Where the Boys Are
An older, taller Hanson take to the studio to map their return from "Nowhere"--and the teen idols sound more in synch with Buddy Holly than the Backstreet nation.
Whoa. Zac, the drummer for Hanson, is seven feet tall! Okay, not really. But when you crack the door to the studio where the teen-bro trio is jamming between recording sessions, the first thing you notice is that the pip-squeak is gone, his lanky ringer being a ponytailed, piccolo snare-popping Iron Giant. Only later, when they line up for a photo, will you realize Zac, now 14, remains an inch or two shorter than his older brothers and is still a baby-faced cutup, despite the impressive growth spurt. In any case, says Taylor, 16, ”We do have a massive drummer.”
”Because I used to be a scrawny little boy,” jokes Zac, doing Dana Carvey as Schwarzenegger, ”and now I am buff!”
A few changes await the patient faithful, agrees Isaac, 18, the guitarist and elder statesman. ”We had fans respond in all kinds of ways just when I cut my hair…”
Zac chimes in: ”We’d get phone calls on the hotline that we have to give fans information, and it’d be like, ‘Isaac…[sob]… we’re…sup…porting…you…[choking sob]…and your haircut!”’
”Then you’ll get the reverse response,” adds the shorn one. ”Not that that’s important. But it’ll be interesting to see how people respond to the new record and how things have changed a bit there.”
The inevitable segue would be to report how Hanson’s sound is maturing. Yet there was already a fair amount of adolescent sophistication in their 1997 debut, Middle of Nowhere — seriously, have Sugar Ray, Sting, Diane Warren, or Madonna written a catchier melody or more pungent lyric in recent years than ”MMMBop”? — so you hope the brothers don’t grow too quickly out of their preternaturally accomplished pop-soul.
Judging from the jams the boys offhandedly pump out, they’ve become a very credible live rock unit. But this still untitled follow-up, due out next spring, is being recorded the old-fashioned way — piecemeal — with plenty of overdubs and loops. It is ”a little more band, a little more rock & roll, a little less poppy,” promises Taylor. Disregard rumors that they don’t play on their own recordings. ”We’re not singing on the album,” Taylor corrects. ”Rob Zombie’s doing all the vocals.” More believably, they report cameos by Jonny Lang and John Popper on the sessions, which are being laid down in L.A. with Nowhere coproducer Stephen Lironi (brought in after an aborted start with Ric Ocasek).
Two and a half years ago, Hanson represented the face of ”teen pop.” They’ll reemerge in an environment where that means five guys with goatees busting Debbie Allen moves. But the brothers have a more historical context for youthful vim. ”I was thinking about what was so great about the ’50s,” says Isaac. ”All those guys — Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Elvis, Chuck Berry — were under 21 when they first burst onto the scene…. That’s what was fun about having Jonny Lang come in. He can play like nobody’s business, and he’s a really great guy, and he’s…”
…a fellow former almost-sort-of-pip-squeak? Exactly. May teen pop-rock tower forever.