In The Studio!
Bop September, 1997
The Hanson boys really take charge of their career both creatively and business wise (with
a little help from their parents and the talented help from their parents and the talented
executive staff at Mercury Records). Right now, they’d like to share some of their studio
secrets—which let to the makings of such Hanson classics as "MMMBop," "Speechless"
Unlike other teen artists, the Hansons control everything that goes into recording, from
songwriting to swimming in the Dust Brothers’ pool and raiding their record collection.
You might say that Hanson takes the "hands-on" approach!
The Hanson brothers know the power of being pop hit-makers, but instead of taking the
easy out and waiting for material to be handed to them, they write or co-write it all
themselves. They have all been writing since they were 7 or 8, and they admit that
songwriting is done in a free form style that evolves from jam sessions.
"Thinking of You" is one track written in an impromptu manner. Taylor Hanson remarked
to MTV News about the cut, "The song ‘Thinking of You,’ the first song started flowing,
and in 30 minutes it was written. That’s a weird example of how it can happen. It happens
in all kinds of different ways."
Guitarist Issac interjected, "An opposite example of that is the single ‘MMMBop.’ That
one was a very long process, as far as writing goes because it was started as a kind of
background art, supposedly, for one of the songs on the first independent release that we
did. And it was too much of it’s own thing."
The boys loved working in the studio with producers the Dust Brothers, whose best work
includes the Grammy-winning Beck Odelay album and the duet with Howard Stern,
"Tortured Man," on his Private Parts movie soundtrack and Steve Lironi, who worked,
who worked with British pop bands Space and Black Grape.
They got a little hand in getting together material for the Middle Of Nowhere sessions
with such songwriters as Mark Hudson (who penned "Livin’ On The Edge" for
Aerosmith), Ellen Shipley (whse hits include Belinda Carlisle’s "Heaven Is A Place On
Earth" and Circle In The Sand"), Desmond Child (a New York legend who has written
many hits for Bon Jovi and Aerosmith) and Cynthia Mann and Barry Weill (whose track
record goes back to New York’s Brill Building days, including hits for The Animals, The
Righteous Brothers and The Crystal).
Before the boys even got to LA to start work on the sessions, they had written more than
100 songs together! (Issac claims it’s more like 200!) Was it a shock to be suddenly
working with all these big time songcrafters? Issac told Tulsa World, "It’s weird at first,
just because you’re learning to work with other people and learning how to exchange
"And not to irritate each other," added Taylor with a smile. "But we really had great
experiences with everybody. First of all, it was cool because we got to write with some
incredible people, but it was also very weird because we’ve always done it by ourselves."
Taylor went on to give an example of how they’d collaborate with one of these
songwriting veterans: ""It happened in different ways. With Desmond Child, for example,
he had an idea for the song ‘Weird."
Added Taylor, "We had been talking about the word ‘weird.’ We were talking about the
fact that nobody had ever written a song about ‘weird’. It seemed strange to us. (To Issac)
Think about how many times you say ‘weird.’"
So after they dropped this little notion into Child’s head, according to Issac, "we said,
‘Let’s try that… and he sat down at the keyboard and we just started doing melodies and
lyrics, and certain things stuck, and then the song came out. That one came together really
quickly. It was very much a mood thing."
"Now with Mark Hudson," revealed Taylor, "We wrote ‘Lucy’ with him and ‘Where Is
The Love,’ and we finished ‘Minute Without You.’ He might have a verse or a chorus or
something like that and we’d say, ‘Oh, that’s cool. Let’s write the rest of the song."
Where the boys all nerves over working with these music business legends? Remarked
Taylor, "At first it was strange, because we didn’t know what it was going to be like. But
once we got in there, most of the people were very easy to work with."
Most alternative music fans who are curious about the Hanson’s in-studio experience
working on the Middle Of Nowhere have asked them what it was liked for them to deal
with those zany Dust Brothers—known as masters of the sampling process. It’s no secret
that the Dust Brothers turned them onto a lot of classic R&B and rock acts-including The
Beatles, Three Dog Night, and even The Pointer Sisters.
Revealed Issac, "They were really cool to work with. The whole vibe of the studio was
very laid back . We’d come to the studio about noon and sit down and talk a little while,
and when we felt like starting, we would. And they have a great record collection,
obviously, ‘cause they use a lot of different sampled things. So they’d let us play different
records—it was really cook."
Did the Dust Brothers actually help change the Hanson sound during their time in the
studio? Issac explained, "Not radically I wouldn’t say, but they had same interesting
elements that we might not have thought of. ‘MMMBop’ is a good example. They added
a ‘ruh-uh-ruh-uh-ruh-uh-ruh’ thing. But that’s really all the scratching that’s on the
To which Taylor added, "It was cool, meeting the Dust Brothers. We recorded stuff in
their house and messed around in their pool. We’re always writing songs, so we had
around 200 already. I think what the Dust Brothers and Steve Lironi kinda brought back
to our sound a little of the R&B—with the loops and scratches and sampled sounds—and
combined it with pop-rock."
They give a lot of credit to Steve Greenberg, the Mercury A&R guy who discovered
them, for setting them up with the right people in the studio.
Greenberg told the UK publication DotMusic, "They’d already written ‘MMMBop,’ their
first song, when they signed them, but I felt they needed a lot of mentoring. They needed
to be around a lot of people who could really help them make the right kind of record. The
Black Grape record (titled It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah!) is one of the best
arranged records I’ve ever heard in a long time, so I suggested Steve Lironi. These guys
needed help with arrangements. That was the most important thing."
Hanson’s local Tulsa fans were more concerned if going to Hollywood to record for six
months would make the boys homesick—or even worse—turn them into "spoiled
surfer-boy types". Bu they they appear to be the same boys-next-door they were before
leaving good ol’ Tulsa Town—despite getting to rent a house in the Hollywood Hills that
you could actually view the Hollywood sign and Mann’s Chinese Theater from on the
back deck. Remarked Issac a few months after coming home, "We definitely missed home.
But it’s kinda cool. We’ve gone back to LA a few ties since then." Taylor really felt that
LA became a home away from home. "But," remarked Issac, "when the process was
finally coming to a close we were definitely ready to come home."
But before the guys left there sprawling Hollywood Hills rental home to go back to Tulsa,
Issac had a pensive moment and reflected to a reporter about the Hanson’s work in the
recording studio: "It’s all very much a learning experience. With every experience, you try
to learn a little bit more about what you’re doing, and try to do your job better."