Friday, September 10, 2010

9/14: Q&A with Taylor Hanson, to perform in Mesa

by Michael Senft - Sept. 10, 2010 12:10 PM
Special for The Arizona Republic

Taylor Hanson
Taylor Hanson poses for a portrait Nov. 1, 2007, in Los Angeles, Calif.

Thirteen years ago, the Hanson brothers - Zac, Taylor and Isaac - were the Cowsills of the '90s, topping the charts with the sparkling, infectious pop confection known as "MMMBop." The Tiger Beat trio's 1997 album "Middle of Nowhere" sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, garnered three Grammy nominations and helped usher in the era of teen pop.

Although Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake became superstars, Hanson quickly faded from the public eye as label troubles delayed the follow-up to "Nowhere." But the band has persevered, and, now in their late '20s, the boys have recently released their fifth album "Shout It Out" and will visit the Mesa Arts Center on Tuesday, Sept. 14.

We recently spoke with "middle child" Taylor about the new album.

Question: You debuted the new album live in April during a string of shows where you featured each of your albums in their entirety. What was the reaction?

Answer: The reaction was great, but it really is hard to judge. We've got a great fan base that has been incredibly supportive since the beginning, so we weren't really worried about what the reaction would be when we debuted it live.

That said, there is a special resonance with the new album. Maybe because it has such a great summertime vibe. Also, there are elements on it, especially the R&B sound, that haven't been present on our past couple albums.

Q: The album really does have a strong R&B, soul sound to it. After your recent side project, Tinted Windows, a supergroup with James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins), Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick) and Adam Schlessinger (Fountains of Wayne), it seemed like you were moving in a more power-pop direction.

A: When you have been around for a long time, people assume that they know what your next career move will be, and try and anticipate it. But R&B is really where we cut our teeth. We've always been strongly influenced by '60s Motown and soul music. We've spent our whole careers trying to understand soul music. It was the first music we listened to and it was the first music we loved. I think that's how it is with every kid of our generation - you hear soul music and '60s pop as a kid. As you grow older you discover harder music - stuff like Queen, the Who, the more unusual stuff the Beatles and the Beach Boys did.

R&B is what we heard first, and with this album, we really brought that influence to the forefront, unvarnished by production tricks. It's pure pop, but it's also very organic.

Q: What was the recording process like for "Shout It Out?"

A: It was probably the first album we've recorded since we were signed that wasn't encumbered by outside influences. When we made "Middle of Nowhere" there was all the pressure to make our debut, with outside producers and songwriters. The label folded when we were making our second album ("This Time Around"), and that created all sorts of tension. We were in the process of leaving our label while making the third album ("Underneath"), and for the fourth album ("The Walk") we were setting up our indie label and doing everything for ourselves for the first time. That was also when we had taken our trip to Africa and were starting to get involved with global activism.

The new album is a reminder of what we do and why we do it - it is the kind of album that we have been trying to make for quite a while.

Q: You mentioned your growing activism. On Tuesday you are holding a "Take a Walk with Hanson" charity event before your concert. Can you explain it?

A: It is simply a one-mile walk we will hold before the show. Anyone can show up and participate - you just register and choose to support one of five different causes, from clean water to providing shoes for poor children in Africa. We give the first dollar for everyone who walks, and people can donate more as they see fit, through our website or via text message.

I don't want to say that we're "giving back" - that's clich├ęd. But we feel called to certain things and have a desire to devote our energy and time into doing something fulfilling and valuable. After our trip to Africa we looked into developing ways that we could be involved and get our fans involved as well. Our generation has grown jaded about charities, so we're trying to get them to look at how small steps can actually make a difference.

Q: Any advice for the Jonas Brothers?

A: (Laughs) I don't think we're in the position to give them any advice. They've managed to build their own empire pretty well.

It is sad to see some of these stars that are cranked out by the industry and then tossed aside. As musicians, you have to cultivate who is really connected to you and why. When you hit a point where people just know you for being you and not for what you've done, then you are just a celebrity, and being a celebrity doesn't make people fans of your work.

With the right support system you can survive. We're fortunate - we're a hands-on cottage industry, and that spirit shows in our music and to our fans. That lets us continue making the music we want and be successful at it.



Hanson

With: A Rocket to the Moon.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14.
Where: Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St.
Admission: $32.
Details: 480-644-6500, mesaartscenter.com

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