It’s not just the iconic hairstyles that have changed since Hanson first blasted onto the pop scene in 1997 with the earworm that was ‘Mmmbop’. Their latest record, 2010’s Shout it Out – released this year in Australia – has been pleasing new and old fans with a new-meets-old sound: soulful, rhythmic, even funky, and with actual lyrics in the chorus. For an idea of just how different the record is, know that it debuted at number two on the US indie charts. Australia will get its first chance to hear the material live when Hanson comes this September for their first tour in seven years.
Hanson started writing Shout It Out while touring their 2007 disc, The Walk, and lead vocalist Taylor says it’s the most “holistic” and the least interfered-with of their seven releases. “There’s no co-writing with other collaborators as writers, no other producers, we produced the record [ourselves].” Listening to relentlessly upbeat horn-driven single ‘Thinkin’ Bout Something’, you can picture the brothers in the studio with nothing but their instruments having an unbridled good time.
But you might also notice a few horns and other instruments you’ve never seen the trio play – Hanson recently recruited legendary bassist Bob Babbett, one of Motown records’ original funk brothers, and award-winner Jerry Hey, for horn arrangements. “I think the additions added depth and purpose to the whole record and it really just reinforces the creative vision we were trying to capture – this very alive and punchy and honest record,” says Taylor. “But our inspiration goes back to classic rock’n’roll and we rekindled that flame. It comes through a lot more when you listen to this record from minute one.” ‘Thinking Bout Somethin’ is the embodiment that rock-meets-soul fusion: “It sonically sounds like its influences,” as Talor puts it.
For the past 20 years – yes, they’ve been at it for 20 years! – Hanson have had some of the highs and lows you expect of a group of guys who found success so young. Shortly after Middle of Nowhere, the record which featured ‘Mmmbop’, mergers forced them to join a different label, Island Def Jam, under which they struggled for years before leaving. But there were never public spats, solo careers or a split, and they’ve been working as independents for their own label, 3CG, happily, since 2003. Hanson have constantly been one unit, Taylor is proud to say, and that’s been part of their long-term success.
Of course, it’s hard to talk to the onetime teen sensations these days without asking about current teen sensation, One Direction, a group which formed in a far less organic way than Hanson (individual X Factor contestants on one hand, brothers on the other). Taylor doesn’t have a lot to say, except that from One Direction to the Backstreet boys to Hanson hysteria, “you’ve seen it even all the way back [from] Elvis to the Beatles. Whatever chemical thing that goes on, it’s an innate kind of primal reaction.”
And when asked about another current music phenomenon – a relentless and lucrative parade of ’90s artist reunions – Taylor says the band’s sold-out shows are not the result of some sort of communal nostalgia, but owes to the tremendous and undying enthusiasm of Hanson fans worldwide, and in particular, in Australia. “It feels great to know that you’re able to have some connection that is lasting,” he says. “There is something that goes on with music and with audiences that is so special. With us, a lot of the fans that have stuck around [we] really respect it and admire that dedication, especially Australian fans. They’ve always been amongst the most active and the most engaged.”
And fans will have to fork out for tickets, Taylor is revealing no secrets or surprises about the upcoming show except for one clue: Aussie fans can look forward to additional tour dates based on how quickly shows sell out in selective cities. “Every show is different,” Taylor says. “We change it up, it’s going to feature some new music and it’s going to also highlight some songs from albums past.”