Monday, October 25, 2010

Q&A: Isaac Hanson

The oldest Hanson bro tells about his younger years, working as a family, and music (of course!)

Oklahoma brothers Isaac, Taylor, and Zac Hanson, were practically born in the spotlight, shooting to fame in 1996 with their hit "MMMBop" off their Middle of Nowhere album. At the ripe ages of 12, 14, and 17, the boys had already sold 10 million copies worldwide with fans all over the world. Within two years, the band was nominated for three Grammy Awards and embarked upon a highly successful concert tour. The talented trio has maintained much appreciation and longevity in the industry nearly a decade and a half later, just releasing their fifth studio album in June of this year. I had the lucky fortune of chatting with Isaac about his upcoming Tampa show, current music, and relationship with his fans. Here's just some of our interview:

I know right after your show locally, you’re heading to Epcot’s Food & Wine Fest to perform as part of the Eat to the Beat series. I was just there for my first time last week and pretty much ate my weight in’s awesome. Tell me you’ll get a chance to snag some food and check out the event?

I’m sure we will do all of that. We’ve been to Disney with the kids before, with our little ones, but, have never done anything quite like what we’re gonna do there. So, it’s going to be an interesting experience.

So, let’s talk some music…When you guys first started out thirteen years ago, and released Middle of Nowhere, you were really young—in your teens, young teens, but had one of the biggest debut singles of all time, and a bazillion screaming fans—which I may or may not have been one of. But, I can’t even begin to image…what was that success like for you just starting out? What are some of the craziest fan experiences you’ve had?

Well, like any band or anybody trying to be successful at a job…having a successful single, having everyone know your name, know your music, and singing it back to you (and there are thousands of them around the world)…I would say our first general reaction to it was immense enthusiasm because we had been hoping for a success and a potential career in music. And, that was becoming a reality…constantly pinching yourself and reminding yourself that this could go as fast as it came so you better do everything you can do preserve it and be grateful to those that have put you there, namely your fans. And, do your best to express that as often as you can.

Crazy fan experiences? I mean, yeah...we’ve gotten the classic stuff of people breaking into hotel rooms and things of that nature…mobs of people chasing after you and potentially life-threatening scenarios.

That's scary. It's hard enough to comprehend for artists who have been in the biz who are used to it (if you can get used to it), but all that attention at 12 and 14 years old is insane.

It was an insane experience. But, at the same time I think there was a degree to which (as weird as this might sound), we were as psychologically prepared for that as we could be, from two points of view. One: I think we just had a very clear understanding and focus on why we were there in the first place and that on some level or another the enthusiasm and excitement was just an ancillary reaction. And, ultimately their reaction to you was based on music you were making and you doing your job well. And, so you need to be continuously focused on maintaining what got you there in the first place.

And, then the other thing was that we had unusual experiences like that as we were beginning in our early years doing local performances where you would start to get unusual reactions, particularly from girls--who would start screaming and getting all crazy. So on some level or another, there was a degree to which we had someone similar experiences early on and so we were able to keep our wits about us without getting too insane. All that being said, it was pretty overwhelming.
Well, obviously you love your fans, because you guys actually invited some to be in your video ‘Thinking ‘Bout Something.’ Tell us about that.

We were making our music video for the song ‘Thinking ‘Bout Something’ back in March and we sent out the APV to our fan base that said ‘look, we’re making this music video’ and all we had to say was here’s the location, it involves dancing and show up if you can. We gave them about 3 or 4 days notice. We were filming it in downtown Tulsa where we’re from and the video was an homage to a scene from the movie the Blues Brothers where Ray Charles breaks into song and then the Blues Brothers band breaks into song with him. So, then we needed an outside dancing street scene and invited whoever would show up to the video shoot. And, we had tons and tons of people there surrounding the set as well as 400 or so in the street dancing in the scene. It was a really cool experience.

It was our first experience dancing on film too. We never really quite thought we would find ourselves in that position and we had a lot of fun doing it. If you’re going to dance in a film or music video, then, that’s the best context to do it in.
And that song is part of your newest studio album, Shout It Out, which was released this past June. What has some of the feedback been that you’ve heard?

Well, generally, the feedback has been really, really positive. I think we’ve got some attention from people and heads turning in places that we didn’t expect. And, a lot of opportunities to be on TV and play the song…people were really reacting to the song and liking what we put down on record. I would say generally speaking, the reaction has been really positive from the fan base as a whole and random people who haven’t been particularly familiar with what we’ve been doing over the years as well. We’re still working the record and we expect to be releasing another single at some point, but we’re still touring here in the US up until November.

Yeah, it seems like this album in particular drew from some moments of real inspiration and there is some real soulful rhythm there.

Oh yeah, the record is a really rhythmic record from top to bottom. It’s probably one of the most upbeat records we’ve made. It’s still kinda this organic/soulful,/pop of some sort. It’s always weird to describe your own music in some form. And, it’s hard to describe music in words too because everyone’s take on music is slightly different anyway. If you say Hanson to one person and they think “MMMBop” and you say Hanson to another person and they think “Penny and Me.” So, that perspective on your own music is different. But, it definitely has some elements of 60s soul and R&B and elements of singer/songwriter stuff from the 60s and 70s as well…and a consistent twist of Hanson harmony and stuff that is reminiscent of things that people are familiar with us from the last thirteen years.

Music is clearly in your blood and it seems like sort of your destiny to perform, and again it’s hard to imagine the last few decades have flown by and you’ve all managed to get married and have a bunch of babies. Taylor, is up to baby number four. You have to be breeding some musical talent over there. Have any of your children picked up a musical instrument yet?

I don’t know. You know, it’s funny because as a culture I think we’ve sort of moved away from trades as a business…and like you said, it is only natural that your children would have music skills, tendencies, and talents. Is it for sure that they would take on music as a career? I don’t know. The other thing is too (especially in music and rock and roll) it’s particularly hard, I think, for artists who were the children of other musicians to cut their own path and be taken seriously. Or, for people to be listening to them based on their own merit. So, that is a little tricky. But, you know what? If our kids seem like they really have it in them and really want it, we certainly wouldn’t discourage it. But, at the same time, I think thrusting them into the limelight isn’t our goal either. They have to figure it out for themselves and know what they’re getting themselves into on some level.

So, we won’t expect an album from them soon then.

No, not likely. Taylor’s older kids have shown some signs of musical talent definitely, but it’s hard to say for sure. My kids are only 3 and 2 so it’s hard to say just yet, how musical they really are.

Speaking of family and brotherhood, do you think it has been a benefit to you guys to have that relationship…there doesn’t seem to be too many bands (you know, the Jonas Brothers, Allman brothers, whoever else that have that connection). Have there been times where you really wanted to claw each other’s eyes out or has it just been a great thing?

It’s been a really good thing. What I would say is talk to somebody who’s been married for thirteen years and ask them in-depth questions about their relationship. And, what they’ll probably say is that there have been good times and bad times, moments where they’ve wanted to claw each other’s eyes out, and moments where they were the best thing that ever happened to them. So, it’s always that kind of ebb and flow. Being in a band is a relationship and a business partnership.

***Catch the Hanson brothers on November 5th at 7 p.m. at the State Theatre***

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