Hanson on their evolution and 'longform' Roots and Rock 'n' Roll Tour
Most assume Hanson’s world ended after “Mmmbop,” that they were one-hit wonders who faded away after the bubblegum megahit, confined to episodes of VH1’s I Love the 90’s. True fans, however, know the band has recorded six studio albums (and even more if you count their live records and Christmas album) and tour approximately every two years (including this year’s Roots & Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour) — not to mention started a label in 2004, play recurring concerts in Jamaica, and created their own beer, an IPA they cheekily named “Mmmhops.”
They recently stopped by New York City for a leg of their 10-city Roots and Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour, playing two nights at Manhattan’s Irving Plaza. One ticket gets you in for both nights: The first, full of covers of hits by Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, and the Beach Boys, and the second, a journey through Hanson’s own records. How can a band you forgot existed be selling out two-night concerts in New York City? They have deeply, deeply connected fans.
It all starts with the band’s online fan club, Hanson.net. For $40, Hanson devotees get nice, shiny membership cards, access to pre-sale tickets, and even exclusive music. The band records a members-only EP of original songs each year — which members, it’s worth noting, are reluctant to share with those on the outside.
“We’ve had a fully developed fan club, in one form or another, since 1998,” Isaac tells EW. “It started off with a 32-page magazine that we wrote articles in, and put in exclusive photos and merchandise you could only get through being a fan club member.”
“We were on the Internet at a point, as a band, where our label at the time would be like, ‘Uh, yeah, we don’t care about your website,'” Zac says. “We were like, ‘No, no, it’s the future!’ … I remember talking to people who would be like, ‘Yeah, the only thing to do was go to Hanson.net or check my email. I don’t remember any other websites for a long time.'”
As Taylor sees it, the fan club, the now-defunct magazine, and the founding of their record label, 3CG Records (chronicled in their documentary Strong Enough to Break) are all part of a larger business plan — something that younger bands might not realize they should have. “They’re learning this more now, but a lot of bands aren’t told, ‘You’re an entrepreneur.’ When you become a band, you’re building this little cottage business. This is your corner store.” For two decades, without completely needing to “reinvent themselves,” Hanson has allowed their business to shift and grow in different ways, allowing the music to survive — and thrive — longer than the casual 1997 listener might have expected.
This is thanks in large part to the fans: Attending upwards of 25 shows in their lifetimes, following the band on tour, showing up for event after event. (Tulsa, Oklahoma, their hometown, even has an annual Hanson Day.)
“We really feel like the musical experience – the literal songs – are the first step, and then you’re trying to create a culture around it,” Zac explains. “It’s a lot to ask people: The tickets are sold as a 2-night set. You can’t buy them separately, so if you’re coming, you’re spending essentially the whole weekend with Hanson. For us, we like the idea of asking a little more of our fans, because we want to give them a little more than just a normal band.”
Hanson considers Roots and Rock ‘n’ Roll a “longform” concert – one long show stretched over two nights. As if that wasn’t enough Hanson for two days, they also lead a one-mile charity walk during the second day called Take The Walk, which raises money to fight poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa. That’s a lot of time spent with fans — and with Hanson.
“It’s a big vote of confidence to know there are people who will do that: Who trust you to say, ‘I’m going to come with you to Jamaica, I’m going to travel around the country and stay two nights in New York, two nights in Cleveland,’ whatever,” Zac says. “So as freeing as it is, there’s also a sense of responsibility. We’re like, ‘S—. It’s gotta be really good.'”
While Hanson’s tours and music have quietly met this mark of quality in the past two decades, the songs have also evolved over time, taking a decidedly positive turn. Largely gone are songs like “Yearbook” and “Weird” (“When you live in a cookie-cutter world / Being different is a sin”) and in their place are upbeat, funky jams like “Get the Girl Back” and “Thinking Bout Somethin’.”
“So many people would say, ‘Oh, you guys are so much more mature now,'” Isaac says. “That’s the go-to thing.”
“When really it’s like, ‘Yeah, we look older and our voices are an octave lower,'” Taylor adds. “We’re actually 50-year-olds,” he jokes. “That’s why we could sing at a young age — we were trained. We were already 25. Just very small people.”
“You can’t help but reflect your life on the music,” Zac says. “We don’t write autobiographically, but it’s part of what you do. In some ways, I think being a kid and going through life as all people do, when you’re defining yourself, there’s a lot of uncertainty. As adults, in some ways, the risks and the challenges are more outward, because you’re looking at the world, and you’re trying to survive. You’re trying to send that message of who you are, rather than trying to figure out who you are.”
Most of their lives have been spent in this band. Zac, Taylor, and Isaac were 10, 12, and 15, respectively, when their first album dropped, forcing the trio to go through the experience of “finding themselves” while standing directly in the public eye. But what would the now-grown men, each with a brood of young mini-Hansons of his own, be doing if “Hanson” had never formed?
“I just love creating things, so I would love to be a chef, an architect,” Taylor says. “I love photography — I don’t know which of those things would win out.”
“I think my cerebral nature would probably lend itself to either being a writer or a therapist of some sort,” Isaac chimes in, to which Taylor quips, “They say therapists usually need therapy… so you could definitely be a therapist.”
“I would probably be some sort of visual artist,” Zac offers. “I’ve always loved drawing comics, I’ve always loved painting. I’d be an illustrator or designer.”
But this hypothetical parallel universe is almost too much to fathom for Taylor.
“Once you take the music out, it’s hard, because that’s who you are,” he says. “It’s kind of like asking, ‘What would you do if you weren’t you?'”