Thursday, March 1, 2012

Wednesday 29 February - Band of brothers

Current location: London
11.11am, At work, listening to Hanson. In the past year I have been to two of their gigs and also had the chance to interview them last year. Here's an edited part of the interview...

Band of brothers
I am a 26-year-old woman: I hold down a full-time job, can have grown-up conversations about literature and politics (kind of) and pay for my own red wine. And I – wholeheartedly, obsessively and unashamedly – love Hanson. Yes, the boys of MMMBop fame. Apart from they’re not boys anymore. In fact, they’re all full-grown men, with wives, children (eight in total!) and 15 million record sales under their belts. Fifteen years after my all-consuming adoration of the trio began, I caught up with brothers, Isaac, 30, Taylor, 28, and Zac, 25, in London, where they’d come to play a five-night sell-out tour, to talk about about superfans, death metal and, er, sausage butties...
Welcome back to London, guys.
Taylor: Thanks! We haven’t been back here since 2007, when our last album (The Walk) was released. We did a few shows then but we definitely didn’t do as much promotion so it was a pretty straight-in-and-out stay in the UK. We’re enjoying it though. Especially these sausage butties [tucking into one]…Why are they called butties? Is it something to do with butter?
Zac: Whatever it is, I don’t trust it. Why would you put something in your mouth that has ‘butt’ in it?!
You’ve got a new album, Shout It Out. Do you think your music has changed much since MMMBop?
T: Well, on face value, if you’re just listening to the first album, it seems like quite a distance from here to there. A huge part of that is that our voices have changed! We’ve gone from the voice of a 12-year-old to the voice of a 25-year-old, so there’s no question there’s evolution. But even though we’ve moved further down the line, we’ve also kind of come back to where we started. The sound of this album is super-organic and has gone right back to the melodies; we’ve always talked about classic soul music, and rock and roll, because that sparks something in all of us in some way.
Isaac: It’s always hard to describe this stuff because people’s impressions of music vary from person to person. But I guess we’re still making organic, soul-inspired pop. The thing that keeps us going is that we’re genuinely excited about music.

You’ve released five albums in the UK now. Do you ever forget the words when you’re singing?
T: It depends. Writing our own songs helps because they’re ingrained so you can remember them. But a lot of times when we do covers, Ike tends to be the first person to sing them, because he can actually remember the words to them!
Z: We’re in the Bob Dylan school of lyrics! Let’s just say there have definitely been plenty of cases where we’ve played our own songs and sung the verses backwards.
What’s your favourite of all your songs?
Z: That’s sort of like asking, ‘What’s your favourite emotion?’... All the songs have different purposes, because they’re all songs that are written about life.
T: Well it’s a little easier because misery wouldn’t exactly be at the top of my emotions list! I’m pretty sure you’d rule that one out.
Z: I guess, but misery is important because it gets you through; you don’t get one emotion without the other.

Any stories from when you’re recording?
T: When we recorded Shout It Out, we only listened to death metal when we were recording it. It allowed us to be positive, because all the anger was just...out. Zac was just throwing things around and saying, ‘I feel great!’.
Z: I burned down the house we were staying in...
T: That’s the secret of Hanson, everyone’s like, ‘How do you inspire such positivity?’ and we’re like, ‘We get our aggressions out every day.’
Do you think you’ll always do this?
I: (Laughing) I can’t think of anything else we could do... We’re not qualified to do anything else.
Z: Well, we’re not technically qualified to do this!
T: For the foreseeable future, we’ll carry on doing this. You always assume you’ll do other things here and there, different side projects, writing or producing things, and we have the label and artistic outlets that we like... But the band and making music, I don’t think we could ever extract that from what we do.

Tell us about your fans...
Z: We definitely have a lot of loyal fans. We see fans who have been with us for 15 years who liked us when they were 11 or 12 and now are 25. But it’s a sort of strange experience to meet the 16-year-old Hanson fan who doesn’t have any reference and discovered us on our third album. We never make our music for anyone in particular.
T: Even the fans that have been with us for years, it’s not just because of our first or second album, otherwise they wouldn’t still be listening or supporting. In some ways it’s almost like that fan who was 12 on the first album, they’re a completely different person now. People that were in school then are now married, some of them have kids, jobs. So we have to figure out how to keep that connection with them.
I: And now we’re starting to see, especially in the US, you’ll look at the crowd and the sub-cultures will be quite diverse. You’re seeing heavy-metal types and punk kids and the preppie kids. And we hear, especially with our most loyal fans, they’ll say things like, ‘I love hardcore metal but I love Hanson too.’
Do you remember certain fans?
I: Yes, there are a certain few we remember! [All laugh]... We all married fans.
T: We play special gigs just for members of our fan club. We did one two weeks ago in Tulsa, our hometown, and we had fans from Sweden, the UK, all over Europe, South America, Asia and Australia. There’s definitely people you see and recognise and you’re like, ‘Oh, good to see you again.’
Do you have any superfans?
T: There are definitely people who take it to extremes and there are always a few people where you’re like ‘Wow, that person’s special’. They’re on the ‘special list’! We have fans that have been to 200 shows and follow us from country to country. It sounds cliched but we think we have the best fans around. We really admire people who have continued to follow us and see our shows.

How do you keep your fans interested?
I: I think it’s really amazing that, because of things like Twitter and Facebook, you have this incredible ability to stay as local or as worldwide as you want to. You can bring your entire fanbase into a kind of local focus.
T: Mostly it’s just figuring it all out. You have an album and that’s the thing that sparks the interest, and then next is a show and then after that you have to figure out that you can’t live with your fans constantly. You cant be up in their face shouting, ‘Hey, don’t you wanna do some more Hanson stuff?!’
Z: You cant run up to them saying ‘Look! I got a new T-shirt!’
T: Yeah, is Zac just going to follow you round asking ‘How are you supporting Hanson today?!’ No. So you have to figure out how you stay connected. And part of the way that you keep fans excited is you help people connect with each other. If someone’s a fan and you connect with someone else who’s a fan, it’s like anything. You’re a skateboarder or you’re into this band or a type of food... Whatever it is, once you find someone else who is into it, it helps you stay in to it. It’s like workout routines and running with somebody, you’re going to be way more likely to go work out.
I: Drinking beer. You’re way more likely to drink beer with a beer buddy... Or at least, likely to drink larger quantities!
T: We’ve been able to keep a strong fan base by having a community of people that share interests and go to shows together and can show off to each other, like ‘I’ve been to 25 shows’ and that becomes a bragging right. So we don’t discourage that. We encourage it, to the point of it being weird.
Shout It Out, Hanson’s newest album, was released on 8 June 2011.
Words: Lucy Higgins. Images © Jack Johns.

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