July 10, 2013
by Claire Hubble
For those of you who are 20-something, chances are you’ll remember Hanson as the long-haired, all-American trio whose smash hit single ‘MMMBop’ wouldn’t get out of your head no matter how much you tried.
Well that’s now a distant memory as brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac are fully formed men and are celebrating more than 20 years together with the release of their new album ‘Anthem,’ which features their latest single ‘Get the Girl Back.’
EntertainmentWise caught up with Zac Hanson to discuss how their sound has evolved over the years, sibling rivalry and their advice for younger stars like Justin Bieber and One Direction…
Hi Hanson! You guys are in the UK touring with your new album ‘Anthem,’ which came out in June. How do you like Britain and is there anything you miss from home?
We’ve been coming back for years now… we love the curry. There are always things you miss from home but you have to focus on what you like, and I think that there has always been a great link musically between American and British culture. We enjoy it!
Awesome! So you guys have been playing together for more than 20 years, how do you think your sound has changed over this time?
It’s changed a lot; I think that we’re always trying to be fresh and yourself. And I think that hopefully we just get better and better, we become better musicians and better producers. One of the interesting things about being a band for so long is that you definitely have people who are fans of your band who come in and out of your career.
You catch them for one album and then the next and then they catch you for the next one and then the next. I think that this album is influenced by the song writing and melody and harmony of a classic MoTown music. But there’s a raw side, and a little harder edge to it. I think it’s hard to define it. It’s different. It’s still pop, but there’s a rawness to this record, and a side to it that’s just unique.
So What makes ‘Anthem’ different to the rest of your albums?
Like I said, I think there’s a harder edge to it. You’re always trying to push yourself. You always feel like whatever you’ve just done is your best work, or you should! I think there’s a good perspective in this record. With our music, there’s always a resolve, whether it’s a sad song or a happy song. I think this record particularly has that. There’s a lot of talk about fighting and I think that’s a reflection of us fighting together as a band! We make music that hopefully will last and matter. You have to fight for it every day, it’s not something that happens passively.
So, all three of you are involved in your song writing process. What do you think of artists who are clearly manufactured and just churn out pop songs that are written by other people?
Well, I think historically that some of the most amazing artists didn’t write their own songs, like Elvis and Aretha Franklin. I think the key difference in what you’re referencing in those artists is that they clearly had the vision for what they are doing. They were clearly driving the process. They had enough assertion to say ‘you know what, I’m not a great song writer, I’m a great performer’. It’s sad when those who don’t have the vision go astray. It’s a hard business, you have to really know what you want out of it or you’ll get churned up and spat out.
One thing about Hanson is that we’ve never been in it for fame or in it because we wanted to be successful. We are in it because we want to make a lasting impression on people. Hopefully people grasp what you’re doing and turn it into their own, their own story, their own vision. We’ve written songs that are intended for other people. Just last week we were writing songs for a pop artist. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not writing your own music, as long as you’re still actually the driving force behind the selection and the vision of the music.
Could you tell us who you were writing for this week?
I’m gonna keep that with me. We don’t actually know where it will end up, sometimes you write a song for… I don’t know… just to name some random artist, Kelly Clarkson, and it gets done by Keith Urban. You never know where these things will end up.
So your latest single ‘Get the Girl Back’ shows how your music has evolved over the years and draws on Motown and pop influences. Do you ever feel nervous to try new things?
From the beginning, I think our band has been one out of its time. We’ve never really fit with what’s popular. When we first came out, particularly I think within music in America, we were a garage band influenced by 50’s and 60’s music, our records were combination of tracking and loops and harmony, while what was popular at the time was Hootie the Blowfish and Nirvana, very much grunge music.
Then right after us came The Spice Girls and Britney Spears and The Backstreet Boys, and we don’t really fit well musically within either of those groups. I think that’s remained to be true, we’ve kind of always been on our own path. And that’s been a blessing because we’ve never fit in a ‘box’ within music, and that’s allowed us more evolution and creativity. We don’t have to worry about being trendy, we worry about making music that we enjoy.
The new music video for ‘Get the Girl Back’ features an array of celebrity faces including Kat Dennings and Nikki Reed. How did the idea for the video come about, and how did you get so many celebs involved?
Kat and Nikki were both friends that we had met through mutual admiration of each other! We were fans of them, and they were fans of our music and basically we just said ‘Hey! You guys wanna do a music video?’ and they both wanted to do it. And really, the direction of celebrities was really just a very natural group of friends that came together.
What we wanted to create in the feeling of the video, was not just telling the story of the song, you know, ‘Get the Girl Back,’ but to create that sense of that cool show that everybody’s been to, or everybody waited outside of to try and get in to. The dance break that everybody wishes would happen at the show they’re at, but we wanted it to be something cinematic, like a movie, not something that’s just gone. It’s something that could continue.
The three of you must have spent a huge amount of time together on the road over the last two decades. Do sibling rivalries ever come into play while you’re touring?
We’ve been doing this for a long time. You have your moments, good and bad. I rarely think of our interaction as siblings, it’s an underlying thing. It’s not on the surface.
What do you think about artists like One Direction and Justin Bieber and their incredible global success? You started out very young like them, but things are very different these days with social networking and new technology, do you think the pressures of fame will get too much for them?
Well I’m sure that some of these artists are very talented; the main thing really is really knowing what you want out of the process. If you’re in it for fame, if you’re in it for money, I think it’s a lot harder for you to deal with success. Especially if it’s not your music, if it’s not your creative vision. I think you often find that young artists will say years later things like ‘This is the real me!’ and it alienates the people who loved them in the beginning as well as people who are fans of them now, because it’s like ‘Are you going to change again, if this is the music you’re doing now? What are you going to be doing later?’
So I think it’s hard, no matter what age you are, to deal with success. Social media and every person having a camera to capture your one bad moment blasted across every tabloid doesn’t help! But I don’t really know any of those artists, One Direction or Justin Bieber, but I think the main thing is to surround yourself with peers. You don’t need to be the most important person in the room all the time. That gets you a false perspective and you don’t ever get people telling you how it is, or how crappy your behaviour is.
When you’re the coolest, most important person in the room all the time and everyone around you is part of your ‘crew,’ then you’re just going to do what ever you want! And they’re going to encourage you, no matter how stupid your idea is. You need to be around people who will give you respect, and who will respect you enough to tell you what’s good for you.
Would you ever let your own kids become involved in the music industry?
Sure, if it’s natural for them, but I’d never push them into it. 98 per cent of musicians never get established, but they can have a shot, yeah!
All three of you are not happily married with kids. How to you balance family life with band commitments?
I think the first thing is, my wife knew what she was getting into! It’s just part of being a band, but it’s hard to find a balance. The main thing is you kind of learn what your family really need from you. You can live with a lot less time, as long as those times that you are together really are full.
So have you ever taken your wives and kids on the road? And how did they hack it?
Definitely, yes. I think I’ll take them on the road again! Sometimes the schedules are so crazy, they wouldn’t really want to be on the road, but they love it, honestly. They’re allowed to have a lot more fun than I can, they get to do all kinds of things while I’ve got sound checks and interviews and rehearsals. It’s fun, they like it when they can come.
Your band is going on a worldwide tour for almost half a year. You’ll be performing live almost every day of that tour. How on earth do you prepare for something like that?
It’s definitely a whirlwind! You have to find ways to make it different every day. We focus on the fact that every show you do, there are people where this is the first show they’ve ever seen! So you’ve got to remember that when you go on stage and preform like it is the first show.
The way we make it fresh is to change the set list up every night, so we try to play different songs – that’s the good thing about being a band for this long! We have several hundred songs to choose from, so you can definitely change shows up and make them special every night. But I think that the main thing is that you have to really love it, and be ready of that kind of work. It’s got to be something you really enjoy.
Hanson have toured with some amazing acts like Carly Rae Jepson and Hellogoodbye. If you could tour with anyone, who would it be and why?
I think it would be an older artist that we could learn from. Like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, or U2, or Paul McCartney, we just saw him recently, he was in our hometown. We’d love to tour with artists like that because you get so much you could learn from and so much time on stage that you could really pull some incredible wisdom out of that.