Hanson may still be best known for their still sublime pop smash "Mmmbop," but the brothers Isaac, Zac and Taylor have parlayed that '90s anthem into an impressive career that spans just over 20 years. The band recently released their ninth studio LP, Anthem, and will be touring North America through November, after which they'll head to Europe for a few more dates. All that traveling is nothing new for Hanson, who still relish each performance and always make time for their fans before and after the show. Rolling Stone caught up with Hanson before their recent gig at Boston's House of Blues and spent the day walking (sometimes barefoot) around and rocking out with the band and their fans. —Jon Blistein
"One of the things that we've always been blown away by is that excitement and the fans going the extra mile to come early or make special shirts or do anything," says Taylor, who poses with a stoked six year old Hanson fan. "And then you see it actually crossing another generation. It makes you feel like you're doing something right."
"It's rare to get a couple hours in the morning because often times we just roll in from another city and we might be doing press in the morning," Taylor says of the band's busy schedule. "I was getting back on the bus to regroup with everybody, start the rest of the day after walking the streets and taking photos."
"Taylor's out taking photo's, Isaac's apparently out eating corn beef hash somewhere," says Zac, "but for me — we spend a lot of time in confined spaces, we spend a lot of time on top of each other — so I usually try to find things that allow me to leave my environment. So video games have definitely been, ever since I was a kid, a huge thing. I'm totally a quote-unquote gamer. It's usually the first and last thing I do every day."
"I think sometimes it takes some energy to get used to it," Zac says of the years of sleeping on a tour bus. "But you find that at the end of the tour you go to sleep back in your normal bed and being like, 'I can't sleep.' I don't have that rumbling sound lulling me to sleep, and nothing is rocking me. It becomes like your own little traveling coffin."
"We had roadies on our first tour that used to talk about how they wanted to be burried in their bunk," adds Taylor. "It was a little morbid, like 'I don't want you to be talking about being buried in a bunk when we're driving down the road at 70 miles per hour!'"
"Back in 2007 we started doing one mile barefoot walks," says Ike, who's about to kick off that day's excursion. "And what we do is we invite people to come to the show early and take a barefoot walk with us to fight poverty and AIDS in Africa. We donate a dollar for every single person that shows, and they can of course donate more if they want to. With that money we drill wells, we build schools, we do medicine, and we also give shoes and some technological assistance between patients and doctor with regards to treatment."
"Doing it barefoot was a simple way to articulate the needs there on the ground and what we're trying to do: Provide real tangible stuff like food and water and medicine," explains Taylor. "And also it's a really inspiring way to connect with the cause."
"It's really about connecting to that reality of getting over the hump of fear — the hump of fear to take your shoes off, the hump of fear to show up and take a walk and get behind a cause, whatever it is," adds Ike. "And ultimately it's the hump of fear of being caring and generous towards other people, whether they be around the world or in your community. We're trying to connect those realities for people."
"There's something else that's really important about doing the walks, which is that it really is about sharing a connection with our fans," adds Taylor. "It's not just about walking on a stage and playing the songs people know; it's really about going out across the country and connecting with people. It's an opportunity to be peers for a moment, to truly just connect on something."
"I remember a girl talking to me about her mom trying to help people out in Brazil," Ike recalls. "She was Brazillian and talking about her mother and what her mom does, [working with] a non-goverment organization that's trying to help kids get better educated and out of poverty. She was a really sweet and inspirational person, and I was encouraged by that."
"We really like action, we really like doing," says Taylor. "So a lot of times that conversation, whenever we connect with fans, is hearing from people that go, 'Hey I watched what you guys are doing here,' or, 'I watched what you were doing there, and it motivated me to pursue the thing I was thinking about pursuing.' It's that push that comes from being able to be out there doing something and have people really get inspired to take the leap."
"We're changing the setlists up every night," says Zac about the band's post-walk, pre-show routine. "It's important to us not just because it is refreshing for us for it to be different each time; but also, we have so many fans that travel in from all over the country that you really want it to be a special experience every night."
"It looks like you're holding a watermelon or something," Zac cracks to Ike, who's talking with Paul McDonald, a friend of the band as well as their current opener (McDonald and his wife, the actress Nikki Reed, also appeared in the video for Anthem single "Get the Girl Back").
"Ike is what you would call a hand talker," adds Taylor.
"I don't think I can actaully talk without my hands," Ike says.
"Boston has always been an amazing market for us, we've always had tons of fans, so we knew we'd have a solid crowd and we really played to that during this concert," says Taylor. "We played a lot of new songs, as well as songs from all the different records; but this tour is really built around the album Anthem. We really thought of the audience and the live show because there are songs that have like chants for the audience to sing along with."
"There's a very strong intensity, an octane to this record that has not been on previous records," Ike says of Anthem. "It starts off pretty aggressive, and in that way, so does the show. There have always been bits of pieces of that in the music, but this record in particular really condenses that intensity and aggressive nature."
"I think part of it is the yin and yang of making music," Ike explains of Hanson's latest shift in sound. "We noticed that we have a little bit of a pattern where the last record is a little bit more R&B and little bit pop-ier, now this record is a little bit more aggressive, blues-y, kind of gospel-y sounding. There's a lot more guitar featured."
"That's one of the things that I think colors the attitude, when electric guitar becomes the main foundation of a lot of tunes," adds Taylor. "Any time you put a big blues riff out front the energy of the song is a little more aggressive."
"We've been a band over 20 years, we've said a lot of things in a lot of songs, and I think when we went into this record the surrounding mix of thinking was about our purpose as a band and really asking ourselves what's next as we go literally into our third decade as a band," says Taylor. "It's almost like there's a sense of us fighting for this band and the stuff that we've been doing for 20 years."
"We look out at the audience and take in the feeling of the audience," Taylor says, echoing Zac's earlier thoughts about the band's constantly changing setlists. "And you know maybe this is a group of fans that are really hardcore, that like when we play really deep cuts; or you know what, there's more fans here that don't know everything. That's one of the big things about these shows, they're fluid and their changing."
"My big take away from this show has to be the encore and the wrap up," says Taylor. "We often have fans singing along and clapping, but when you really get the sense that there's a unity in the whole audience is there's a couple songs where the whole crowd is jumping and moving together. At the end of this night, you've got a packed room of people and the entire place felt like it was shaking. Genuinely you felt like everyone had left all their energy in the room, that's how the show felt walking off the stage."
"I've done yoga over the years and therefore acquired some balancing, strengthening, and stretch skills," an upsidedown Ike explains. "I also have a bit of a shoulder issue, which is partially related to just playing guitar for 20 years. That exercise actually helps me stretch out some of the muscles that are tighter on one side than the other on my shoulders, create a little bit more symmetry and balance."
"Once you get your cleanse and stretch out, then you can start drinking heavily," jokes Taylor as Ike sips Hanson's own MmmHop beer. "It's an American Pale Ale that we're launching in select cities throughout the tour. We brewed it with a brewery in Oklahoma called Mustang, 'cause that's where we're from and it's a really awesome project. There's something cool about beer and music — I mean what goes better with music than your own beer?"
"If you've got beer and you've got music, you've got a party" says Ike, who describes MmmHop as a really good introductory pale ale, perfect for newcomers but also drinkers who love strong, hop-filled beers (like himself).
"That's a normal thing for us," Ike says of Hanson's post-show routine, which usually involves mingling with fans outside the venue (unless someone's super exhausted). "You want to thank people for coming out to the show, you want them to have a good experience, and it's nice to meet people and talk with people."
"As long as we can keep things at bay, so to speak," adds Taylor. "That night we had people all throughout the streets and a baseball game had just gotten out, so it was a little bit of madness. Still you make the effort to go out."
"We had to wait a little bit because the crowd was so big, we had to let it thin out a little bit because there were so many people that we could not go out of the bus door," Ike adds. Hanson may not be tween hearthrobs anymore, but some things never change.