Band of brothers: Hanson bounces back with cheery new album

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September 19, 2013

by Alan Sculley

Everything may seem just fine in the world of Hanson these days — and things are going reasonably well for the trio of brothers.

The group’s latest CD, “Anthem,” has been released and Hanson is starting the first leg of a North American tour that visits theaters and large clubs — including Friday night’s date at the Depot in Salt Lake City.

Hanson will perform at the Depot on Sept. 20. The band of brothers was made famous in the ’90s from their hit single “MMMBop.” Photo: Jiro Schneider

What’s more, “Anthem” is a particularly cheery album, full of the kind of pop-rock — ahem, anthems — that should have audiences singing and clapping along to the songs.

The tone of “Anthem” is especially striking considering what happened about a year ago.

“I think this record was an interesting one because we really reached a point in 2012 where this record almost didn’t get made,” Zac Hanson said in a mid-August phone interview. “It was the first time, really ever, we had come up against a challenge that was maybe bigger than this band, in the sense of it was hard to overcome, just personal, not taking care of what’s most important. And you do something long enough, you begin to take those relationships with each other, the things that come so easily for so long, for granted.”

Noting that he and his brothers, Isaac and Taylor, aren’t the type to air their dirty laundry in public, Hanson didn’t delve into ugly details, but it’s clear that the normal sibling harmony had gone off key.

“I think the best way to say it is just we became overworked,” Hanson said, noting the time invested into various Hanson business concerns had taken a toll. “We run the (record) label. We manage ourselves. We produce the records. All the projects we do in addition to music, and things like Take the Walk (a charitable effort by the band), all the merchandise, and we’re starting a beer company, all of those things (were happening). And then if you do all of those things and then you get to go do the music, but the music is sort of burdened by all of those things, your relationship is burdened by all of the stresses of everything around you.

“You haven’t taken the time to sort of clean the closet, do the spring cleaning. Then it was just sort of emotionally explosive,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of care given to each other. It wasn’t one moment or one thing or one disagreement. It was really an overall sense that the music wasn’t getting the emotional energy. We weren’t taking the time for the music because it had somehow, one way or another, become that extra thing. ‘Oh no, we’ve got to go do the music.’ So it was sort of a hard reset.”

The brothers decided to take last summer off, take stock of things and see if they could repair the problems for the group. Hanson said things never reached a point where they thought of ending the group they started in Tulsa, Okla., as kids.

“I won’t say that we didn’t think about that just because you’re always thinking about the future and different projects and things,” Hanson said. “But I think what we came to was this wasn’t a decision that any of us were happy with. Even when you’re struggling, when you have a great history and great relationship and a working experience together that’s so good, you’re kind of going, ‘OK, I know something is a little wrong right now, but it’s worth figuring out how to fix this.’ ”

When the summer 2012 was over, the three brothers returned with renewed purpose, and Hanson thinks that feeling translates into the “Anthem” album.

“There was really a sense when we came back together that we were fighting for this band, that as a unit, we were all ready to sort of start again,” he said. “You hear it in the music. So many of the songs, I think, are about, songs like ‘Already Home,’ which is about saying look around you. You’re already there. You’ve already got what matters. Or, ‘You Can’t Stop Us,’ which is fighting for what you believe in and not letting anything get in your way.”

That spirit extended to the music on “Anthem,” which predominantly is populated by songs like “Fired Up,” “You Can’t Stop Us” and “Cut Right Through Me” with big guitars, big pop hooks and big choruses.

“Calling the record ‘Anthem’ was really us looking back at those songs after we put it together and going ‘These songs are bigger. There’s a bigger sound to it,’ ” Hanson said. “Whether they’re someone else’s anthem yet, they’re an anthem for us. The messages of these songs are our messages, so we can declare these song anthems because they’re already a battle cry for who we are as a band.”

Who Hanson is musically tends to change a bit from album to album, Hanson said, and that’s been consistent throughout a career that took off in 1997. That’s when the three brothers, then ranging in age from 11 to 16, released their first major label album, “Middle of Nowhere.” Featuring the smash single, “MMMBop,” the album sold nearly 4 million copies in the United States alone and immediately made the Hanson brothers teen pop stars.

Unlike many such acts, though, the three brothers all played instruments and wrote their own songs. As they’ve grown older and continued to release albums and tour, the music has matured and Hanson has met the difficult challenge escaping their teen pop beginnings and becoming a band of adults (all three brothers are married and have kids) with a legitimate long-term music career. And over the course of the five studio albums that have followed “Middle of Nowhere,” Hanson has continued to expand on the pop-rock sound that the group established on that first album. Not surprisingly, “Anthem” has a different musical personality from the previous Hanson album, 2010’s “Shout It Out.”

” ‘Shout It Out,’ was very piano-driven, and so I think what happened (on ‘Anthem’) was there was just this comeback of the guitar,” Hanson said. “The guitar rose again, and with that, there were a lot of riffs and driving melodies.

“I think you see over a career, from our first album to our second album and then our third album, and it sort of, you see a little more blues and rock, then you see a little more R&B and pop, you see a little more blues and rock,” he said. “There are certain qualities we can’t get away from about the way we like to write songs. There’s a pop quality, a singable, I think, quality to what we write that even in our most R&B or most rock, we still like to write a chorus that people will remember. We’re not a very prog rock band. There’s just not much of that in our influences. But this is definitely, instead of being primarily influenced by Otis Redding, there’s a little more AC/DC in this record.”

The sound of “Anthem” has Hanson excited about the group’s current tour of the U.S. and Canada, which runs through Nov. 20. Hanson noted that while new material will be featured, the group will play songs going back to “MMMBop” in its show.

“So much of this record was written really thinking about the live experience,” he said. “This album, even more than others, we wrote these parts where you really heard, ‘Oh man, it’s going to be awesome when the audience sings “You Can’t Stop Us” or claps along right there.’ And so, I’m particularly excited to hear this music with the audience.”

Source: Daily Herald

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