Taylor Hanson on 'MMMBop': 'You can’t think that you’re going to run from it'
Hanson stopped ’90s kids’ hearts last week with a gorgeous, acoustic performance of their 1997 hit “MMMBop” on ABC’s Greatest Hits. EW caught up with Taylor Hanson to chat about that widely-shared episode, the new music (essentially three albums!) the band has planned leading up to next year’s 20th anniversary of Middle of Nowhere, and of course, what’s next on tap for Hanson Brothers Beer Company (makers of MMMHops).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When ABC approached you for Greatest Hits, was it a no-brainer? Or did you have to stop and think about it?
TAYLOR HANSON: Well, we’re all about moving forward, so any time there’s a historic-focused show or event, we always measure that. But we’re so proud of what we’ve come from, we feel like it’s exciting to be almost 20 years since that record [Middle of Nowhere] came out, and almost 25 since we started [as a band]. So once we saw the context of the show, and the chance to really just breathe a fresh life into the song in front of the receptive audience, we thought it was a great opportunity.
How did that version of “MMMBop” come together?
“MMMBop,” like a lot of our songs, starts with a very core song itself, which you can sit down and play on a piano or a guitar. I mean, with most good songs, that’s the measure: Can you sit down and sing it, or play it, and will it stand up? “MMMBop” has always been able to be performed that way.
In fact, if you go back to 1997, the first televised performance of “MMMBop” was us performing acoustically on The Jenny McCarthy Show on MTV. So if you look at that performance, it’s strikingly the same structure — and here we are almost 20 years later. With that [Greatest Hits] performance, we wanted to actually go back to the way we shared the song at radio stations all over the world when we walk into the studio, or in our living room when we first wrote it. So the performance on Greatest Hits is both new and old. I think it plays into the whole idea of that show, and what people are excited about.
Do you ever get sick of playing it?
The short answer is no. We’re always proud of playing it. As you know, as a fan, we rarely just play “MMMBop” when we’re playing music. But at this point, we’ve probably played “Penny & Me” or “Where’s the Love” almost as many times, because when you actually play as a band, oftentimes you’re walking out and playing a set. You’re not simply walking out and playing your biggest hit.
I think what we have always leaned towards is being proud of what you’ve done, but always wanting to add things to that story. And when you have a song that was as ubiquitous as “MMMBop,” you can’t think that you’re going to run from it. You’re always going to be adding to it. And that’s just a very unique position to be in. It’s very rare to have a single song that has reached that far.
Some of your kids are now as old as you guys were when you started. Is that weird for you guys? Are you ready for Hanson: The Next Generation?
When we did The Jenny McCarthy Show ’97, I was my son’s age — so that is pretty surreal. And I won’t say that it doesn’t give you pause when you think about it. But it’s pretty amazing to be dads to these really cool kids. That’s great. You’re just trying to do your best to not screw them up in some way. Hopefully your own past and your own history doesn’t weigh too heavily on them.
You mentioned those two big anniversaries next year: 25 years as a band, and 20 years since Middle of Nowhere and “MMMBop” debuted. What do you have planned?
We’ll announce the details, hopefully, later this fall, but we are going to do an anniversary tour next year, for the next full record. And we want to celebrate being this far in, and having been able to share music for this long.
You’re releasing a special edition LP this fall, Loud + Play, and half of those songs were on a Hanson.net Fan Club EP. How do you decide what songs make the Fan Club EPs, which come out every year, and which you’ll save for the wide-release album?
It’s a good question. Some of that stuff is subliminal. When you’ve had a relationship, creatively, between three people for more than two decades, there tends to be an unsaid mood that takes hold. And oftentimes you’ll find yourself in a year, and… It’s a little bit like when you eat something salty, then you want something sweet. If your last record was salty, your next record, you want it to be sweet. So I think a lot of times you can feel there’s an overarching theme, and you begin to archive songs that you feel align with that.
So I think the real, defining difference is, there’s a broad sense, always, that new songs are potentials for new records. And when we approach the fan club projects, we really try and start the process right then. We don’t usually include the idea that’s waiting. We treat it as this exercise of the mind, and of creativity, and we dive in. And we say today, on Wednesday, we’re going to create something. And the process really brings a song to life. So you’re not really pulling from the same database, in a way. It’s almost like two different disciplines.
So if your 2013 album Anthem was salty or sweet, how is the new album in 2017 going to contrast with that?
Anthem was more guitar-driven. I wouldn’t say it’s harder, but it definitely was pushing on the theme of anthemic songs. So it was not particularly designed as an intimate or introspective-type record as a whole. It was looking outward, driving forward. And I think with the amount of time that’s gone between the two, the methodology changes a little bit. There’s not quite as much yin and yang because we’ve had time to cook.
My hope is that this next record and the work that you’ll hear from us going into the next couple years is just true to the messages that have kept us going, which is that you’ve gotta be bold, you’ve gotta be putting your whole force behind whatever you’re passionate about. The thing that’s caused us to do what we do for so long is that commitment, and the willingness to take risks, and to really be focused on making things that you believe in.
You’re also releasing a new Christmas album!
We are planning to return with a second Christmas album next Christmas. 20 years later!
Will it be all new songs?
It will be all new. Like Snowed In… Snowed In was one of the favorite records we’ve made — not only one of the fan favorites, but for us to make it it really was one of the most fun and rewarding records.
Why is that?
I think because we didn’t have too much time to think about it. It was made in several weeks, and we were able to tap into our love of the celebration in that record. It’s a party Christmas record. It’s not an overly syrupy record, it’s meant to be kind of a celebratory time. It’s very much a rock ‘n’ roll Christmas record, so I think for the next Christmas album, we’ll try and continue the legacy of that record, and evolve it and have some new classics. And like we’ve done on Snowed In, we’ll definitely introduce some new originals. But that fits into the whole excitement: It’s time. It’s finally time.
And maybe the most important question: Do you have any new beers coming out?
Yes, we do! We’re introducing some seasonal beers. We’re introducing the beer that is inspired by our festival, The Hop Jam. It’s called the Hop Jam Festive Ale. That’s a saison. Everybody tries it and loves it, it’s a great summer beer. It’s really refreshing, it’s got orange peel and coriander, and it’s just a really delicious beer. Then in the fall, you’ll see an amber from us, which is a very traditional, earthy style, and we’ve got an imperial stout that will come out in the winter. I love dark beers, so it’s almost like we’re working our way to the dark stuff. On a personal level, I’ll be fulfilled!