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Interview: MmmBopping Hansons grow up

By GARY GRAFF   |   Aug. 18, 2003 at 2:32 PM
DETROIT, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- The three Hanson brothers are of an age when they could still be attending school. But these days they figure they're the ones educating -- or re-educating -- their audience.

Isaac, Taylor and Zac are no longer the towhead teens (and pre-teens) who jump-started the most recent pop revolution with 1997's effervescent chart-topper "MMMBop." All three will be able to vote in this November's elections. One -- middle brother and keyboardist Taylor, 20 -- is even married.

And with eight years of recording behind them, the Hansons have spent the past two years taking control of their careers with plans to showcase their growth as both people and artists. The group has left its record company and self-produced a new album, "Underneath," which will be independently released in 2004. Meanwhile, the trio is on the road with an acoustic tour and an accompanying EP.

It all amounts to the Hansons screaming "We are mature!" -- which, they say, is exactly the case.

"I feel like we've grown a lot as a band, purely by necessity," says guitarist Isaac, 22. "We've always been very involved and very active and very conscious about where we want to go, creatively."

The home-schooled trio from Tulsa, Okla., were, in fact, seasoned performers by the time they began self-releasing CDs in 1995. But it was 1997's major label debut, "Middle of Nowhere," that really took them somewhere -- to the top of the charts, for starters, as it sold more than eight million copies worldwide. The "MMMBop" single hit No. 1 in 27 countries, and Hanson -- who won respect for writing their own songs and playing their own instruments -- was credited with opening radio playlists to subsequent "boy bands" such as Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC.

Hanson was the first to fall, however. After flooding the market with a holiday album and a collection of its early recordings, the group's 2000 release "This Time Around" only achieved gold-level sales and barely cracked the Top 20 despite generally favorable reviews.

But Taylor Hanson says the album was as much a victim of changes in the group's record company, Island -- which was swallowed into the Universal Music Group conglomerate -- as it was of fickle public tastes.

"We were signed to a label, and they knew who this band was ... and then it became a different company," he says. "Synergy would be a word that did not exist in the vocabulary there. It took a lot of experiences to get a clear sense of `OK, well, this just isn't a great collaboration anymore. They obviously don't understand what we're trying to make happen. We need to find new, greener pastures for both sides.'"

But, Isaac adds, Hanson still felt creatively motivated.

"I don't think it's a matter a of getting back to the first album (sales) as much as being successful with the music that you feel," he explains. "Whatever we feel is successful is comfortable for me."

So Hanson left the label and proceeded to make "Underneath" on its own, collaborating with music peers such as Matthew Sweet, David Garza and Michelle Branch -- the latter opened for Hanson prior to becoming a multi-platinum sensation in her own right.

The brothers shared roles and duties in the studio. Isaac, according to Taylor, is "definitely the technical guy, more of the engineer." The eldest Hanson says Taylor is meticulous, "doing takes over and over again." And Isaac calls drummer Zac, 17, " the no-crap guy ... who cuts through everything and says `It's done now.'"

And sibling issues, according to Taylor, didn't enter into the process.

"Who we are as a band, it's much more like three guys who are really good friends and are in a band together," he explains. "The classic brother nudges and bickering, it wouldn't work. We couldn't be doing what we do if that was how we interacted.

"There's a definition of roles, absolutely. You're tag-teaming each other and ... pushing it along. It's an effort."

The result, Taylor says, "sounds like Hanson. It's pop-rock." But, Isaac adds, fans will hear "a lot more space" in the sound than before.

Will the audience buy it? That remains to be seen. And nobody's really sure who Hanson fans are right now because there was such a drastic drop-off in sales. No matter, the band says; they're happy to start with a clean slate if necessary, re-introducing themselves with the acoustic tour and eyeballing college campus dates in the new year.

"I'm excited about making waves in all these types of avenues," says Taylor. "And, of course, the music is the first thing that opens those doors. I think this is definitely the very beginning stages of a new phase in this band's career."

But he's also confident that the screaming girls that flocked to Hanson six years ago will still be around in some shape or form.

"I think that will always exist to some extent," he says. "If you're out there playing rock 'n' roll and you have girls there -- that's the heartbeat to me.

"But I hope to get the guys, too. I hope to have people who are just into the music. I want people to hear the music, not just listen to (the screams)."

Topics: Gary Graff
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