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Interview: Isaac and Taylor Hanson on ‘Red Green Blue’ and UK tour

We caught up with the brothers ahead of their latest album release this week.

It might seem hard to believe, but Hanson – made up of brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac – are marking their 30th year of performing together as a band in 2022.

Since they burst onto the pop scene back in 1997 with their global smash hit ‘MMMBop’, which topped the charts in 27 countries simultaneously, they’ve released another nine studio albums – most recently 2021’s ‘Against The World’ – selling over 16 million records worldwide as well as having eight UK top 40 hits under their belt and three Grammy nominations. Now they’re back with their latest release, ‘Red Green Blue’, which sees each band member writing and producing a third of the album.

I recently caught up with Isaac and Taylor from the band to talk about the new record, their upcoming UK tour and plenty more besides.

Congratulations on your 30th anniversary as a band!

Taylor: Thanks so much, yeah.

Have you got any plans on how you’re going to celebrate?

Taylor: Well we were thinking, maybe coordinate a global release of a new project and a 96 city tour of the planet.

Isaac: [laughs] Yeah, exactly! That’s pretty much our plan for celebration. I mean, I think we’re going to be really tired after this celebration, we’re going to look forward to a little Christmas holiday. But yeah, I mean, this ‘Red Green Blue’ record is definitely a part of that celebration. I mean, we feel extremely grateful and lucky to have been able to do this for as long as we have. And we feel like, you know, so far, in spite of the unique challenges around the world the last two years, we feel like we’re off to a good start. And it’s going to be a lot of fun to just go out and see people face to face. We’re thrilled for the opportunity to finally get back to the UK, Australia, South America, everywhere, it’s fantastic.

Taylor: I would say just generally, we’re, you know, just cautiously optimistic about the future.

Isaac: Because the last two years made you cautiously optimistic?! [laughs] For good reason!

Taylor: Hedge your bets a little bit. But the fact that, you know, I mean, music, I think and arts, you know, especially in the time now our generation has lived through in these last few years – you know, things are super actually global, where people are sharing these kind of the challenges that have come with all the pandemic stuff. One of the things it’s brought to mind for me is that telling stories, and the work of creators, artists, painters, designers, is so essential – movie makers, it really helps all of us make sense of things. And, you know, especially when you become isolated, versus having those random interactions where you say, “hey, mailman, good to see what’s going on”, and you step into the coffee shop, and you have your office friendship and you have your your guy’s trip where you go, “we’re gonna go do this, you know, thing.

All of a sudden, you take all those random experiences, those unexpected those interactions as a human, and you’re just left with you. You really get a clearer picture on just how anybody that has a gift or a creative ability to tell a story or to transfer their experiences into something they can share with someone. That’s a really powerful and important thing for all of us. Because it’s a way almost of having a shared experience.

You know, I’m so glad Tom Petty didn’t decide to just like start a lawn care business in Florida, you know, because then we wouldn’t have all that – all those stories, all those songs. I’m so glad that Paul McCartney was the guy who was like, “Well, we really should start a band, you know?”. And so I think for me, I feel very clear about that at this point in our lives. It’s something that’s where I’m grateful that I get to be a part of music, and then I’m grateful that I’m a fan as well of the people that have made their choice to put good stuff out into the world.

You’ve mentioned ‘Red Green Blue’ which comes out this week. What did you learn from the process of each taking a lead on one section, compared to your previous records and other projects you’ve worked on?

Isaac: I mean, it’s an interesting thing, because I think for all of us, there were things that we kind of got out of it, that maybe we didn’t fully expect to get out of it. And there were definitely challenges that we maybe knew we would be going through, but also, they always look different in reality than they are. You know, in theory, we decided for the first time in our career to really make a point of the three unique kind of songwriting styles, shall we say?

I think the biggest part of this record was, in some ways it’s kind of an exercise in trust [chuckles]. It’s a little bit like a band trust fall. Because you know, we’ve collaborated with each other for 30 years now, and in very active ways for the last 25 years. And yeah, everybody doesn’t write every single detail of every lyric on each song, but we’re constantly working together on the, on the melody and on the lyric and on the arrangement, et cetera, et cetera.

And so to find yourself in a situation where you’re like, “Alright, Tay, what’s the song? How do you want me to play this? What’s your vision for it?” And for the conversation not to be only about “what do I want to play?” but more like, “what do you want me to play?” And how do I serve your vision, not just my vision for this song? It just pivots the responsibility and the creative vision in a certain way. And I think that… it’s not that that doesn’t happen in other records. But in this record, it was specifically happening, like, “Hey, man, what do you want?”

Taylor: Yeah. We’ve made a lot of records, and I think our historical focus has been more, almost outwardly, it’s been very much about “here’s the one, here’s the unified voice”. So I think there’s two qualities to it, there’s one, how we present it, and what we say about it publicly. And then also the process of making it and what that was, like.

It was challenging in many ways, and it was really positive in other ways. And if anything, I think everyone grew through the process in different ways. You know, whenever you have a lot of songwriters – three songwriters, three singers – it’s always challenging to represent all the different feelings and thoughts and songs. And you never get all the songs on an album that are conceived of.

Isaac: Well, frankly, not even in this record. There’s so much.

Taylor: Yeah, for many, many songs. So with this one, creating a certain set of rules that says yeah, in this portion Isaac’s going to bring songs Taylor’s gonna bring songs, Zac’s gonna bring songs, I think that that opens up a certain colour palette, literally and figuratively [Isaac laughs], that makes sure that certain things happen on the album. And the things that are happening in this case is not necessarily better or worse, but they are different.

And, you know, I’ll just use as an example that I can speak to, honestly, from my perspective, I love arrangements, vocals, I love harmonies, I love working on those things. And frankly, my go to would be more gospel and R&B and Motown. Just if I sit alone singing, that’s what I do. Interestingly, that style really invites more arrangement, more harmony in many respects. And so I, I really kind of went the other way and kept it simpler and smaller and really spoke to stories and lyrics that felt like they would shine a light more on the kind of individual side of this project. So if, to me, if, if we’re going to do a project that is, quote unquote, “different”, that was my call was, “well, I’m going to I’m going to choose to go a little smaller, a little bit quieter when I speak to you.”

So of the five songs on the ‘Red’ portion, for instance, two of them are basically an instrument and the voice with a little bit of colour. Others have bigger arrangements, but even those are speaking to a different angle. And I think, I would say from my perspective on Isaac’s tunes, as a songwriter voice, I feel like [in] the songs themselves you hear more of the creative, just the storytelling and where Ike comes from in this album than ever. Which is very earnest, very honest, very more kind of Springsteen and a little country in some places. But I think that that honesty is really where Isaac shines, and you hear that in in a way that you’ve never heard in many tunes from a Hansen record.

Isaac: Yeah. Well, I think also too, we take for granted the fact that every year we do a fanclub EP for Hanson.net – we have an annual membership and so every year we do five songs for them no matter what’s going on. And so in some ways, the process that we have enacted in that creative sphere was affecting what ‘Red Green Blue’ ended up being. Because I think things that happen on on those EPS happened very clearly, in the ‘Red Green Blue’ record, and those kinds of things have not often made it to records in the same way. Like on ‘Blue’ in particular, some of the really kind of orchestral, almost very atmospheric ballads that Zac will sing a lot of times. There’s two songs that are very much that way on the ‘Blue’ portion of the record. And as far as I know, songs like that have not necessarily been on Hanson records up until now. They’ve had moments, I think.

Taylor: Yeah, less so, but I mean, you have songs like Zac’s, regarding his voice and then kind of arrangements. I mean, ‘Broken Angel’, ‘Lula Belle’…

Isaac: Oh that’s true.

Taylor: ‘Use Me Up’. Like those kinds of songs. You hear that shape, but I think it just is even more expanded on. I think there’s some things that, if we would have been finishing writing some of Zac’s songs we would have been like, “do you want to repeat that? At least one other time?”

Isaac: Yeah, exactly.

Taylor: A couple of songs. Like, it never repeats, it just keeps going. And it’s very beautiful.

Isaac: Yeah, we we would have edited each other in different ways.

Taylor: And also, I’ve been a big proponent in historically, you know, cut down the fat of songs, find the hook. And the ‘Red’ songs, I mean, they’re almost all five minute songs.

Isaac: [laughs] I was like, “Wait, Tay, how did all your songs ended up being the longest ones? You’re like Mr Pop Music.”

Taylor: That’s where I said, “Hey, man, you got what you ordered.” [Isaac laughs] You said, you know, “different, individual.” Okay, here we go. Boom, five minutes.

Isaac: Exactly, exactly.

Taylor: I actually cut a song down, and it’s still five and a half minutes long.

Isaac: Yeah, exactly. It was really, really long. He was really enjoying his thoughts. So I’m actually kind of like the opposite of that. I think mine’s probably the shortest.

Taylor: There’s the real irony. The real irony is that right there.

Isaac: Yeah, exactly. So it was a very interesting process. I don’t know how it will affect the future exactly. But but it definitely was, I think, something we needed to do. And we kind of talked about versions of ideas like this, or at least I’d often said, “hey, well, it’s interesting that, my voice [compared to] Tay’s voice, as far as if you broke them up into ‘oh, he’s the lead singer of the band’, it would sound different.” You know, and how do we kind of accentuate that, and that had been talked about in the past. But it turned out both in ways I expected and ways I did not.

Taylor: It’s a very musical record. It’s definitely lots of different sounds, and I think fans are gonna enjoy it.

You’ve also touched on your tour which is coming up this year. What can fans expect from that? And with it being a celebration but also including the new record, is it quite a challenge to construct a show that spans so much time?

Isaac: Oh, it’s becoming more and more of a challenge every year. Because, you know, you have that continual challenge of, “I want to connect people with what I’m doing right now, I want to give those songs and this latest record the opportunity to resonate with the audience, and connect with them”. Because it’s where I’m going, it’s the next chapter in the book. But for obvious reasons, it’s still the same book, so you’ve got to remind everybody where you’ve been. You’ve got to give people context. You know, you’ve gotta be like, “hey, well, there’s ‘Where’s The Love’ and there’s ‘Been There Before’, and there’s ‘Thinkin’ ‘Bout Somethin” and there’s ‘MMMBop’. It’s like, you’ve got to mix those in in the right way.

Taylor: And also, it’s a party, it’s celebration. I mean, you come up with a concert, you’re really shaping people’s emotional ride. And so you want to play the songs that that people know and want to sing along to. And at the same time, you want to be excited to share things and take people and say, “this is happening right now. This is what we’re saying right now.” So that’s the two worlds that we’re trying to thread. We’re in rehearsals now to to prepare the show. And those are the conversations. I think it’s going to walk a really nice line between between discovery and celebration.

And there’s so many albums now. We could do we could literally play for a week and a half and never play the same song. And and that’s a lot of songs.

Isaac: We tried that last year. We did album dedicated shows last year and the year before that, that didn’t repeat songs. And it was really cool.

Taylor: And also a lot of a lot of songs to learn. A lot of songs to rehearse.

Isaac: You know about half of them by heart, and then you know the other half significantly less than that. And so you kind of have to work through that.

Unknown Speaker 20:16
Taylor: “We haven’t played that in seven years. I don’t know how that goes. But it was that song.” we were actually about I think we’re about to have to wrap up. I don’t want

As far as the tour goes now, I think one of the things that we’re trying to decide, is really just how, how much to try and pull a piece from every chapter. Because you have all these albums and you want to kind of tip your hat. You want to sort of [be like] “oh, man, this was The Walk” or “Great Divide is a key part of that” or “Here’s a song called Go”. You know, here’s different songs from different albums. But a lot of times, you’re not able to do that literally. You’re just trying to do it emotionally [Isaac laughs]. You’re trying to do it like, “Okay, well, that song takes us to an era.” And it’s a lot of ground to cover.

You guys have done so much – so many albums, the Take The Walk event, Back To The Island, MMMHops, the festivals, Masked Singer… Is there anything that you still want to do, as you’re looking to the next phase of your careers either in or outside music?

Isaac: I have dreams of hosting a radio show. That’s about it [laughs]. That’s the only one.

Taylor: Maybe produce some records.

Isaac: Yeah, producing records, that’d be fun. I started doing that. There’s a there’s a few different artists I’ve worked with in the last few years that I’ve enjoyed. Our brother Mac actually has a really great band called Joshua and the Holy Rollers. And actually, on the ‘Green’ portion of the record, I’ve covered one of his songs, a song called ‘Greener Pastures’. As originally the idea for ‘Red Green Blue’ was they were going to be separate EPs that we released over the course of time, and we were going to space them out, and then just logistically it became a real challenge of like, “Wait, how do we do this, that this is complicated”. And so, the EP was originally going to be called Greener Pastures. And I was like, “well, there’s a really great song I really like, might as well just cover it.”

And so then that led to he and I actually writing together on a song called ‘No Matter The Reason’. So that’s my brother Mac and I, or our brother Mac and I. And that was a really interesting fun thing. Actually, what was most interesting for me was that, you know, this is the first record that I have written songs exclusively with other people and not with Tay and Zac.

Tay: Kind of a relief.

Isaac: [laughs] No, not necessarily, actually. But it did produce a different outcome. Because inevitably, when you write with someone else, their personality is in the song in a certain way. And so it was a really fun and unique experience. And I don’t know if there are other things on the bucket list.

But if anything else, you just you just hope that what you’re doing can continually connect with people enough that you have another five or 10 or 20 years of ability to kind of keep that story going and keep writing chapters. You might need to take a pause at some point, you might need to be like, “Alright, where do I want this story to go? I don’t know.” But certainly right now, we felt like ‘Red Green Blue’ was a great way for people to rediscover the band in a different way. Because when you’ve been doing this for 30 years, people are like, “Oh, I know Hanson. I know what they’re what they sound like”, and you’re like, “Oh, do you?” You know, ‘Red Green Blue’ is kind of like the “Oh, you think you know us? Well…”

Taylor: It’s definitely a different angle. You know, for sure.

Isaac: And it’s deliberately that way, you know. Because we could have said, “Oh, well, Tay you just sing a third of the record on lead vocal and Zac’ll sing a third of the record on lead vocal, Ike will do lead vocal, but we’re still gonna write all the songs together.” And we could have done some more collaboratively, but it kind of became clear that in order to really maximise the vision of the idea, you needed to say, “you know, hard cut, I’m not going to be your editor. I’m not going to be your de facto lyric collaborator. You say what you want to say, and you let me know what you want to do.”

Taylor: Speaking to the question, and a good way to end, as far as the future, I mean, there’s so many things. Yes, we’ve gotten to do a lot of things. But yeah, I think there’s so many things just for the band to have the legacy to continue to grow and have people discover the band going forward and rediscover the band over time, and just finding [us] all of a sudden. You know, like, we became Aerosmith fans in the 90s. Now we’re huge Aerosmith fans, but I mean, they were breaking out in the 70s. So I think the opportunity to find new fans over time as as you live out in the world is really exciting. And really inspiring other artists, working with other artists, writing, producing – that kind of stuff. I feel more excited about that than ever, because I really feel like there’s something to give to really help.

Isaac: I think that that’s the phase that we’re transitioning.

Taylor: Yeah, sparking other people in a way that others sparked me, that’s just fantastically exciting. And then just other creative [stuff]. You know, we’ve we’ve been entrepreneurs, we’ve been independent, creative, with festivals and things like that. So I just think we’re in a place where we have a great deal of opportunity to be creative, frankly. And we’re grateful for the opportunity that the audience honestly has given us as a band to be at that point.

Hanson’s new album, ‘Red Green Blue’, is out on 20th May on 3CG Records.

See Hanson live on the Red Green Blue Tour in the UK this summer:

26 June – Nottingham, Rock City
28 June – Glasgow, SWG3 Galvanisers
29 June – Manchester, O2 Ritz
30 June – London, Roundhouse
2 July – Bristol, O2 Academy
3 July – Leeds, Leeds University Stylus

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