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Checking in with Hanson

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In case you haven’t kept tabs on Hanson since they were on Entertainment Weekly’s cover 10 years ago, here’s a quick primer on what’s changed for the Oklahoma trio — Isaac, now 26; Taylor, 24; and Zac, 21 — since ”MMMBop”:

(1) The key of that song: ”Dramatically,” Taylor notes.

(2) Their backstage rider: Now with beer. Preferably Corona or Newcastle.

(3) The number of people crammed onto their tour bus: When they hit the road next month, they’ll be joined by their three wives and four children. (Taylor has three; Isaac has one.)

We recently sat down with the brothers in the basement of the Virgin Megastore in Times Square, where they were waiting to mark the release of their fourth studio album, The Walk, with an in-store performance and signing. After they told us that retail stores trash their backstage areas worse than rock clubs — ”Well, they have less penises drawn on the wall, I will say that,” Isaac conceded — we found out why running their own label made The Walk their best CD yet (EW did give it a B+); why they wouldn’t stand next to Britney Spears; and why Carson Daly needs ”a knee in the nuts.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So it’s been 10 years since ”MMMBop.” What’s new?
Zac: We probably have more facial hair. [Laughs] It depends on how deep you want to go. One thing that I’ve been seeing recently is that what “MMMBop” represents to our fans has changed a lot. When it first came out, it was just this catchy ditty. Now, when we play that song, it’s sorta like this landmark of ”I’ve been a fan for 10 years. I’ve bought all the albums. I know the lyrics.”
Isaac: I think that the lyrics in the verses of ”MMMBop” have a lot more significance, because the song does actually talk about finding out what’s valuable to you and holding on to it. I think in many cases, our fans feel like their relationship with us has been something that’s really mattered to them.

Were your wives fans? How did you meet them?
Zac: We met all our wives at [Hanson] concerts, believe it or not. We were in Atlanta, and my wife got invited by somebody who was workin’ for us, and she brought Taylor’s wife.
Taylor: Our wives are actually good friends. At the time, Zac was dating somebody else, so they didn’t get together right away, but my wife and I started dating.
Zac: They got married after two years. We got married after five. But I was 15 when I started dating, so it wasn’t like five years really was that long.
Isaac: I basically spotted my wife in the middle of the crowd.
Zac: Their story is a little more rock-star, I guess.
Isaac: I was little more like [points into fake crowd], ”Hey, baby. You are really cute.” No, I thought she had a really cute smile, and she was a little bit shy, and she’s really pretty, and I just noticed her. She was about five rows from the stage.
Zac: He went to like four people on our crew: ”Hey, you. Okay, there’s a girl.” The guy’s like, ”No.” He’s like, ”Okay, sound guy. Listen, there’s a girl…”
Isaac: It wasn’t that bad. It was two people. I went to the main guitar tech right after the show. I was like, ”Dude, I really need your help. There’s this girl… She’s gonna leave.” And he goes, ”Dude, I really don’t have time right now. Talk to the stage manager.” So I got the stage manager to stop my wife.

Let’s talk about running your own label. I was just watching Strong Enough to Break [the documentary chronicling the making of Hanson’s third album, 2004’s Underneath, and their split from Island Def Jam, which is now available for free on iTunes], and it’s as good as any Behind the Music.
Taylor: In some ways, we joke that having a label is just a justification for us to have involvement in every facet.
Isaac: People always used to get annoyed, because we always [wanted to approve] everything.
Taylor: It made things move slower. ”Why can’t you just let us do our job?” ”But you don’t do it very well. So let us do your job.” And so here we are.
Isaac: Doing their job.
Zac: The label’s a lot more work, that’s the biggest thing…. You can’t blame anybody else when something goes wrong. When the s— hits the fan, it’s…your s—. [All laugh] We literally will work 16 hours a day, every day. When we’re in the studio, there’s times we don’t come home for a week. You’re just sleeping on the couch at the studio.

[To Zac] And you snore. I saw that in the documentary.
Zac: I do. That couch I?m sleeping on, mmm, it’s almost better than my bed. It’s a dangerous couch.
Isaac: I don’t know what the deal is with that couch.
Taylor: It’s dark, cold, and squishy back there.
Zac: It’s a bass trap, too.
Isaac: Which means it vibrates slightly, which is probably why you fall asleep.
Zac: It’s like a vibrating bed in a Motel 6.
Taylor: There’s a dark, cold, squishy, vibrating area in the back of the studio.
Zac: [Makes vibrating noise]
Isaac: Okay, Zac. Naughty! Naughty!

How would you describe the sound of The Walk? It’s nice to hear Zac singing more leads, like on ”Go”.
Zac: I like the fact that I’m singing a bunch of leads because for the first time, it really shows people what we’ve always said: There isn’t a lead singer. It’s funny to say, but we’re like Three Dog Night. They had three guys who sang vocals, and we’re a band with a R&B-based rhythm section.
Taylor: I think the record was really meant to bring together the influences of the last three records: Motown, gospel and blues, the more textured, even alt-country things of the last record. ”Great Divide” is the song we feel represents what’s unique about this album, sound-wise. [The band went to Africa to learn more about the AIDS crisis and recorded background vocals with a children’s choir. They’re donating all proceeds from the download of the song to a hospital there.] We’ve always kind of cryptically had stories and messages in our songs, but this time, we wanted it to be a little more clear.
Isaac: [Working with the children’s choir] was kinda revitalizing. Here are these kids, and what did they do? They actually came up with the part ”rock and roll, rock and roll” [in the song ”Been There Before”]. They thought that was really cool to say ”rock and roll,” so they wanted to say it more than one time. You look at how much fun they’re having, and it’s like, This is why we did music in the first place.

Watch Hanson perform ”Great Divide” with the children’s choir:

NEXT PAGE: ”We’ve always been a band that has been kind of polarizing. I’ve never met people who are like, ‘Hanson? Oh yeah, I’m kind of a fan.”’

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