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interview: taylor hanson

It’s not often I get star struck these days. As much as I’d like to pretend it’s because I’m very suave and rock ‘n’ roll myself, it’s simply that 15 minute phone interview slots (as are often allotted) are just not enough time to indulge fantasies that you’ll become best friends and/or be invited on tour.

When it comes to Hanson, however, it’s an entirely different story.

Like many who grew up in the ‘90s, I had the kind of feverish feelings for the Hanson brothers (Taylor, in particular) that only a tween could. And though I had anticipated having no problem maintaining my composure and professionalism no matter which member of the trio I spoke to (as I was informed I’d only find out who I’d be interviewing after the call was connected), as the operator uttered those magic words – “I have Taylor for you” – my nine-year old self’s little heart just about exploded. Fortunately, I recovered quickly enough to get on with the task at hand.

A lot has changed for Taylor and his siblings since 1997. Though their releases over the past decade haven’t quite caused the pre-teen pandemonium as did songs such as ‘Mmmbop’ and ‘Where’s the Love’, the band have proven themselves to be more than a passing phenomenon in the mainstream music industry.

After battling their record label for several years to be able to release the music they wanted to make, Isaac, Taylor and Zac formed their own independent label, 3CG Records, on which they have released three albums to date. They’ve also partnered with TOMS Shoes in the States and helped raise awareness for work fighting AIDS and poverty in Africa.

‘I’ve always felt like music is a powerful tool to influence people but for years we didn’t really choose to make our platform one to sort of preach about causes,’ Taylor explained. ‘But I think that our mood changed as we had experiences that we really felt we could honestly speak about with knowledge and speak honestly about our passion for them.

‘It really started with taking a trip to Mozambique and South Africa with some friends of ours and realising that there’s a real emergency going on in Africa. We were really struck, specifically with HIV/AIDS, with changing the arc of the poverty issue in that part of the world. It really does come down to a lot of tangible needs, it comes down to water and shoes and building a small school and providing access to very inexpensive medicine.

‘Once you begin to do something and connect with this need, you realise that you have a role in influencing change and you become addicted to your power to make a difference … I seriously doubt that we’ll ever be fully satisfied with what we need to do in those areas.’

In addition to their philanthropy and recording career, the last few years have also seen the Hanson family expand quite considerably. Zac and Isaac have two children apiece, while Taylor and his wife Natalie are expecting their fifth towards the end of this year. And though we don’t usually envision an entourage to comprise quite so many children, having their family around as they tour is nothing new for Hanson.

‘We’ve always had a large posse of family and friends that are close to what we do and so I guess for me the chaos of having a family has never been much of a shift. There’s a lot of learning [about] how to balance your time and your energy, but the mindset hasn’t changed because I’ve always loved the experience of having lots of personalities around, lots of people you feed off of and that’s one great thing about being a dad, the experiences you have as your kids grow up, it’s fun to be around them.’

As for how Taylor does balance that time between family and career?

You just don’t try and imagine there’s going to be balance! You just accept that sometimes you have a lot of quality time together and you get sort of rare experiences that a lot of people in a regular 9-5 job situation wouldn’t have because you make your own schedule to some degree. And then you also have a lot of, “hey we’re going to be gone for two months making an album or touring on the other side of the planet” and the whole dynamic of what we do is a little crazy.’

Though I can only guess how many times Taylor has been asked about ‘Mmmbop’ by now, I couldn’t resist throwing in a couple of questions about their early career.

‘I’m really proud of what we did,’ he says humbly. ‘It does change as you get older, and you look back and you know there’s probably some things that you would do different, but we were always making the music, it was always us, it was always our voice, our lyrics, our point of view. I think that’s really allowed us to look back on those songs and albums and still play them from a point of view that is inclusive. It’s not like we’ve ever wanted to leave it behind.

‘We’re thrilled for people to know ‘Mmmbop’ and associate it [with us] because we wrote it, it was nominated for Grammys and it’s something that we’re probably more proud of it than people would even expect. What some people perceive it as, thinking of it as kind of a disposable pop song, is really not what it was. For us it was a doo-wop inspired little garage band song and we’re really proud of that.

‘We don’t ever want to go like, “oh well that was when we were young, and this is the new Hanson”. It’s not about that. Of course you want people to know your new records, you want people to hear your new singles and see your new shows, but we’re proud of the story.’

And how do they stay grounded despite having been famous for most of their lives?

‘We definitely grew up knowing that there’s a certain way to act, and there’s a way to be with people and we just have always been really hard on ourselves. If we succeed at something, or we’ve had a song that is successful or a tour, it’s not something you sit around and gloat about, because then it’s not as fun anymore. It’s like you’re the jerk that’s talking about how fantastic you are. It’s a lot more gratifying to be able to celebrate with all the other people around you.

‘I think it’s really just trying to always remember what it’s like to be a fan, what it’s like to love music and admire it and not become the thing that you would be turned off by. I always keep that in mind, when I think of people that I respect, and when you go meet Paul McCartney and when you meet Bono and you meet Bruce Springsteen, and they’re so humble, they’re so gracious, you’re like, if they can be gracious and humble, then surely I can be.’

But of course, Hanson aren’t touring Australia next month to indulge our ‘90s fangirl fantasies (or is that just me?). With their latest album Shout It Out finally being released in Australia (Lip’s fantastic “inhouse” American contributor, Christine Campbell, reviewed it way back in October 2010), they’re hitting our shores to promote it.

‘It’s album number five and it is definitely our most cohesive sounding record. It’s a record that is almost entirely recorded live in the studio so we rehearsed the record, rehearsed the songs, and a lot of the sound is us in one room playing. So I think when you hear it you really get this throwback r’n’b pop, soulful sound.

‘It’s kind of amazing that years down the line, we’re still in love with the American soul music and rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s just so much in what we do. I guess for old fans and new fans, we feel like this is a great time for people to discover this music and maybe become a Hanson fan for the first time or maybe you rediscover something that you haven’t listened to in a long time.’

If you’re hanging out to rediscover Hanson in September and haven’t yet bought tickets, then hopefully you live in Brisbane or Sydney because those are the only shows that haven’t sold out yet! Find all the events and details here!

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