Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Interview: Isaac Hanson

By Andrew Hertzberg

By now you’ve probably looked at the header of this article, focused your eyes on the picture above, recognized the last name, thought it sounded vaguely familiar, perhaps from a mid-late '90s pop trio, and thought no way in hell would a music blog that covers local independent rock music be interviewing one of the Hanson brothers. Well, ladies and gentlemen, sometimes we like to throw a little curveball here at WCR. Yes, I did indeed have the opportunity to talk with Isaac Hanson, the drummer/percussionist and singer for the much adored and much derided pop group Hanson. No, I was never a fan myself, but I couldn’t possibly pass up this opportunity after it was presented in an email. Besides, weren’t you curious/ecstatic to find out that Hanson is not only still performing, but releasing new material as well? In fact, they are in town for two nights, tonight and tomorrow, at the House of Blues. The shows are a part of their Musical Ride Tour which allows fans to pick an album for them to play live. Time constraints and a rambly Isaac didn’t allow me to ask all of my questions, but we did have a chance to talk about the music industry, the band's recent charity work and the legacy of none other than the infamous "MMMBop." 

WCR: You’re probably sick about talking about this song, but I promised I would ask it for a friend. He wants to know if you came up with the concept for "MMMBop" when you were eating peanut butter while you were trying to sing. 

Isaac: Definitely not. That was definitely not how we came up with "MMMBop" [laughs]. Actually--how we came up with "MMMbop"--we grew up listening to a lot of '50s and '60s music. We were young kids memorizing late '50s rock’n’roll stuff, everything from Chuck Berry to Eddie Cochran to Little Richard. Taylor and I knew how to play piano, but for the most part the easiest thing for us to do as performers was to get up and sing. All three of us could do it and we had the ear for harmonies, we’d just stand there and do it and sing songs we’d memorized. That’s where it kind of all began 20 years ago. And you know, definitely not sick and tired of talking about that song--that’s the thing about a song like "MMMBop" or anything like that when you first burst out onto the scene--it's just the kind of thing that every band and every artist hopes for; they hope they will have a song that will be significant and synonymous with what they do, so that people will care what they do at all.

What do you think about the Rolling Stone top 10 worst songs of the '90s, a reader’s poll. That one actually made the list.

 Oh it did?

Did you heard about that one yet?

No, I didn’t hear about that.

What are your reactions to that?

My reaction to that is if being one of the worst songs of all times means you have a number one in 27 countries then I’m OK with that. 

Very good reaction. So you’ve been playing together for about 20 years. You’re all brothers. Has there been a lot of conflicts at all? I’m sure there’s already enough tension just as family members but to be in a band on top of that…

Being in a band with your brothers is like…guys who are in a band with their friends or whatever, half the time they’ll say “You know, it’s like we’re brothers.” And then guys who are in bands with their brothers probably say something to the effect of “Oh yeah, it’s like being in a band with your friends” or something. So I think more than anything…being in a band is kind of beyond any of that stuff. Because what really makes the band work has nothing to do with whether or not we’re related. It’s gotten far beyond that a long time ago. Obviously we were able to begin the band because we were related and even as young kids were singing together. And that was the part that made the band work early on because it was easier for us. When you have a six-year-old, a nine-year-old and an eleven-year-old singing together and doing a hundred gigs a year, it’s not possible unless you live in the same house. 

I didn’t know this until recently myself, but you guys are involved with a lot of charitable works. I’m curious, is your motivation to do all this, is it just based on compassion or do you feel there is an obligation as an artist to spend time on humanitarian works?

For us, the charitable stuff we’ve done, which has primarily been HIV/AIDS and poverty relief in Africa…that is fueled by a personal experience that we had while we were traveling through Africa and it really just felt like there were a lot of tangible things that we could do that would have a positive impact on the circumstance. We were focused on a one-on-one kind of basis thing. It’s not purely focused on the numbers, it’s saying look, if we can help one person’s life, one day at a time, then that’s what you’re really trying to do, you’re trying to provide a hand-up to people who need it and who will make good with that opportunity. Whether it be kids going to school who need shoes, whether it be kids who don’t have a school and building a school for them, people who need fresh water, people whose life depends on sanitary circumstances.

Based on your experiences, advice for the Hansons of today, to the Justin Biebers, growing up in the spotlight, having to deal with a cutthroat music industry. Any advice for anyone going through that?

Well, everybody has their own circumstances and certainly our circumstances are unique compared to others and you can never really give a perfect comparison. One thing I feel like you always have to do, and something that we’ve stuck by from the beginning, is having a long-term perspective on things, not being concerned with what is or is not popular. You have to do what you do and be passionate about it. That’s where songs like "MMMBop" came from...it's that same kind of passion for R&B and pop music and all that kind of stuff. I think you have to stay true to yourself no matter what. I think that’s the first and foremost thing. Because no one else has to live the career that you have. Your manager can move on. Your label can move on. Everybody in your band can move on. You, on the other hand, will always be you. That’s why if you’re unhappy with what it is that you do, you’re gonna have trouble. You will feel very frustrated.

Click here for more information and tickets for Hanson's show tonight, September 27 and here for tomorrow, September 28. 

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