Taylor Hanson on Hanson's long-awaited holiday album, Finally It's Christmas
Whether or not you've been paying attention, 2017 has been a major year for Hanson. The band of brothers celebrated their 25th anniversary as a group; marked the 20th anniversary of their debut album, Middle of Nowhere, and smash hit "MMMBop"; headed out on a world tour; and now, just in time for the 20th anniversary of their first Christmas album, Snowed In, they're releasing a long-awaited follow-up, Finally It's Christmas.
It's a record fans have been begging for for years, and they won't be disappointed. The album features covers of modern classics like Paul McCartney's "A Wonderful Christmas Time" and Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas," a mash-up of the church staples "Joy to the World" and "Go Tell It on the Mountain" ("Joy to the Mountain"), and four new original songs, including the titular track and the '50s-style bop "Til New Years Night."
EW caught up with Taylor Hanson by phone to talk about having their kids sing on the album (Taylor, Isaac, and Zac have 12 children among the three of them), what it's like to sit down and write a Christmas song, and what we can expect from the forthcoming "Finally It's Christmas" music video, due next month.
Finally It's Christmas is out now.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You released Snowed In in 1997. Why, after all these years, was it time to do another Christmas album?
TAYLOR HANSON: This whole year has been about celebrating the [band's 25th] anniversary — and simply having that history is worth acknowledging. We had debated a follow-up Christmas album for a long time for a couple reasons. One, [Snowed In] was actually one of our favorite albums to make. And two, it really has been something that many fans have come back to for two decades, and every year we get asked, "When are you making another Christmas album?"
This is the kind of thing that you don't just do on autopilot. It's has to be special. It has to have all of the energy and focus of making your next major studio album. We wanted to make sure we had all of the material and all of the focus to make it really great, and we felt like enough time had passed that we could genuinely bring a fresh energy and enough of a different perspective from that first one, which has now been a lifetime ago.
That's true. But it gives you so much more work! You did the Greatest Hits album, the anniversary tour, then this album, and you're going on a smaller Christmas tour …
Well, I'll say this. I think this is something that might help you with your even deeper understanding of the band: We actually like what we do. [Laughs] So it is work, it's been an incredibly full year. I think I've had a cold for six months. But it's incredibly satisfying and exciting to sit down and create music, be really proud of it, and then have a lot of different things happening together that gives people sort of a menu of things to plug into.
This was a full year. As we all go home, we'll come off the road, fans will go back and visit their families. We thought, this is almost a final gift for this year for people, to say, "Hey, Merry Christmas. It's taken us 20 years to add something else to your relationship with this band." It's been long enough that it's time for an update.
I remember you talking about Snowed In being one of your favorites, partly because the recording process was really fast. Was it the same feeling with this one?
The interesting thing about this record is when we started off making it, it was like making our seventh studio album. Because remember, we recorded our last album [Anthem] in 2012. So there was a high intensity, high energy, high excitement just to be back in the studio breaking down and arranging songs, recording things from scratch. But it's very different from Snowed In, because 20 years ago, it was our second or third album. In this case, it's our seventh, eighth, ninth, depending on how you count it. And it was a fast album — we made the record in basically six weeks.
Does that include writing the new songs?
Uh huh. In all fairness, "Finally It's Christmas" was written and has been around for a while. But it was the only song that was already written. It was percolating as the title track for a while because of the nature of its title. The slow drumroll: Finally, it's Christmas.
I was looking back at an interview from last year where you'd teased new Christmas music and you'd said, "Finally, it's time." You'd dropped an Easter egg that I hadn't picked up.
Yeah. There are the things you're saying to people who don't really care about the details, and then, as a band that has fans that are actually following the details, there's things you're saying to those that are really paying attention. It's kind of a fun little tip of the hat because we know that every single Christmas, somebody is saying to us, "Come on, when's the Christmas album?" Well, finally, it's a Christmas album.
When you're sitting down to write a Christmas song, how is that process different from normal songwriting?
Our education as songwriters over the years has played to our benefit with that. It's hard, when you first start writing songs, to walk into a room and say, "This is a song about white trucks!" But you learn to be disciplined, and then it's really just the same. I mean, Christmas music has its roots as a religious holiday, of course. But for most people, it's an extremely nostalgic time period. It's a time capsule. So you immediately think, "How do I capture a feeling of nostalgia, of reminiscing about the past?" So there's definitely a vintage feeling that comes into play.
You have a box that you kind of have to function within. And that's something that I don't think is talked about enough: I think for creative people, when the options are endless, sometimes it's almost harder. So when you walk into a room and say, "Hey, this is a Christmas song," you know that you have to function within a certain field.
How did you develop this record's sound and choose the songs you wanted to cover?
I think a lot of times where Christmas albums fall short is when people think they almost need to be a different artist to do a Christmas album. You'll have a rock band do a record and it sounds like a crooner record. They're trying to be a Christmas act. And in our case, it was like, "No, it's Hanson's Christmas." It's a celebratory record, it's earnest in places, it's fun, and it's kind of rock and roll. Everybody knows that our origins are soul music and early rock and roll — that's an important element. The record definitely has a '50s, '60s leaning in a lot of songs [we wrote], and also in a lot of songs we chose. We're emulating more of the Aretha Franklin "Winter Wonderland," and you've got Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmas Time" reinvented, and then Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas," which is definitely a modern classic.
That one definitely feels like an outlier in this list.
It is, but it's a modern classic. It's become a song that you hear everywhere in ice skating rinks across the world!
Who are the kids whose voices we hear on "Happy Christmas" and a couple of the other tracks? Are those your kids?
That's our kids! We got all of our kids in a room, and it was kind of crazy. We didn't really want to do "Jingle Bells" and those other songs as actual songs. But we thought, "20 years ago we were still pretty much kids, and now we have kids, so how can we connect those dots?"
We did it like, if you were sitting in the living room with your family singing some Christmas songs and going to look at Christmas lights, what would you sing? So we just sort of sat around with them and sang along, and put the mics by the kids. You hear mostly River, Penny, Everett, Monroe … and then you hear Shepherd make some comment at the end of the Rudolph song — he says, "That's not how it goes!"
That was really fun. It was one of those elements that was kind of an experiment. We said, "Well, let's try it. And if we end up with something good, we'll use it." It was very low-pressure.
It feels connected to the "I Was Born" video too, which also featured your kids.
It is, yeah. That's our world now: Everyone's got kids. Everyone sort of imagines what the Christmas gathering looks like in our world these days, and it's all those small people gathered around.
You just shot the video for "Finally It's Christmas." When is that coming out, and what can you tell us about it?
Probably in the first couple weeks of November. Like I said, Christmas is sort of a time capsule, so we've created this video where we sort of look at it through the idea of old Christmas specials. We did that Christmas special 20 years ago with ABC, so we're kind of pivoting off from that point. We sort of take you through [the past] and a little today, performing music like it's from a Christmas special, and imagining what each of those eras looked like celebrating Christmas.
It's like time travel. We had a lot of fun. We incorporated multiple mediums, like we shot on Bolex, 8mm, some VHS, and then on some modern, super high-def cameras, so you get this feeling of moving between decades. It's lighthearted, but I think it's also going to be pretty beautiful.