The former heartthrob brothers of Hanson have matured and endured through the past 15 years, having released eight full-length albums and maintained a steady, fiercely loyal fanbase. The Daily Texan spoke with member Taylor Hanson about their new album Shout It Out and their new unconventional touring style.
Taylor Hanson: Hey, how it’s going?
The Daily Texan: Doing well. What’s up man?
Hanson: We are doing well, just kicking off a tour. We’re here in San Francisco. Yeah, I think we’re officially on the road now.
The Daily Texan: Nice. So you guys just started up?
Hanson: Yeah, this year has been a lot of being around the country promoting the last single, doing press and radio events and those kind of things. Kind of building up to this fall tour. It goes until – if you include the international stuff – we’ll be on the road until December.
The Daily Texan: You guys are really doing it now!
Hanson: You’re going to quote Dumb and Dumber, right? “We’re really doing it, Harry!”
The Daily Texan: Especially since you’ve been doing it so long. So this tour is a little bit different. The fans get to choose the albums that y’all play. How’s that been playing out over the last four shows?
Hanson: It’s a little daunting. First of all, because every tour we try to do something interesting, the same way with albums. Sometimes you’re touring between album cycles or towards the end of an album cycle like with this record Shout it Out that came out last year. We’ve been all over the map. You don’t want to just go out there and say ‘Hey, Hanson is back in town.’ One of the things we did last year and this year is this thing called ‘5 of 5’ where we played each of our records five nights in a row. We did it in New York and then we did it in London. And each of those events were really cool. It was one of those experiences where you sit there and you realize you’re looking at your whole musical career in a short span. And we just thought about how cool it would be to take that feeling to a whole tour. You’re not going to be in every city five nights in a row, but maybe we could figure out a way to feature an album and feature kind of a career-spanning look with this tour. And the best way to do that is to make it interactive and make it engaging for fans – give them a way to get involved. It’s been really interesting. So far every night has been a different album. I’m sure there will be some nights when albums repeat. The first record is iconic in a lot of different ways, especially since it’s the first record people heard from us. The voting has been really wild – all of the albums are winning in different places. The fans have been battling it out.
The Daily Texan: It’s interesting that you guys have been able to play different albums every night.
Hanson: Every night has been kind of just a different feel. It changes the mood. The thing about our shows in general, we’ve always tended to play different things each night. We’ve never done a setlist where we play the same 20 songs. But there are certain songs that are standard and when you try to play 15 songs from one album it definitely changes the feel of the show.
The Daily Texan: I wonder if your different albums appeal to different geographical regions?
Hanson: There’s no question that there’s places in the country that have different inclinations musically. You’d think of the Northwest being a little bit grungier and the Midwest being a little bit rootsier. But so far in the voting, what we’ve seen with the albums that have won, it’s not necessarily showing geographic influence, its more things that we can’t predict: we have a lot of fans that will follow tours and go to several shows in a row. You never know whether that’s 10 – 15 percent of the crowd (which in some cases it’s more than that even), whether those fans are tipping the scales. We’re waking up everyday going ‘OK, what album won?’ For the first time in a long time, we actually went back through all the arrangements and made up some cheat sheets. Because every day there’s those five songs from an album that we never play. Like some of the songs we haven’t played in five years or something like that. It’s cool, that’s what music is about. That’s what the live experience is about – it’s different. It’s something that you walk away and you know that you saw something and it happened and it ended.
The Daily Texan: Do you ever wake up dreading playing a certain album?
Hanson: Honestly, I think there’s kind of a difference of opinion between the different band members, partly because different records are more challenging, depending on the instrument and the player. For Isaac I think, probably the third album is the album that he kind of dreads. I think it’s our most textured record that depends on who plays the guitars and it’s just a little more finite. There’s just a lot more subtlety in it. Our latest record, not just because it’s the new one, is absolutely the easiest. It’s the most straight-forward to bring together live. It really was recorded as a prearranged, live performance. We tracked so much of that record in this sort of old-school style. You know, in a big room, having arranged the parts and played them. It plays the most fluidly as one body of work from top to bottom.
The Daily Texan: What do you attribute that direction to?
Hanson: Well, you can’t just predict where you’re going to be. I mean, we’ll have been a band for 15 years next May, and 20 years since our first show, back as kids. You can never predict what you’re going to feel like that many years in. I think when we went to make this record, it was like the previous two albums had leaned toward alt-country and pop-rock and sort of groovier influences. We kind of drifted a little bit from the first stuff that we had always talked about as influences – more kind of classic R&B and sort of singer-songwriter craftsmanship complemented more by bass and drums and pianos as opposed to guitars. That’s just the way it just sort of seasoned – we just came around and said ‘Gosh, that would be fun.’ And the new record was just sort of birthed more that way. People that haven’t followed the band — and not everybody has their perceptions of what we really are — but we’ve always been extraordinarily hands-on, to the point of people going ‘Can’t you let somebody actually produce you?’ But that’s just kind of the way we operate. So we went into this record we had to tell ourselves to leave space. To capture what it sounds like when we sit in a room and just play.
The Daily Texan: When you listen to any album, really, there are standout songs and there are songs that kind of hold it all together, but then there are weaker songs. How do you deal with those songs that were never really designed to be played live?
Hanson: Well, we don’t really have weak songs.
The Daily Texan: Well, not weak songs, perhaps. Bad word choice?
Hanson: I shouldn’t use sarcasm in an interview because it could be used against me.
The Daily Texan: I’ll put it in italics.
Hanson: It’s an interesting point. There are definitely songs that are sort of strange to play live. The fourth album – The Walk – has a couple of songs, one of which is “Tearing it Down,” which is totally really fun to play. But vocally it is not easy to pull off. It’s super high falsetto and piercing vocal arrangements. We cringe. And so we very rarely play that song. And on the first album there’s a song called “Yearbook” which was a super melodramatic, really over the top, moody song that was produced in a really sort of lush way. It’s the least rock and roll in its structure. And that song didn’t get played for 10 years! And to some degree it’s all part of the mystery – for years we’ve thought, ‘Isn’t it cool that we have some songs that never get played.’ But now, we’re far enough away from each of these periods that you just kind of take it back and you go ‘Hey, let’s figure out a way to make it cool and to make it work live.’
The Daily Texan: So it’s safe to say you’re embracing your past even though it’s pretty much completely different what you guys are up to now. Are you tweaking the songs? For example, “Yearbook” [from your first album] – are you tweaking it to make it fit your style these days or are you just going for full-fledged nostalgia?
Hanson: We’re kind of just making it happen as close to what it was. Of course, when people hear it and it’s us doing it instead of a 16, 14, and an 11 year old, it just has a different feel, even if we do the exact same thing. And honestly, the music – we’ve never really turned our back on where we started. In a lot of ways our music has evolved and it’s grown in depth and – I hate the ‘maturity’ word because I don’t know what it means exactly...
The Daily Texan: Just use it anyway.
Hanson: I don’t know. The music is – what’s the word? – has refined, over time. It’s not hard to go back and play songs on other records because it’s really us. There are definitely certain songs that stand out as songs from a period and feel like ‘Gosh, this doesn’t feel as accurate to play this anymore.’ But that’s why you have new albums. It’s natural that you look back and you go – not to compare us to The Beatles, but just think of them for their diversity – I imagine at some point towards the end of their band career sitting down to jam out “I Want to Hold Your Hand” sounds a little bit like going backwards.
The Daily Texan: Yeah, definitely. And sometimes bands would even just refuse to play that kind of stuff.
Hanson: That’s something I’ve never subscribed to. I think if someone loves a band – like you love Neil Diamond or you go see some band that you love – and of course you’re psyched to hear what they’re doing new. And you have to know as a band, if you stick around long enough to have a few albums, people are going to have their favorite songs. People are going to have albums that they love. You can think about albums and songs and memories. We’ve had guys come up to us and go ‘Dude, I hooked up for the first time listening to, like..’
The Daily Texan: To “MMMBop?”
Hanson: ...”to your first record.’ It wasn’t “MMMBop,” actually. Or somebody tells you ‘Hey, I had a great memory of a summer trip with my best friend listening to ‘Penny and Me,’ or something like that. You never want to turn your back and be like ‘Oh, I hate those songs now’ because that makes people feel like you’re rejecting them.
Printed on September 20, 2011 as: On tour, Hanson revisits roots for fans