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Hanson — and its music — grow up

Members of the former teeny-bopper band are married with children, and now seem to embody the antithesis of all things pop.

September 16, 2010|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times

Whenever the band Hanson is introduced, there's always one word that's included in the primer, so let's get it out of the way: "Mmmbop."

"Hanson burst onto the scene about 13 years ago with their 1997 Grammy-nominated song 'Mmmbop,' " Today Show host Ann Curry said earlier this summer, before the band played a set on the morning program.

That the band — comprised of Hanson brothers Isaac, 29, Taylor, 27 and Zac, 24 — has never stopped playing music after 'Mmmbop,' and in June released its fifth studio record, "Shout It Out," is something most aren't even aware of.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the band — which will play the House of Blues on Friday— insists that the repeated point of reference doesn't bother it.

"I guess you decide at some point in your career whether you're going to run from it or embrace it, and we've embraced it," said Zac, sitting around a table recently at the Palihouse, the "urban lodge" where he and his brothers are staying while they're in town. "So many people who know nothing about this band still know 'Mmmbop,' so it's like this incredible tool to open the door to so many people. That song was No. 1 in 27 countries at the same time. That doesn't happen almost ever."

Indeed, Hanson has yet to replicate the commercial success it had when its members were barely teenagers. In the '90s, the three boys from Tulsa, Okla., with long blond hair and high-pitched voices provoked a reaction not unlike the one teen star Justin Bieber incites these days.

Now, they seem to embody the antithesis of all things pop. They've shortened their golden locks. They dress like hipsters, sporting suspenders, fitted blazers and skinny ties. And they release their music via their own record label, 3CG, which they founded in 2003 after severing ties with Island Def Jam.

"The main issue was the lack of creative direction," said Zac of departing the major label. "We were just sitting there, trying to follow the latest trend or sound the most neutral so that everybody kind of feels like it's something they've heard before. And no one will succeed doing that. You will just be throwing darts and hoping you get that bull's-eye. We wanted it to be driven by passion and commitment."

Having their own imprint has allowed them the creative control to try new things. For one, they create a lot of their merchandise. With the release of "Shout It Out," those who purchased pricier packages received a unique painting the band made itself. They recently purchased a device that enables them to live-stream a video feed from wherever they are so that they can stay in touch with their cult-like fan base. For the music video of their latest single, "Thinkin' 'Bout Somethin'," a choreographer created simple dance moves to post on their website, so fans could partake in Twitter-fueled dance party flashmobs with the group.

Such connectivity has inspired a loyalty from their fanbase that many bands can't rival.

"Hanson doesn't shy away from their fans. They're always posting personal messages and pictures and staying connected," said Sara Hull, 26, who has been a fan of the group since 1997. "I think a lot of people, when you say 'Hanson,' they're just so stuck on the idea of 'Mmmbop' and little boys with long blond hair that it's been a struggle for them to break through into the mainstream again. But their core fan base has stuck with them — they can't fill places like the Staples Center anymore, but they can fill the House of Blues."

Other things have changed for Hanson, as well. All three men are now married with children: Isaac has two kids, Taylor has four, and Zac has one and another on the way. Themselves a product of a big, religious family — they have four other siblings — the band members say they've been perplexed over criticism that they married too young. ("Married at 20 years old? I would have smacked you right in the head," Howard Stern chastised Zac during a 2007 interview with the band on his radio show.)

"I actually don't think that we're off the majority of this country's standards. I think it's mostly a coastal thing," Isaac said.

"I'm the one that throws everything off," said Taylor, laughing. "I've got four kids and got married at 19."

"But he has also beat the national divorce average," Isaac said.

"I can hear a little bit of married-ness in the record, actually," Taylor interjected.

Members said the album also harkens back to the type of music they listened to as kids — '50s and '60s rock 'n' roll, Motown and R&B, like Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin.

"We're Midwestern guys who grew up listening to soul music," Isaac said. "I've also realized on this record how similar our sound is to when we first started. Our songs all carry the same way. Well, with different keys. Taylor's no longer a soprano."

"I don't think I was ever a soprano, Ike," Taylor said, scoffing at his brother before adding that much of the lifestyle that the trio led when they were younger remains similar. "OK, there's something extraordinary about selling millions and millions of albums. But the bus, the tour, the planes, the cities — it's the same. We just want to be able to write and make music as our business and have a strong enough fan base that allows us to do that. And that's what success is for us."

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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