Hanson on their new symphonic album String Theory and celebrating 25 years as a band
How do you celebrate 25 years as a band? For Hanson, the answer is “go classical.” String Theory is the trio’s newest offering (out Nov. 9), comprising both old and new tracks set to a symphony orchestra.
“So often bands fall into ‘this is what I’m supposed to do and sound like’ or ‘this is what’s popular,’ and our M.O., right or wrong, means sometimes we’ve gone against the grain of what’s happening,” Taylor Hanson tells EW. “We need to do projects that are inspiring to us and keep us excited.”
The story of Hanson — Isaac, 37; Taylor, 35; and Zac, 33 — starts in 1993, when three silken-haired brothers, the youngest of whom was 8, formed a band. Four years later, the boys from Tulsa, Okla. MMMbop’d their way onto the global stage with a catchy pop song that has gone into the annals of pop history. Since then, they left their record label and ventured out on their own, released more albums — including the festive 2017 release Finally, It’s Christmas — gotten married, had children, and even launched their own beer brand (called MMMhops).
Taylor Hanson spoke to EW about the new album, the challenges of working with an orchestra, and the legacy of “MMMbop.”
What was it like to revisit some of your older songs with an orchestral backdrop?
The project was really a bucket list idea. As we were hitting that 25th anniversary and taking the time to celebrate our history, we were looking at what’s next. The importance of incorporating both old and new is that you have an opportunity to bring things back to the power of the song. It was really invigorating to pick certain songs like “Where’s the Love” or “MMMbop” or “Yearbook” or even “This Time Around” and think of them as new works. You have to think about this entire group of colors that you now have to work with [in] a symphony, where you could do things you never could. It was challenging and thrilling.
For the new songs on String Theory such as “Siren Call” and “Reaching For The Sky,” what did you want to tap into lyrically?
“Reaching for the Sky … is when you set out to have this impossible idea of what you can do. Young people start with the unbridled vision, and reaching for the sky is the ultimate metaphor, so the song speaks to that journey: I want to believe in the impossible. We experienced that from the beginning in choosing to take our own path. That song takes you through doubt and pure aspirations, and it ends with saying this character has doubts and is doubted by those around him but he doesn’t give in to the power or the twist of fate surrounding him.
“Siren Call” is about the call of doubt and the toxic things that surround you and the likelihood that you’ll succumb to [them]…. It’s really saying that burdens and challenges…[are] inevitable but the choice to live for tomorrow and to give the best you have each day, that’s really final.
With a song like “Siren Call” and the temptations you sing about, we’ve seen a lot of bands face their own troubles along the way. How do you reflect on being able to not fall into the common pitfalls of the music industry and stay true to your beliefs? Do you think if Hanson were emerging now in 2018 the group would have a similar trajectory?
I don’t think it would be any more difficult now. I do think the whole world is so different, as far as just the prevalence of social media — your dry cleaner has followers and your hot dog stand and your grandma. I think the human race today is so much more conscious of the idea of fame at all levels so maybe it feels like it would be more difficult. But when it comes down to it, getting from here to there is really just a matter of decisions every day…. Probably the greatest unifier for us has always been that we’re actually here because we’re creating music. Being an artist is like an addiction that we’ve turned into a career. It’s a requirement to create things. We didn’t get into this to get famous and be millionaires. To get some success and then to be known and make a living from doing it is a by-product of having succeeded at some level. And so through those times, even at 14, 15, 16, this thing was always ringing in my mind, and it’s true today: Look at what we get to do every day. We have absolutely been blessed, being able to still do what we do and be proud of it and have fans, but there’s no secret sauce. It’s just hard work and focus, and, if I can say it without sounding egotistical, some degree of character — just a code of how you handle yourself, which is not exclusive to us by any means.
After 25 years, which of your songs do you really love coming back to?
It is like picking favorites. We joke “Which kid would you take to Disney World?” and it’s like “Well, all of them.” But there’s some. There’s a song that could have easily been in this show but wasn’t the right musical makeup — but it had a message that would have resonated: “Strong Enough to Break,” our first song from our third record. It’s always rewarding to perform it because it says something that is in this show as well, being strong enough to come through, breaking and falling apart and rebuilding… realizing that it takes strength to take things on and fall apart and put yourself back together. As a performer, it’s also meaningful because that third record was such a pivotal moment because we had gone through the turmoil of record label mergers and started our own, and that was definitely the beginning of a new chapter.
When people say “Hanson,” “MMMbop” is still the song they think of. Does it surprise you it has lasted so long and has the legacy that it does?
To some degree, yeah. I’ll say that one thing about “MMMbop” is that we’re totally proud of that song and of course you want to move people forward. But to ever have a song that is that widely known, to have anything that is that widely connected, is so rare that it’s really interesting to see it come of age and still hold water. When we were thinking about this project, we definitely considered that “MMMbop” shouldn’t be in this show. But we wanted it to be in the end because we think of this as a way of honoring where we’ve been and highlighting what was always in the song. It’s so easy with that song to see it as this little pop ditty. But the thing is, it’s quite a melancholy song. We wrote it when I was like 11, but it’s talking about losing and that things come and go and you have to figure out the few things that matter and hold onto them…. We’re proud of it and we’ve always continued to claim it and never been shy about that.
Last question. Plant a seed, plant a flower, plant a rose, which one grows? A daisy or a rose?
[Laughs] They’re both beautiful. It depends on the soil, it depends on the garden. As it said, the challenge is that you have to plant them both and then make a bouquet out of whichever one comes out of the ground.