By Todd Gingell
Far from content with slipping in to pop-culture obscurity as a sugary late 90’s musical phenomenon, Hanson have gone on to forge a career of continuing success that would bring envy to many other world class bands. Brothers Isaac, Taylor, and Zac own their own record label (3CG), have eight albums under their belt, a dozen successful world tours, multiple global top forty hits, twenty years without a line up change, and even their own brand of beer (fantastically titled ‘Mmmhops’).
On the cusp of returning to Australia in August to promote their latest release, Anthem, Zac is excited to be heading back down under. That said, it can certainly take a bit more effort to travel so far with Hanson’s impressive DIY ethic.
“The last time we were there was the end of 2012. We’re actually really happy with that, because up until this run of shows it’s been more like five or seven years between tours in Australia. In general we’re a band that runs it’s own label, we manage ourselves, and kind of do everything – for better or worse – so you’re always trying to improve and have this blessing and a curse of having fans all over the world! With a small team it can be hard to make that happen.”
“(Being independent) can definitely make it harder, just because there isn’t some big machine, or major label partner who automatically picks up the record a lot of the time. Globally the music industry is changing so much, so I think it’s more important than ever about who you’re partnered with, because it’s harder to be successful with so much white noise.”
At 28, Zac Hanson has spent the vast majority of his life succeeding in an industry that has changed dramatically since Hanson’s debut in 1995. Beginning their success on a major label with the now defunct Island Def Jam records, Zac is an exceptionally seasoned and knowledgeable hand at elaborating on a huge breadth of subjects relating to the current state of the music industry.
“I feel like (with Island Def Jam) we jumped of a burning ship (laughs). The thing about us is we do this because we love making music, and everything we do surrounds and facilitates that. One thing we’ve never been afraid of as a band is to find other ways to help people connect with our music. I think historically when we started out, if you were a band in the early 90’s and you were doing stuff surrounding your music then people though “Oh, you’re selling out”. For us, we just look at everything as content to fuel, whether it be a documentary, or a photo book about cool things we did on that tour, crazy streaming events, or Hanson beer. We do things we’re excited about, or represent who we are, and let our fans not just with the music, but the culture and character behind the music. That’s always been our personal thing.”
“The music industry is changing, so what does that mean? I think it means the established music for the last eighty years has done shit to protect intellectual property, and what’s happened is the music industry is finally suffering from their mistakes, and just now thinking about trying to catch up with the problems they’ve left themselves. You have this conundrum where you’re thinking “What’s the next great idea?” Music is still important enough that people identify with it, people care about it, they’re consuming it like crazy, and it’s the number one thing talked about on Twitter. (Music) is this amazing thing as a business man and entrepreneur owning a small record label going “What’s the next play? How do we make it important enough that people will pay for it and care for it?” So you have to set about doing that in a lot of different ways.”
Although very much related, history shows us just how combustible bands can be when siblings share the limelight; Oasis, The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Replacements, The Black Crowes, even The chipper Everlys didn’t speak to each other for a decade. In light of these examples, Zac concisely conveys what has made Hanson a cohesive unit for over two decades, especially through their formative teenage years.
“What being brothers gives you is the genetic connectivity of your vocal chords. The natural quality that singer together has when brothers do it. That’s why there’s so many great historic brother bands who sing well together. It does jack shit for keeping you together! The advantage of growing together is you have an influence on each other, so your musical tastes stay relatively similar, but sometimes one guy’s in to something horrible, and you just absolutely hate it. There’s such a balance between your bands sound and trying to innovate with every record. You never want to be stagnant, and there’s no point in making the same record twice. Even if you have tendencies you can’t get away from, you need to at least feel like you’re making a new record. Otherwise you won’t be excited or passionate, and have that drive to create something great. It’s just a balance, we’re a democracy but… not really (laughs). The guy with the most passion usually wins out. If you can win the argument then your idea wins.”
In a modern culture plagued by fabricated, flash-in-the-pan boy bands bore from the greed of reality TV producers, it’s curious to hear what Zac thinks of the current climate from the perspective of someone that was in a young all-male pop group that formed organically long before the current trend began, all while expressing his inspirations for continuing to create music.
“We get asked about (doing) reality TV all the time. I think because the combination of us sounds like a perfect reality TV show. It’s a band, they have a business together, they’re a family, there’s lots of kids, and music. We say “That sounds great, let’s make something about making music!”, but then it always falls apart because nobody wants to actually know anything about anything. Reality TV is as scripted as a sitcom from the 90’s. I think all artists, young artists, old artists, TV shows, records produced by other people but then putting a face on it, in the end great music – or music just catchy enough or creative enough – comes through in the end. The rest is just good marketing, but if there’s nothing there then people don’t remember it.”
“There’s plenty of artists people remember but don’t care about their songs like “Remember that person who did that stupid thing on TV? Oh yeah!”. I remember more Kanye West moments on television where he’s saying something dumb then I do his songs. He’s probably talented enough that people should remember his influence, but he’s just an example”.
“I’m an artist, and we love to make music and write great songs. The kind of people I look up to are these artists that have been around for thirty, forty, fifty years, and you go to their concert and there’s three generations of fans. People who caught them at all different moments, but their music was still relevant. So that’s kind of what we look to, and you want to use all avenues to get people access to your music and excited about what you do. We always try to make choices we think we’ll be proud of down the road, so that’s why there aren’t any bad Hanson sitcoms, or anything like that”.
Smartly placing reality TV aside created plenty of room for something far more tasteful to occupy the brothers’ legacy. Namely, beer. Beyond boozy outside endeavours, Zac welcomely expresses advice for bands up and coming in through the ambiguity of today’s industry.
“In our defence, we would make beer whether it had a kitschy name like Mmmhops or not (laughs). It’s something we always thought was really cool. And dude, what do people do when they listen to music? You go to a concert and you drink beer and listen to a show! We just feel like, it’s like “Duh! Music and beer? Hello!”.
“I think… the best advice has little to do with specifically being a band. Like always have somebody around you who’s not on your pay roll, so that there’s someone there who doesn’t benefit or lose out from your success or failure. (Someone) that can talk to you honestly, and other things, like the only way you’re going to survive in any relationship is by putting your ego and self interests aside as often as possible, and taking care of the relationships around you. That’s everything, y’know? That’s whether or you’re married, or in a business relationship or company, or in a band. It’s just about managing humanity and the condition we’re in. For bands specifically I’d say if you’re just starting out, make sure you actually know what you’re doing. Don’t do this just to become famous. Fame is fun, but it’s so few and far between, and so fleeting. Spend the time figuring out what you want to become famous for, before you try to figure out how to become famous, y’know?”
Graciously going well over the allotted interview time, Zac finishes up by squeezing in what fans can expect from Hanson’s latest effort, Anthem.
“It’s called Anthem because it sounded like a bad ass title, but the reality is there’s this certain side to this music that really fits with that. We thought a lot about the live experience when we were writing this record. There’s several songs where you just sort of hear the part the audience is supposed to sing back, and that’s a core part of what these songs are”.
“We’re a pop rock band so there’s lots of piano on our records, but this record the guitar kind of makes it come back. That’s why I think you’ve heard us reference bands like AC/DC, just because the kind of rock n’ roll we listen to is the stuff that AC/DC formed out of, so there’s a little bit of blues riffs and big bombastic drums. I channel Bon (Scott) whenever I can (laughs). There’s still some core Hanson things though, like we love harmonizing melody, and hopefully the kinds of things that get stuck in your head. This one’s maybe just a bit more reckless abandon, and a size we haven’t really explored before on a Hanson album”.
Source: The 59th Sound