Hanson. They’re Baaa-aaack…
1 May 2010
By Matthew Schneier
For the past 15 years – whether you’ve been listening or not – the brothers Hanson (Isaac, 29,Taylor, 27, and Zac, 24) have been putting out records. But pop culture has fixed them more or less in 1997, when the mostly prepubescent brothers’ “MMMBop” became an infectious mega-hit.
Any devoted Hansonite can tell you – and they’re not in short supply – there have been three studio albums in the meantime. The group drove the point home recently when they played a sold-out five-night residency at New York’s Gramercy Theater, running through one full album each night. The final evening was devoted to their latest, Shout It Out, a funkified, R&B-inflected record that’s getting more serious attention (not to mention YouTube hits for its first video, “Thinking ’Bout Somethin’”) than any since Middle of Nowhere catapulted them to fame years ago. Are you ready? You may soon be listening to Hanson again.
Hanson unfiltered, that is. For the first time, the brothers have written and produced the entirety of their album, assuming more control than ever before. But musically it looks back, past the pop sounds on which the group rose to fame, to the R&B that they say inspired them to start playing back home in Tulsa,Oklahoma.
R&B “got us singing,” Taylor explains. “It was Little Richard and Chuck Berry and Otis Redding and Sam and Dave.” With Shout It Out, “there was a strong feeling of just being comfortable in our own skin and really wanting to make a record that felt like the essence of what we got into music doing.”
The R&B sound was amplified by the bass work of Bob Babbitt, a legendary Motown session player and member of the Funk Brothers. But the linchpin, Taylor and Zac agree, was the addition of the horn section, masterminded by the trumpeter and horn arranger Jerry Hey. Widely agreed to be the driving force behind the horn sound of modern R&B and pop, Hey has worked with Michael Jackson, Earth, Wind & Fire and Quincy Jones. It was, says Zac, “the icing on the cake.” And it almost wasn’t to be.
“We finished the album almost without doing the horns,” Zac explains. “It felt like we were pulling a punch. We weren’t really giving it all it needed to be. It felt like we were really fulfilling the idea of paying homage to people that inspired us. It was like the trumpets sounding said to people, “Turn this up louder, drive in your car faster, smile bigger….”
Both Zac and Taylor emphasize Shout It Out as a feel-good summer record, a turn-it-up rocker. Is the world ready for the Hanson brothers, party boys? (Well, more or less – all three of the brothers are now married with kids – seven altogether between them.) The answer may be yes. Tinted Windows, the power-pop super-group Taylor fronted (with the Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha, Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger and Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos), may have helped. After the initial what-the?! moment – fodder for a million blog posts and Rolling Stone articles baffled by the lineup – the group helped shake the stigma of mid-’90s curiosity from the Hanson name. And now with high-profile fans as diverse as Andrew W.K. and Conan O’Brien (who’s been known to join them onstage), they’re back in the mainstream.
But at the end of the day – whether you’ve spent the intervening years rabidly following their tours or consigning them to the purgatory of one-hit wonders (they’ve had more than one, but never mind that) – they’re still just Hanson doing Hanson. “I think the record feels the most like us playing together,”Taylor says. “I think you feel the sound of a band in a room together, making this music.” Making it top to bottom, from writing to producing – and, almost two decades later, they’re still having a good time doing it. “I feel like, oftentimes, producing a record with a producer is like a great relationship. Even with the best marriage – girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever – you still have these struggles and fights and things you have to get through,” says Zac. “But us doing it on our own was like the bachelor party.”