Taylor Hanson in The Firing Line: “I’ve always respected my hair’s natural juices”

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If you thought ‘90s pop sensations Hanson broke up sometime after ‘MMMBop’, you wouldn’t be alone. Back before the Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber and One Direction, Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson were winning tween hearts and dominating bedroom real estate, thanks – for the most part – to their 1997 breakthrough record Middle of Nowhere.

It’s pretty easy to lump them in with the likes of Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync and Five, but unlike those manufactured groups Hanson bucked the odds and have continued to make music and tour successfully for the last 21 years. Since 2007 Hanson have received three Grammy nominations and (at the time of writing) spawned 11 children between them. The brothers, now aged 28, 31 and 33, also have their own record label and are about to embark on an Australian tour to promote new album Anthem – probably to the same screaming girls who dug them 20 years ago. Lead singer, middle brother and “the good looking one” Taylor Hanson stepped into the FL Firing Line to field tough questions on religion, beer, girls and being a child star.

I’ve got some facts about you from an Angelfire fan page from the ‘90s, and I’d like to fact check some of them.
I seriously doubt there’s many real facts in there, but I’ll do my best.

Apparently you write with your right hand, and you deny that you’re ambidextrous.
Um, I am very right handed. I wish I was ambidextrous. If you learn to play piano well, you do have to develop your left hand. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

You use Flex shampoo.
I don’t know what Flex shampoo is. I’d like to correct the record. I’ve never been choosy about shampoo. When you have as much as hair as we do, in the Hanson gene pool, you try and use shampoo that keeps your hair from having a life of its own. I’ve always respected the natural juices and try to not overdo it. You just don’t need to wash too much. Wash as little as possible.

Sage advice. Also you had a cat called Mama that you had to give away?
No, we did not have a cat named Mama. We had a cat we used to call Tuxedo, or Tux, because it always looked like he had a tuxedo on.

I don’t know about this information source…
This is dodgy, yeah, really. You should reject that from the fact pool. But yeah let’s insert some real facts. There was a tuxedo cat, and that’s a real fact. These are important things, you know.

Let’s get to the good stuff. Apparently you like strawberry ice-cream, Zac likes and chocolate, and Isaac likes vanilla ice-cream?
Oh my gosh, that’s so wrong! I love vanilla, Isaac is the chocolate guy, and Zac is the least ice-cream oriented brother. So I think he would opt for sugar, just straight sugar. If we’re talking about dessert, Zac would be freebasing pixie sticks not eating icecream.

In the video for ‘Where’s the Love’ you kissed a girl but were so embarrassed about it that they didn’t put it in the video?
Gosh, I’m trying to think about this. There was a point in the treatment of that video where the director we worked with, Tamra Davis, wanted me to kiss a girl, and let’s just say I wasn’t interested in the girl they picked.

Could you request a replacement girl?
It was an awkward moment. It wasn’t meant to be.

There’s one that’s a little bit factual then. That’s good.
[Laughs] That’s a distant fact. A very, very distant fact.

Your dream girls are Clare Grogan [Hanson producer Stephen Lironi’s wife], Pamela Anderson and Baby Spice of The Spice Girls.
Wow, these facts are so not on. Claire Grogan is lovely, but I would have not considered her a crush in that way, especially considering she’s the wife of our producer friend. She’s lovely though. I wouldn’t say I had any interest in the Spice Girls, especially considering they’re smaller than all of us. They’re really small people. Too little. I’m trying to remember childhood crushes, but I can’t really think of any right now. But that’s a big wrong, wrong wrong!

You slept in boxers and a tank top.
Boxers and a tank top? I’m trying to think how that would even make sense. I’ve had many tank tops, and I do enjoy a good, solid tank top. But you can’t wear it in mixed company. It’s not always a good look.

You go for the natural look on girls, and you aren’t into a lot of make up at all.
Well, that depends on the girl. Some can pull off a natural look. If you can pull of the natural look, yeah, I can get into that.

Final one – it says your personality is “flirtatious and friendly, and it blends the intelligence of Isaac and the zaniness of Zac.”
[Laughs] I don’t even know how to answer that. I think if intelligent is a part of it, I’ll take that. I don’t think there’s any answer for that though. You just have to get to know me to figure that out, don’t you? I’m glad we covered those important facts, though.

I’m glad we’ve established some stuff.
I think we set the record straight, that’s for sure.

Speaking of setting the record straight, did Miley Cyrus get tattooed and smoke pot with [The Flaming Lips’] Wayne Coyne in your studio last month?
Yes, she did. That’s all I have to say about that [laughs]. There’s not really much more to say is there? I was out of town. We have a studio here in Oklahoma and we’re friends with Wayne [Coyne], and he was working on a session. I was actually at South by Southwest music festival when they were here, so we had our studio available and they came in and had a good session.

Have you listened to their track yet?
I haven’t heard anything finished but we heard good things from everybody and they were super happy with what they did. I think they were working on some covers that Miley was singing on. Some Beatles stuff that Wayne was recording.

Some of our readers may only be familiar with ‘MMMBop’. How would you describe your career since then?
It’s impossible to catch people up on 17 years of music in one quote, but we’re a band that grew up listening to classic rock ‘n’ roll and great songwriters, and we’ve always been all about music. We’ve always been about our live show, and about making albums we’re proud of. And we’ve always written it, produced it, played it. I think when we first came out we were super young so people associated being young with Hanson. But our music is …it’s soulful pop-rock music – and that’s always been at the centre of our records. We love old rock ‘n’ roll and soul music, and that’s at the centre of our sound and we’ve been able to keep an amazing fan base and a great connection with our fans for a long time.

Do the royalties from ‘MMMBop’ pay more than the albums you release now?
[Laughs] Um, there are a lot of things that go with having an ongoing career, as far as royalties go – from the tour, to merchandise, to new songs you put out. So all in all, ‘MMMBop’ and other songs from the past, thankfully, still have royalties that are associated with them and there’s a lot of good business there that’s still alive. I would say one’s not exceeding the other, though. They move along quite evenly.

What was it really like being a child star?
Impossible to describe to somebody that hasn’t been in that position. We didn’t think about it as being “child stars”. We idolised and looked up to people that were making music as young people – whether it was Stevie Wonder, or Ray Charles, or The Beatles, or The Beach Boys. I mean these guys, most of them, were putting out their first records when they were 16, 17, 18. And so we never thought of it as “Yes, we’re child stars. This is fantastic!”, we just thought of it as the beginning. And thankfully it was the beginning, and we’re here years later and we still have fans and we get to tour. As far as the experience of being young and having fans and experiencing the amazing reaction from millions of different people: I mean it’s surreal and humbling, and it was a dream come true to get to look at yourself in the mirror and go “Oh my gosh, this is my job and this is actually what we came to do.”

How controlled were you in the early days, by the label, your parents or managers? And how did you wrest that control away?
We weren’t controlled by managers. I mean if you know us well, then you know that if anything we were – and always have been – more micro-managers than we should be. Whether it’s producing our records and always writing and always playing, we probably could’ve milked the success of our early time much more than we did. But we were always really self-conscious about trying to take advantage of our success as if it were something that was only for a moment. So we never had to wrestle control back, any more than any band in the major label system. We had creative control; we were always making our own music. And because we were young, I think people often think when we say “Oh yeah, we didn’t have someone controlling what we were doing”, that that’s some kind of political statement. But it’s true.

We always wrote songs and it was always our music, so the real mark of really galvanising the control of our career in a new way was when we left our old label [Island Def Jam Records]. It didn’t have anything to do with being young, or being uber successful at a young age, it had to do with business. And with the major labels you’re caught in this big system of merging labels, labels buying each other. And now it’s been more than 10 years – 2002 was when we left our label and started our own company – and we’ve been independent since then. But that was more of an industry question not a music question.

Some of your contemporaries now, like Justin Bieber, are self-destructing. What did you get right that people like Bieber are getting wrong?
I don’t wan to say that he’s getting it wrong. But I think history will show and tell who survives and who doesn’t. Because it’s really hard to survive in this business. Mostly because you are putting yourself out there. And you’re taking a risk, and you’re opening yourself up to criticism whenever you become an artist. Everything you do can be loved and hated. I will say that painstakingly, we were always in this to make music – not to be superstars. We’re the guys that write and produce and we work with other artists, and that’s our passion. Just to make songs and write records and tour. So I think we were so influenced by our own drive to be musicians first, that I think that helped keep us focused on that. And being brothers is probably positive. You keep one another in check. And when somebody goes off the rails you go “Hey man, you’re being a real moron. You should stop that.”

Everyone has cringe-worthy moments from their childhood. Given you guys were in the public eye for much of yours, are there any that stand out more for you?
Oh my gosh. Well when you’re a teenager and everything you wear, and your every haircut and the polyester pants that you have gets photographed a million times – that kind of amplifies all your cringe-worthy moments. So stuff like that, harmless stuff. Sadly photos pop up all the time. I mean we’ve all done stupid things here and there – drank too much, or hung out with people that we regretted hanging out with – and you think, “Well, we shouldn’t really be around that person very long.” But honestly with most of it, there’s no story of having to totally right the path of destruction. When you’re in the public eye everything you do is amplified and we’re lucky that we haven’t had too many moments that we regret.

Would you have broken up at any point if you weren’t brothers?
Well, being a band is hard. Period. Because you trust each other, and you’re business partners. You’re invested in all these things together. And I think the thing that’s kept us together – not to sound like a broken record – is the performing, and making records. Because the things that happen around you, people that say “Oh yeah, you guys aren’t going to last”, or the people that try and box you in and say “You’re this, or you’re that”, those things can cause incredible friction in any band. Our mutual respect for each other – it doesn’t mean you like each other all the time – has kept us from giving up when things have been difficult. And also, we’ve always just had a real respect for the fans that have followed us. And we’ve felt like during times when we’ve been frustrated or really considering a different path, or wanting to take a break, or change gears, we’ve looked at our fans and the people that have followed us for a long time and thought “You know, we don’t want to give up on this – we don’t want to walk away from it, because we’ve put so much of our life into this band.”

I will say one slice of wisdom over time is proactively reaching out and collaborating with people helps you get perspective. For years we’ve done retreats where we get a lot of songwriters together and we make music purely for the sake of it. And that helps keep you inspired. And also I have a side project called Tinted Windows which is just pop songs with guitars, it’s power pop. It’s me and James Iha [Smashing Pumpkins], and Bun E Carlos from Cheap Trick, and Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne, he’s a writer/producer. And so doing those things keeps your album and your core band fresh, because you come back to it and you go “Yeah, this is good – I still enjoy this.”

You all got married super young. Why is that?
Well, if you’re smart, and you find the right girl and she’s willing to marry you, you marry her. If you’re slow, you miss the opportunity. When I was 19, I was in a very different place to most 19 year olds. I won’t say I was more mature, because that’s not really true, but I was just in a very different point of expectation and desire to have different kinds of relationships. So getting married and having a family – it felt natural. And she’s truly an amazing woman. My girlfriend at the time has been my wife now for more than a decade, and she’s awesome. She could handle being married to a travelling minstrel. So the rest is history.

Did you get a lot of hate mail after getting married? A lot of fans would’ve had your posters up on their wall. Were girls mad?
I didn’t know any of those girls, personally. But of course. Girls have a relationship that they feel with you because of who we are and who we were. And there was definitely a lot of people that said “Oh, it’s never going to last”, or “Oh we can’t believe he’s getting married.” But you can’t marry everyone. Unless you’re Gene Simmons, he’s figured out how to do it. When we first got married it was definitely an interesting time, a lot of people wondered “Why is he even getting married so young?” But everybody doesn’t have the same vision for their life, I guess. I had a very different one.

May 6 is Hanson Day. Do you guys recognise Hanson Day and what do you do?
You’ve done your research! Years ago the governor of our state kind of declared a commemorative day – Hanson Day. And when it first happened I thought “Wow that’s amazing, thank you.” And for a long time our fans would celebrate it and it was almost like a Hanson Birthday. But a little more than 10 years ago we decided to make it something we celebrated too, so we actually do a fan festival every year on Hanson Day. And people come to our home town, and it’s basically a community of fans that connect, and we do all kinds of things. It’s basically a mini Hanson festival. So yes, we do acknowledge it and it’s very narcissistic, but it’s fun. We try and make it a moment where we actually acknowledge the fans and the community of fans that have followed us for a long time. We do something special every year, we play certain songs and we invite people to come to our home town…

How important would you say religion has been in the band’s success?
Well religion is much, much more important than the band’s success. We all grew up and continue to be passionate about our faith, but we’ve always felt like if that’s who we are, then people will see it and they’ll know it and you can see who we are through what we do and how we choose to live. The music is a different subject – we’ve never made it something that we put on the front lines of our lyrics, and say “Let me preach to you through our songs.” But I think if you listen to our songs you can hear who we are. So I think we’ve been incredibly blessed to get to do what we do. And in no small part I think it’s due to the influence and the blessing of God for sure. In our small way.

Is the MMMHops beer just a marketing ploy?
It is a delicious beer. If it was a marketing ploy we would’ve called a big beer company and said “Hey, here’s our name, and you go make a beer.” It’s a real beer, and it’s brewed in our home state, and we’re building it slowly. People that try it really love it, so we hope that over the next few years it becomes something that people can get all over. In fact we’re very close to announcing the ability for people to order the beer, and we can ship it all over the world. So that’ll be the next step.

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