Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson achieved ubiquity in 1997 with "MMMBop," the mega-hit with the wordless, sing-along hook. But the brothers — aged 16, 14 and 11 at the time — had already been playing together for years. And they're still going.
Hanson's ninth studio album, Anthem, is out this week. Soon, the brothers will be marketing a beer, MMMHops (in honor of the band's 21st birthday). They've also started an effort to donate proceeds from their merchandise to aid relief in their home state of Oklahoma.
"Whenever something really strikes a community, I think your confidence is a little bit shaken," Taylor Hanson says. "We performed in those schools. Those communities were really supportive of our band. We are going to continually be a part of that effort, because that is our home."
The brothers Hanson spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about how their attitudes toward life and music have changed since they first formed in 1992.
On breaking out with "MMMBop"
Taylor Hanson: "I think we're proud of it. The interesting thing is that we were lucky to have success young. But we used to tell people, 'Just think of us as old guys with high voices.' When we started, we always saw ourselves at the beginning of a long career of music. That song represents our story. It's a garage band that loved soul music, doo-wop and classic American rock and roll. We wrote it, too. Zac is one of the writers, which makes him the youngest Grammy-nominated songwriter ever at 11."
On changes in the band's sound
Isaac Hanson: "There is no question that we have evolved as a band. We're inevitably tight — if nothing else, it's our 16 years of practicing together. But all of it is still coming from the same place, whether I'm 16 or 32. I just want to write a great lyric and a great song — everything else is icing on the cake."
Taylor Hanson: "I think this is an album where we had to really look and ask ourselves what was next. We had to step back and ask, 'Why are we doing this? What are we doing this for? Is everybody in?' There was a sense of intensity, size and scale to almost everything. We came away with wanting to be bold. The record needed to be anthem-like to hold all those punches."
On meeting their wives at Hanson concerts
Taylor Hanson: "People meet at work, and we were at work. It's great."
Isaac Hanson: "The short version [of my story] is, I see my wife standing about five people back. It was a standing-room venue, not a seated venue. She and her friend were really tall — my wife is about 5'9. She was easy to see above everybody. I thought she was really cute. So I sang a couple songs while looking directly at her to get her attention, threw a guitar pick and hit her. I wanted to make sure she knew I was talking to her. She still has the guitar pick."
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It is time now to step into the Wayback Machine.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MMMBOP")
HANSON: (Singing) Mmm bop, ba duba dop. Ba du bop, ba duba dop. Ba du bop, ba duba dop. Doo-wop...
MARTIN: That is Hanson, of course, and their 1997 smash hit "MMMBop." They started a band in 1992. And later this fall, they're celebrating the group's 21st birthday. To honor the occasion, they will be marketing a beer called MMMHops. Hanson also has a new album that comes out this week. It's called "Anthem."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRED UP")
HANSON: (Singing) Well, you'd better run and hide 'cause we're about to bring the fight. We're turning around this time, let's get fired up...
MARTIN: The brothers Hanson join us from our New York Bureau. Welcome to the program, guys.
ZAC HANSON: Thank you.
ISAAC HANSON: Isaac, hello.
TAYLOR HANSON: This is Taylor, hello.
Z. HANSON: And this is Zac. Thanks for having us.
I. HANSON: Thanks very much.
MARTIN: So happy to talk with you. So when you hear that version of yourselves, when you listen to "MMMBop" and what you were doing way back in the day, what do you think about that sound?
I. HANSON: I...
T. HANSON: I think we're proud of it. You know, the interesting thing about our band is we did get so lucky to have success young. But we always used to tell people, you know, just think of us as old guys with high voices.
T. HANSON: Because when we started, we genuinely, we were - we always saw ourselves at the beginning of a long career in music. And we had the great fortune to have actual commercial success at the beginning. That song represents our story. It's a garage band, you know, that loved soul music and doo-wop and classic American rock 'n' roll. And it's a song we wrote. It's a song that Zac is one of the three writers, which makes him the youngest Grammy-nominated songwriter ever. He was nominated at 11.
MARTIN: That is amazing. Zac, is that crazy when you think back on that? I mean 11 is young but you are ripping out on those drums.
Z. HANSON: Yeah, 11 is young. It's just something we always wanted to do. And to be honest, we just never thought that much about it. I think - I find myself thinking a lot more about age now just because you're like, wow, I'm an adult.
Z. HANSON: Like him I'm supposed to have it together now. I'm almost 28, what's, whoa, going on here? Yeah.
MARTIN: Isaac, you're the eldest.,
I. HANSON: Yeah.
MARTIN: The oldest and wisest.
I. HANSON: Yeah, I'd like to think so. But I think actually the end of the day, Zac may be the wisest.
Z. HANSON: I don't know what I owe him later.
MARTIN: How has your musicality changed over those years?
I. HANSON: Well, as a band there's no question that we have, you know, evolved. No question, I mean as a band - I think as a unit - we're inevitably tighter, if nothing else just because of 16 years of practicing together. But I think all of it still was coming from the same place, no matter what, whether I was 16 or whether I am, you know, 32.
It's really a question of kind of coming from that same love of soul music, early rock and roll, R&B and songwriters. No matter what, I will always hope for that day when I look around and can say, oh yeah, I wrote a song that touched me emotionally the way that a song like "She's Got A Way," by Billy Joel did. I just want to write a great lyric and write a great song and everything else is icing on the cake.
MARTIN: Well, I would love to play something off the new album. Let's play the track called "Get the Girl Back."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET THE GIRL BACK")
HANSON: (Singing) You've got to say it from the heart, 'cause she will know a fake right from the start. If the girl like that deserves the best. Oh, yeah. You've got to show her - show her - that you're not like all the rest. It's about time that you put your cards back on the table. Oh, it's about time...
MARTIN: I made really - it honestly feels like a little bit of an echo of "Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel.
MARTIN: It has that same kind of energy.
Z. HANSON: Thank you.
MARTIN: Is that a compliment?
I. HANSON: We did it. We did it.
T. HANSON: That's a great compliment for us. I mean we love Billy Joel. We love great American songwriters and classic rock 'n' roll, like you said. But the other thing about us making records is where all three writers and we are all three players. And what you hear when you hear this album - the album is called "Anthem," because it's full of anthems of different kinds; anthems for your street corner; you know, anthems for your bad day; anthems for your epic fight...
I. HANSON: Or getting the girl back.
T. HANSON: ...to get the girl back.
Z. HANSON: And it really paints a picture of our sort of lifelong love affair with a lot of American rock 'n' roll, and songwriters and soul music.
MARTIN: Let's listen to a different track from the album. There are these bright, poppy tunes on it. But there are also some songs with a little more edge, little more grit. Let's listen to a bit of "You Can't Stop Us."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T STOP US")
HANSON: (Singing) Out on the corner on your soapbox looking down, waving your flag like this is a battleground. Your fancy words try to cut me down to size. Hey, mister, you're in for a big surprise. You can't stop us. You can't stop us now...
MARTIN: So I understand that there was a certain amount of tension...
MARTIN: ...around this recording session.
MARTIN: Is that true?
Z. HANSON: This album is now from that I think we had to really look inside and ask ourselves what was next. We came to the making of this record in the very beginning, we had a strong plan of how we were going to record it, and essentially realized that we couldn't make the record because we were kind of getting onto each other constantly.
T. HANSON: And really had to step back and say OK, you're 20, why are we doing this? What are we doing it for? Is everybody in? There was just a sense of intensity and size and scale to almost everything. And I think what we all came away essentially that we wanted to be bold. You know, if this is going to be, you know, album number one of, in the next 20 years, the record needed to be anthemic to hold no punches.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "YOU CAN'T STOP US")
I. HANSON: There was, you know, a lot of tension amongst the brothers. You know, and we had to kind of figure out ways to resolve that. And one of them was musically resolving that.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "REMADE IN AMERICA")
Z. HANSON: That like sits in the pocket so well.
I. HANSON: Doesn't it sound a little bit like it's trying too hard?
Z. HANSON: We made a documentary actually about the making of the record, and it's called "Remade in America." But we could remade at the front of it because it was about remaking, recommitting, rethinking.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "REMADE IN AMERICA")
T. HANSON: I know, get the riff out of the way and make it a chord.
When you start his kids, you know, you're brothers and you grow up in you're in the same bed, you kick the other guys', you know bunk bed. And you're, like, hey, you want to go practice? You know...
T. HANSON: ...that doesn't work the same way 20 years in.
I. HANSON: No, it doesn't.
MARTIN: So what were some of the compromises that have to be made? I mean, if there was tension and, you know, you don't have to get into it. I know what happens between brothers.
MARTIN: Sometimes you want to air this.
T. HANSON: How many interview hours do you have?
T. HANSON: You know...
MARTIN: But did something has to give, and what was said?
T. HANSON: I think the main thing is it was just sort of this assumption that you could go into the studio and, oh yeah, we'll write a song tomorrow. We'll write another one, 12 days later will have a record and we'll, you know, go record it. And what we found was it just takes more than that. And when you start to take it for granted, due to exhaustion and repetition, it just doesn't work.
You know, it's like you've got to go get the oil changed in your car. I think everybody had to stop and remember why we make records; to actually feel that fire.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOST WITHOUT YOU")
HANSON: (Singing) Giving my love tonight. Lost without you. Lost without you, 'cause I'm lost without you...
MARTIN: I'd like to ask about Oklahoma, if I may. That's home for you.
I. HANSON: It is.
MARTIN: You're from Tulsa.
I. HANSON: Yes.
MARTIN: It's obviously been an incredibly difficult time for folks in that part of part of the country. I imagine the storms, the devastation there, this has been a tough year for you all.
T. HANSON: Absolutely. And one of the things that we or probably hits closest to home is that community in Moore is a place where, when we very first started out, we performed in those schools. And those communities were really supportive of this band. So the desire to do more, just to watch it, to help it rebuild, we're going to be a continually a part of that 'cause that's our home.
MARTIN: We should mention you are starting this microbrew, this beer and all proceeds sales from the merchandise of that beer will go to the Red Cross to aid tornado relief efforts.
I. HANSON: Yes.
MARTIN: Part of your story is also the fact that each of you, I understand, met your wives at your own concerts?
T. HANSON: You know, people meet at work and we were at work.
T. HANSON: And we were all traveling. It's great 'cause we got - you know, we sort of got to travel the world and see, you know a lot of different potential partners and we thought we could choose from the best.
MARTIN: Well, how does this go down? You're like, on stage, you really like see someone in the front...
I. HANSON: Well, as cheesy as it is, my story...
T. HANSON: Isaac is the only one that actually has a story that involves hey, that girl out, you know...
I. HANSON: Yeah.
T. HANSON: ...you, in the audience.
I. HANSON: Mine is thoroughly as elaborate as one might think it could be, except for...
T. HANSON: It's exactly that.
I. HANSON: Exactly that.
MARTIN: Can you give me the short version?
I. HANSON: Well, the short version is basically I see my wife about five people in. It was a standing-room thing. It wasn't a seated venue. So she was standing about five or six people back. Her and her friend are really tall; my wife is like 5'9 and her friend is like 5'10. So they were standing above everybody so I could see them. And I thought she was really cute.
I. HANSON: And so, I was like wow, that girl is really cute. So I sang a couple of songs directly at her to get her attention.
I. HANSON: Threw a guitar pick at her, hit her, and told her...
T. HANSON: Smoldering eyes.
MARTIN: You did not throw a guitar pick at her.
I. HANSON: I threw a guitar pick at her.
T. HANSON: Yeah, he should stop - you should stop mentioning that.
MARTIN: Did you really?
I. HANSON: No, I did. I did.
T. HANSON: He did a cat call. You did throw...
I. HANSON: I had to make sure she knew I was talking to her.
I. HANSON: So anyway.
MARTIN: Does she still have the guitar pick?
I. HANSON: Yes, she does.
I. HANSON: Yes, she does.
MARTIN: Well, before we say goodbye, I'd love to play one more track. This is my hunch that the cut called "Tonight" is the one that's going to bring out everyone's lighters in the stadium shows, 'cause it kind of rocks. Let's listen to this. This is "Tonight."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TONIGHT")
HANSON: (Singing) Chase down the dream and don't give up without a fight. And don't wait for tomorrow's daylight 'cause it just might be tonight...
MARTIN: Isaac, Taylor and Zac, together they are Hanson. Their new album is called "Anthem." They joined us from our bureau in New York.
Thanks so much, you three. It's been so fun.
Z. HANSON: Thanks for having us.
I. HANSON: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TONIGHT")
HANSON: (Singing) Don't wait for tomorrow. Don't wait 'cause it just might be. Don't wait for tomorrow. Don't wait 'cause it just might be...
MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.