Hanson Grows Up
By Tals Diaz
THERE’S no splitting blonde hairs over the matter — Hanson is all grown up.
Mmm … really? It’s hard to disassociate the Tulsa trio of Isaac, Taylor and Zac from their pubescent past, when they bopped to the top with their global smash single, “MmmBop,” nominated for three Grammys in 1998. The catchy, ultra pop-happy tune delivered Hanson onto the realm of musical stardom, and their posters into the rooms of starry-eyed teenage girls everywhere.
Seven years, two albums and several inches off their trademark golden locks later, Hanson is back and rocking the upper strata of the Billboard charts with their latest album, “Underneath,” which ups the volume with an evolved, mature sound like you’ve never heard from them. Even their fans have changed over the years, with the likes of their contemporaries Avril Lavigne and Michelle Branch professing to be Hanson fans.
“Underneath” is proof that Hanson’s evolution is far from being a mere image revamp and octave shift. There is something deeper underneath “Underneath.” For one, this labor of love that took three years to make marks a seismic shift in their musical career. Taking the road less traveled as had the likes of Pearl Jam and The Eagles, Hanson decided to break away from their old label and produce their latest collection independently.
In a musical landscape festered with assembly-line teenage pop acts, it was indeed a more difficult, yet very mature way to go, as it allowed them greater freedom to work on their own creative vision, to collaborate on a collection that reflected their deeper identities. The result is a m‚lange of musical influences that the trio grew up with, a mix of classic rock and roll, soul and r&b.
Hanson will be in Manila on June 11 and 12 for a concert as part of a global promo tour. Super! scored an exclusive with Isaac, the eldest in the group:
It’s been almost a decade since “MmmBop.” Now you guys look and sound totally different. Do you ever wince at the memory of your teeny bopper image?
Not at all! I’m very proud of what we have done. That’s part of our history. We evolve with every record, we create new music every time. We’re still very much connected to our past but we’re grown as musicians. I think people understand us better because they know who we were seven years ago.
Pretend you were a music critic writing about your album. What songs would you pick as best ear candy?
I’d pick “Dancing in the Wind,” which is aggressive rock; “Tell the Story,” because it’s more organic — the whole tone sets you up on a journey; while “Deeper” and “Penny and Me” are mature songs and yet maintain a pop sensibility, showcasing a more organic side of Hanson.
“Organic” in what sense?
I mean “organic” in the sense that it is untainted and natural. It’s more acoustic, more intimate, with richer tones and warmer feelings.
Speaking of warm feelings, the song “Penny and Me” is becoming quite popular. Is Penny based on a real person? A Penny Lane maybe?
(Laughs) Penny actually came from a Beatles song. Though Penny can be a metaphor for a person you really care about, Penny could also be a metaphor for music. When you listen to music, or certain songs, you remember certain things you’ve experienced because it takes you back to that time. Listening to Francis Drake always does that to me. Music then, becomes the soundtrack of your life.
In the Philippines, we have a word called kilig, which is like “butterflies in the stomach” or a tingling, happy feeling. Ever get kilig over a review of your latest album?
I’d have to say it was over one in New York Post, which said it’s the “best record (we’ve) made.”
Why did you decide to break away from your old label and go independent, despite the risks involved?
We felt that, in a constantly changing environment, the most stable place to be is where you’re in control of your own music. There are mergers happening everyday, and we wanted the group to go global and work with more companies around the world. So now we work with companies like True North of Canada, JVC in Japan, and in Manila, we work with Sony. We also wanted the freedom to find companies that fit best with us.
Describe the dynamics among the three of you.
Zac and I are more of the jokers. Taylor is more serious, and really clumsy sometimes. I’m really clumsy, too! I run into all sorts of things. But we’re all very involved in our music, we have differences and weaknesses, but we always make a group effort to balance things out.
In a write-up about your last album, “This Time Around,” Rolling Stone magazine described you guys as a “three-headed blonde hydra” and said the collection “leaves the rest of the teen pack eating their dust.” What kind of “hydra” are you guys now?
Maybe we should get Mohawks and be called a 3-Mohawked hydra! Seriously, I think the important thing is to always keep evolving, it’s important to keep giving people new things. We have to strive for that, and hopefully inspire artists of the future.