Hanson Is Cool. . . Seriously, Part Four
7 June 2010
By Brenna Chase
To celebrate the upcoming release of Hanson’s newest album, Shout It Out, and to commemorate their recent “5 For 5″ concerts, here is part three of our series on Hanson. Yes, Hanson.
So Hanson is constantly moving forward, but they’re old school, too (apparently they’re one big paradox). Sure, they’ll always be associated with the ’90s-pop-MTV-generation, but the inspiration for the music they make goes back way further than that.
Their musical tastes and values are deeply rooted in the music they grew up listening to. Little Richard; Ray Charles; The Band; Jimi Hendrix; Cheap Trick; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Elvis Presley; Cat Stevens; Janis Joplin; AC/DC; Stevie Wonder; Eddie Cochran; Traffic. . . all of these artists are unarguably cool, right? Hanson has covered songs by these legends and many more in concert, starting back in the ’90s when they chose to play classics like “Crosstown Traffic” to theaters full of unknowing preteens and their appreciative parents.
Drop your previously conceived notions of Hanson and just listen. (For starters, try this song.) Admit it: they know how to pick a good cover song, apply their classic three-part harmony, and delicately contemporise the older music they love. If you don’t like Hanson, you probably like a band they’re fans of, and you might actually appreciate their version of one of your favorite songs.
They’ve also been known to infuse the songs they write with references to older classics (take a look at the lyrics to “Penny and Me,” “Been There Before,” or their latest single “Thinking Bout Somethin,” and read Isaac’s posting on the inspiration behind the song’s video here). For their new album, they enlisted horn arranger Jerry Hey, famous for his work on Michael Jackson’s, Thriller. Original Blues Brothers horn players Tom “Bones” Malone, and Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin recently played live with the band to debut the new songs in their complete pop-soul glory. It’s clear that Hanson studies the greats, and they do their best to bring the same greatness into their own songs (they’re getting there).
The band not only draws musical inspiration from early soul and rock & roll, but also the industry ideas of the past. Taylor has explained that they model their efforts on the mindset of an earlier time when the music business consisted of “entrepreneurs that understood the bands and built careers over time,” and were actually lovers of music themselves. Hanson modified this notion to fit the present day environment: now that major conglomerates so far removed from the music have taken over the business, artists must own be their own entrepreneurs.
Isaac, Taylor, and Zac also look to the past as a reminder of the importance of musicians sticking together and supporting one another. They make an effort to encourage and give exposure to local music, holding contests for emerging bands to open for them in every city on many of their tours and giving out free indie samplers featuring local bands to anyone who attends their charity walks in various locations across the country (by the way, documenting the band’s charity work would take up a whole other article).
The Hanson’s host an annual songwriting retreat, inviting a diverse array of musician friends to come together for a week of collaboration. “It’s less about what comes out of it and more about community building,” Zac explains, “It used to be that musicians would drop in on each others recording sessions, and you’d have really big events like the ‘Concert For Bangladesh,’ where everyone played together. That type of thing is far less common these days;”
In addition to new songs, the Hanson junkets known as “Fools Banquet” generate new friendships among artists ranging from Imani Coppola to Jason Mraz to Weird Al. The best Hanson concert I have seen so far concluded with a finale of Cat Steven’s “Peace Train” featuring the band jamming with Adam Green, Andrew WK, Morningwood’s Pedro Yanowitz, and the all-ages Young Love Choir from Harlem.
And then there’s Tinted Windows, Taylor’s side project with James Iha of the Smashing Pumpkins and A Perfect Circle, Adam Schlesinger from Fountains Of Wayne and Ivy, and Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos. My indifference towards the Tinted Windows album notwithstanding, the fact that these guys wanted to work with “the pretty boy from Hanson” means some people in the industry actually do appreciate him as a songwriter and a vocalist. If you do some research, you’ll find that Hanson listens to and works with artists who have serious cred, and bands YOU like just might have respect for Hanson, too.