Hanson isn’t here to offer advice to the next generation of pop phenoms -- but if they were, the wisdom they’ve gained is priceless.
“Because we started young, we often get asked to give advice to other young artists,” says Zac Hanson, 32, the band’s youngest member, who was just six years old when they began making music together more than 25 years ago.
“Usually it’s sort of like, ‘Why do we need to give advice? I don’t even know that guy. He’ll be fine,’” he continues. “But I think probably the best advice anyone can have is to study the history, study the artists who came before you because that will make you a better writer, that will make you a better performer, that will give you a better understanding of the landscape you’re going into.”
Including, he says, the daunting, tempting and fleeting fame game.
“We were lucky that we grew up really loving music that was before our time and studying that,” he says. “Studying the craft of the song, but also seeing that red hot spotlight, it comes and goes and you don’t really get to control that. It’s something that you get to be a part of. You get to sort of share that spotlight with a lot of other people, sort of like a revolving door, and maybe it comes back around to you, maybe it goes and never comes back. I think that’s really the key to surviving fame, to not think that you represent fame and not think that it makes or breaks you. That’s not why you got there in the first place and it’s gonna be long gone before you are.”
Hanson has hardly disappeared from the spotlight since their debut album, Middle of Nowhere, and their breakout hit, “MMMBop,” left a permanent stamp in the annals of pop culture 20 years ago. The GRAMMY-nominated trio of brothers from Tulsa, Oklahoma, spent the two decades that followed moving on from their major label deal, creating their own independent label and releasing five proper studio albums between 2000 and 2013. This year, in honor of two milestone anniversaries, Hanson doubled down with a greatest hits album, appropriately titled Middle of Everywhere and featuring the new single “I Was Born,” a world tour and a long-awaited holiday follow-up to 1997’s Snowed In, titled (also, appropriately), Finally, It’s Christmas.
“In our case, we were always doing it for ourselves. We were doing it for our own drive,” Taylor Hanson, 34, says, delicately acknowledging the rabid, enduring attention of their female fans, many of whom have grown up with and continued to follow the band religiously for 20 years.
“Of course, as a young guy, a bunch of girls screaming is not a bad thing,” he allows, with brother Isaac Hanson, 37, chiming in, “It's a much better view than a bunch of guys screaming.”
“I think all of us, at some point or another along the way, pretty early on, I think, all kinda said to ourselves, ‘We want to be the kinda people that we're proud of being,’” Isaac continues. “Here we are doing this work that we love doing, but we want it to be about the work and about the job. There's also kind of an advantage to being an underdog because at the end of the day -- despite all of the, shall we say, popularity and fame that was initially thrust onto us in the first few years of our career -- at the same time, there was a lot of underdog factors going on.
“You're these young kids who are a band, but people think you’re something that you're not really,” he explains. “There's just a lot to prove and a lot to sort out, and a lot that maybe only time can prove is the truth. I think in a lot of ways, it kinda kept our heads screwed on pretty straight because we didn't take a ton of time, shall we say, sitting around and smelling the flowers.”
While the brothers remained largely free from becoming tabloid fodder as they publicly came of age, Isaac’s latter statement is not to imply that they didn’t enjoy at least some of the, shall we say, perks associated with being teen heartthrobs. All three met their now-wives “in some form or another” at their shows. Later, while playing a game of “Truth or Drink” (see below), the trio playfully opted to plead the fifth when asked whether they had gotten together with other fans during their bachelor days.
“They all [the wives] know that the reason why we met them was because they weren’t, like, screaming and throwing themselves at us at all,” Isaac says.
“They're all like, ‘We won!’” Taylor quips. “I mean, you hope that they are fans to a degree. Otherwise, they'd be nuts. They'd go crazy! You have to appreciate what you do. … If you start with the idea of, ‘Oh, are our wives fans of what we do?’ Hopefully you are as big a fan or a bigger fan of them, and that's the whole idea. The premise of them being enthusiastic about our occupation is part of the package.”
Now, as it seems to have always been, the brothers’ personalities are obvious within their respective public roles. Taylor, lead singer and keyboardist, is calm, even and friendly, and when he speaks, manages to deliver honest and thoughtful responses in pitch-perfect soundbite form. “He’s the serious brother,” Isaac ribs.
Isaac’s aura is warm and self-deprecating, with an easy laugh as he admits to being “a little bit OCD” and jokes, “Thank goodness we were in a band because I would have never, ever found a woman.”
“It’s still amazing that he did,” Zac fires back, clearly still a vivacious kid at heart with a passion for video games and 3D printers. With 12 kids between the three brothers, Zac has proudly taken on Christmas morning toy duty and once, he recalls, taught the younger generation how to “destroy” pumpkins with large replica swords.
“It’s very safe, actually,” he explains, an oversized, mischievous grin sweeping across his face, “as long as you’re on the right end.”
“We’re just good midwestern boys,” Taylor sighs.
“We’re also training them for the zombie apocalypse,” Isaac jokes.
The younger Hansons take center stage in the video for the band’s uplifting new single, which tackles “the challenge of not settling,” Zac says. “Our livelihood, our story has been being young kids and saying, ‘I want to make music, let’s do it.’ … I try not to compare my age when I started to my kids, because I don't think it's fair. I was six, right? We had this perfect storm of three brothers who were facilitating each other and so I don't think, outside of that kind of scenario, where just kinda lightning strikes, would you ever have someone that young pursuing it as strongly and as actively as we did.” (Their children range in age from one to 15 years old.)
“I think there’s certain abilities you can see in kids,” he muses, contemplating whether he expects any of them to pursue a musical career. “Taylor’s kids are the oldest, but you can see there’s creativity and musicality. It’s still a big question mark if that’s something they will choose.”
Interestingly, each of their eldest sons, respectively, already appear to be following in their fathers’ footsteps.
“It's funny, though, Isaac's oldest son is playing guitar, Taylor's oldest son is playing keyboard and my oldest son just started playing drums,” Zac says.
“I mean, they’re around music all the time,” Taylor continues. “If somebody didn't pursue music, in between our kids, I'd be surprised. .. Performing is a great, amazing gift, and if you have it, you kinda have to do it. If you don't have it, you can't fabricate it. So, the question is really whether or not they have that need. We joke it's kinda like having an addiction that you turn into a job.
“Making music, whether it's in the studio or onstage, if it's there, then of course you want them to do whatever makes them happy,” he adds. “That's really all you can hope for.”
“And then just pray lots and lots about it,” Isaac cracks.
As the band’s whirlwind 2017 draws to a close, Taylor, Zac and Isaac are looking forward to observing an unwritten holiday agreement: two weeks, no work.
“It's like, ‘Hey, I'm not gonna ask you to go to the studio, you're not gonna ask me to go to the studio. There's gonna be no conference calls, there's gonna be no planning. If I see ya, it's gonna be because we're watching a football game or we're eating some pie,” Zac says.
“Brainstorming sessions in the kitchen are generally frowned upon,” adds Isaac.
But come 2018, the band already has a major project underway. Fans have speculated that Hanson is gearing up to embark on an orchestra-backed tour, but they aren’t talking beyond to say that it will involve “a lot of work” and “a lot of people.”
“We've been working on a project that [is] kinda like a bucket list, and that's kinda all we can say for the moment,” Zac says.
“The main takeaway for us is that part of the reason we get to do what we do is because we have that community of fans that we've had that direct connection with for a long time,” Taylor adds. “We feel like the fans that have followed us in a way have earned the fact that, we don't want to settle for anything. We want to do things that are challenging. Next year's music is -- making new music and playing special shows, and keeping it exciting. Making sure that every time we announce something, people are genuinely going, 'Oh, I can't wait to see that.'”
See more from Hanson’s ET interview below, including a revealing and hilarious game of “Truth or Drink” with their signature Hanson Brothers Beer Co. MmmHops Pale Ale.