

RFT Music: Are people surprised that you guys have new music?

Zac Hanson: Yes and no. We've been a band for 21 years, so we definitely have history. That means that you have people come in and out of your sphere of influence. Being in a band for as long as we have -- this is our sixth album -- you have this strange experience. More and more, in the last couple of years especially, where you have this group who weren't there at the start. They're eighteen, and they started listening to Hanson maybe on our third or fourth album. They end up going back to our catalog. It's much like when I discovered Aerosmith on Get a Grip, because that was what came out when I was a kid, and then I went back and realized, "Oh, wow -- they've been a band for twenty years."

"Mmmbop" was such a defining time for the band, but oftentimes musicians don't see times like that as what defines who they are. How do you want to be defined as a band?

ZH: I wouldn't say that song defines us.

Why do you say that?

ZH: We're a band with a much deeper experience and culture. I'm sure for some people that song defines us, because that song was No. 1 in 27 countries at the same time. It was a phenomenon; people all around the world know that song, even if they never liked our band -- or even liked the song -- they still know it. But I think what defines our band is a spirit -- or lack of fear. When you listen to our music, it's about overcoming adversity, and it's about taking these hard or great situations in life and maximizing them. I think when you look back at our career, hopefully people will look back and say that we were never afraid to take risks and to innovate. Maybe people never knew that.

You do all kinds of things all of the time, and some are successful and some are not, but I think our fans -- the people who follow the band -- see us as a band who is passionate and willing to take risks and everything. We do it because it's worth it.

The funny thing about "Mmmbop," if you read the lyrics, there's a line that says, "You have so many relationships in this life/Only one or two will last/You go through the pain and strife, then you turn your back and they're gone so fast." It's about the fact that you have to put yourself out there for the things that you want to last, because so many of these things are going to come and go. And so if "Mmmbop" is going to define us, it may ring true, because it's talking about the same kind of things I'm saying that define us as a band.

It's interesting that you guys wrote such prophetic lyrics at such a young age.

ZH: [Laughs] I probably wouldn't have thought that at the time we wrote it -- I was eight -- but it probably has to do with the fact that we were so young. As a young kid, I probably wouldn't have recognized it this way.

There was a feeling of being an outcast, because you're the only kid on the playground or soccer team who has a job or aspirations. So many kids at that point are only focused on getting to the next level in Goldeneye on Nintendo 64, but we're going, "OK, we've got a gig next week. I'm writing a song, or we're recording an album." So you feel a certain sense of being alienated, and it gives you a perspective on the fact that so many things won't last.

Where do you think you learned that work ethic?

ZH: Our parents were great influences on us, talking about working hard and showing us that. We were home-schooled as kids. It's pretty popular here in Oklahoma to home-school, so I think we were a little outside of the "normal" influences, so there were doors opened to us that our parents encouraged and facilitated. So it just happened. Probably most of the credit needs to be given to Isaac [Hanson], because I was six when we started the band. At that age, there's not much conscious thought in doing what you do. You're doing something you enjoy, and you like doing the things you enjoy.

Do you have any kids?

ZH: I do. I have two kids. A five-year-old, a two-year-old, and one on the way.

How do the kids see you? Do they see Dad as a rock star?

ZH: They definitely don't see me as a "rock star." We don't treat it that way. I guess they could, but I think they see that Dad works a lot, but he really likes what he does. They see that there's a lot of opportunity, because they experience the benefits in moments like what it's like being backstage, seeing famous people and coming to a concert. They're like, "OK, OK, this is what you do," but there's no false expectations. They know it's work. We have a break in the middle, but we're about to leave for tour from now until Christmas. We're gone, and they know that. "Dad goes to work. He works a long time. He's gone for a long time."

I often compare touring musicians to traveling salesmen. You go from city to city selling your music to people.

ZH: [Laughs] As long as we're not traveling snake-oil salesmen, then I think we can accept that. It's a good reference for the kind of work ethic that you need to survive in music, and also the ability to accept rejection and go on -- not in the way that you're going out and being rejected -- what I mean is you're putting yourself out on the line and you may win or you may lose. It's not always about you. You might come to sell your vacuum cleaner, and it just so happens that they just got their roof torn off in a tornado, and they don't have any money. So you may have given your best vacuum cleaner speech -- "This thing can suck up a golf ball!" -- but you've got to move on to the next house, the next town, and hopefully keep selling something that is worth it.

To play off that a little bit, why do you feel that the band has been able to survive and adapt to the changing music industry?

ZH: We've always had a healthy sense of individualism. We've never really been particularly trendy or interested in fame for the sake of fame. Fame has a purpose; the purpose is it makes you successful. You may want fame because it represents success, and success is what facilitates you to buy a brand-new guitar or gives you access to a studio or do things that keep it going. I think we've always had a focus on what comes next, and I think you hear it in our music. Even though everyone suffers from the blues, there's a sense of optimism. I think that's reflected in all of our perspectives on life, so you hear it in the music. Often it's a hard situation, and someone is crying out for the answer. I want to find the answer, not dwell in the situation.

We have a song off the new album called "Save Me From Myself" that talks about "I do all these things. I destroy these relationships in my life. Somebody help me, somebody show me how to fix it." It asks for that. I think that's probably how we continue to evolve and find new outlets and change and say, "OK, ten years ago, we started our own label." We do things our own way, because we're always looking at things that worked or didn't work. We're going to try something else -- always looking for the next idea.

That's so true. I was talking to my friend the other day about being comfortable in situations and how it's great, but maybe when you're comfortable, you're not pushing yourself to try new things.

ZH: Sure. I think that's true. You don't have to risk everything to be vulnerable and be stretching, but you should be risking something, because it's not rewarding if you're not risking anything.

Hanson 8:00 p.m. October 17 @ The Pageant $26/$28.50

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