After winning the hearts of teens and the ears of the music world three years ago, Hanson is gearing up for the release of their new album This Time Around. Gloria M Wong talks with the boys in the band.
It's a Hanson boy photo shoot. Isaac, Taylor, and Zac Hanson are sitting on a black leather couch being interviewed by Rollingstone. Their calm, efficient band manager is nearby, as is their tour manager. Their father Walker, is walking around quietly with a handheld digital camcorder prepared to record every moment. Their publicist is talking with the photographer's studio manager. The clothing stylist and assistant are busy steaming clothes, and the makeup artist is ready at attention with powder and brush in hand. (She's also armed with hair pomade-Zac in particular is prone to flyaways.) Air's Sexy Boy is on in the background. Photo assistants are running about, and the photographer is setting up his next shot.
You want three, you get them all. Hanson the phenomenon runs like a well-oiled machine. And the kernel of the Team Hanson is a genuine, all-American band, Isaac plays guitar, Taylor -"Tay" to his friends - sings lead vocals and plays piano, and Zac is on drums. They write their own songs and work together like an organic whole - take one away and the rest don't seem to make sense.
Isaac, 19, is obliging and talkative. He's cropped his hair and looks less awkward and lanky than when Hanson was last in the spotlight. He's attentive, slightly goofy, and genuinely sweet.
Taylor, 17, is the natural spokesman for the group. Blessed with teen-idol looks (architectural cheekbones, rosy red cheeks that bloom when he's animated, and not a zit in sight), poise, and confidence, he's got the charisma to inflame the passion of millions of teenage girls worldwide. He's the savvy one and notices everything. (When Zac accidentally knocks a drink on the table, taylor reflexively lifts Isaac's sleeve, saying "Dont let that get dirty". When Isaac and he were wearing similiar shirts, he alerts the stylist, concerned that they might look "too western" together). When Taylor talks to you, he looks directly into your eyes withtout embarassment.
Zac is your typical slightly spazzy 14-year-old. He can be quiet for a while, then break into zany monologues in a fake voice. He's not a moppet anymore, and i'm surprised that he's this little man. (I still remember the cute little kid banging on the drums in "MMMBop")
After the addictive refrain of "MMMBop" became America's ear candy almost three years ago, Hanson became the teen princes of pop, and now their follow-up, This Time Around, will be out next month. Total Request Live, is now populated with screaming fans more used to slick goetee-ed guys busting dance moves, soulfully singing with their hands, held out sans instruments. Will they be able to compete? "It's funny because at the time our last album came out, we were more poppy than anything else out there", says Isaac."Now, we're more rock and roll. Musically, we're not even on the same wavelength as The Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. They're rythmic pop and we're not."
Listen to the new album, and then their debut, Middle of Nowhere, and the biggest difference is how much Taylor's voice has changed. Listen to "Mmmbop" and it sounds like it's on amphetamines. This Time Around is bubblegum rock and roll, with infectious hooks, at-times seemingly meaningless lyrics and an unironic appreciation of old-fashioned rock and roll. And yes, they do rock.
Hanson has such a wholesome background. It's almost subversive. The temptation is to look for a seamy underside, but there just doesn't seem to be one. The Hansons, who live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, are devoutly Christian and homeschooled by their mother, Diana. The trio has been playing together for eight years.
Ask the three Hanson's a question and usually Isaac and Taylor will jump to answer, resulting in a jumble of voices, with Isaac usually finishing up the thought. Their focus extends to their interviewing manner- I bask in the glow of their attention until it's over, after which they move onto the next matter at hand. They speak emphatically on almost every topic. And they have several qualities in abundance- focus, passion, and determination- which make their precocious success unsurprising. When being photographed, they goof off for the camera, not in spite of it. "It's as much about getting yourself out there and being who you are as it is about sacrifice," says Isaac about their early success.
"We've learned that fifty percent of something is a lot better than 100 percent of nothing. When you realize that, you get really serious and ready to work your booty off," says Taylor.
Of their religious faith, Taylor says, "You have beliefs, right? If it's your faith, it guides what you believe. And that's going to influence your perspective on life."
"Our parents didnt want to give their kids up to society," says Isaac when asked about homeschooling. And when Isaac, Taylor , and Zac decided to play as a band, eight years ago, the whole family worked together promoting Hanson tirelessly. The debut album went on to become a multiplatinum hit.
"My mom is amazing, " says Taylor, "She can do anything, and she's always totally believed in us. She's half the reason we're doing this."
"In the beginning, we were trying to meet with people in the music world and there was this agent coming through Tulsa," explains Zac. "So my mom finds out he's staying at this hotel and gets everybody up at 6 A.M and there we are, standing in our pajamas, ready to perform." Mom and Dad Hanson don't exude any disturbing stage parent vibe. During the time I spend with the band, the father is very much present, but in the background, and I spot their mother only briefly when she stops by the photo shoot.
Do they have girlfriends? "We're never in one place to have a girlfriend," says Taylor. "Yeah, it's ridiculous, kind of a joke to have a girlfriend," says Zac. A joke? Why? And they all jump in talking in a jumble of voices. "Friends our age, they've had like nine or ten girlfriends already. Guys will call anyone their girlfriend."
And you won't find the Hanson boys sending bodyguards to pick groupies to bed while on tour- they have unequivical views on premarital sex.
"Well, it's not smart, it's just stupid to be honest, " says Taylor "People always say to have safe sex, but there's no such thing." He's smiling as if he enjoys the challenge of a salacious topic.
"It gets complicated. All that kind of stuff. Even if you go out on a date, and you kiss a girl, there's emotions, relating to that.", explains Isaac. "To each his own. You can do whatever you want with your life, but I don't think it's a smart choice. Yeah, why would you want to waste it when you can share it with someone really special." I don't ask what it is.
They're not concerned about being seduced by the hedonistic world of rock and roll. "Oh yeah, its all drugs, beer, alcohol and babes, man" says Zac sarcastically, "Smoking, gosh all the time.".
"Well we're not afraid of all that. Drugs are gross." says Isaac.
"We're just a band because we like music." says Taylor. "Actually, we've drunk wine and things like that."
"We love to try stuff, but we're not into abusing anything," says Isaac. "I would say at the proper occasion, drinking a glass of wine or smoking a cigarette is fine."
"We're very open-minded. We just want to be smart in the decisions we make." says Zac.
The next day, Hanson is in a media whirlwind. It's the same crew as yesterday, down to the fashion stylist. There are several photo shoots. (one is on the rock climbing wall at Chelsea Piers) and an MTV news interview. They gamely field questions like, "Did your fans react strongly when you cut your hair, isaac?" (yes, and they let their feelings be known via Hanson's official website). and "Are you concerned about competition from current boy bands reigning the charts"? (Taylor confidently answers no) On camera, Taylor becomes the spokesman. There's also a news conference, mostly attended by representatives from teen magazines. On to the next activity- a night at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem for a Teen People event, where Hanson is introducing rapper Sisqo.
After the obligatory press photos in from of the Teen People backdrop, Hanson is ushered upstairs. Gus Van Sant, assistant in tow, is trailing Hanson, snapping numerous photos of them on his Leica camera. The Hanson's consider him a friend - they've made several interesting friends in the last few years, like Jonny Lang, who does a guest performance on the album, and Ric Ocasek, who was originally slated to produce the album. (It didnt work out, but they're still friendly) It's a zoo, but Isaac, Taylor, Zac are completely focused.
We get a little more time to talk, and then, in their typical business-like manor, Hanson is on their way to present an award. Just another day in the life of an all-American band.