Brotherly pop trio Hanson, who unwittingly ignited a teen pop craze when they stormed the charts six years ago with the catchy anthem “MMMBop,” are stripping down this summer.
Isaac, Taylor and Zach Hanson have recorded their first album in three years, “Underneath,” and will lay the groundwork for its release early next year by launching an acoustic tour next month. They also will sell an acoustic record at the shows.
Casual fans who still carry an image in their minds of three cherubic, pubescent youngsters are in for a surprise. All are strapping young men, and middle brother, Taylor, 20, is married with a baby boy.
Only Zach, 17, still lives at home with his parents and four younger siblings. But he likes to write songs about death and says he has experimented with drugs – but “no extreme stuff.”
“I’m not really at 17,” he told Reuters in a recent interview. “Too much time working and toiling to be 17.”
Added Taylor: “I felt like I was 15 going on 55 for a while… I don’t know if I’ve got an identity crisis, but I think it just goes with the territory.”
Even when their pictures graced every teen magazine a few years ago, Hanson seemed older than their years, eager to talk about such musical influences as Chuck Berry and Johnnie Taylor. Unlike the teen stars that followed in Hanson’s wake and pretty much swamped them, such as ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, Hanson wrote and played their own material.
They toured without the aid of backing tracks, dancers and fireworks – Zach, now 22, on guitar, nominal leader Taylor on keyboards and Zach on drums, all sharing vocal chores.
The formula is not likely to change. They wrote and produced most of “Underneath” themselves and also collaborated on some tracks with a diverse range of writer/producers.
The title track dates from the start of the sessions nearly three years ago, when they worked with Greg Wells, who previously produced material for singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright. Hanson also worked with hard-rock producer Bob Marlette (Marilyn Manson), and with Los Angeles session veteran Danny Kortchmar (Carole King, James Taylor).
“Pure simplicity” is how Taylor Hanson sums up the sound of “Underneath,” which will be released independently as a result of the group’s split with Island Records last year.
“When we started this record, we started writing a bunch of songs that had a mellower sound to them… that leaned toward a Travis tune,” he said, referring to the acclaimed English rock band. “Songs that were all about the textures, all about the sweeping guitar, or the one melodic vocal line.”
Hanson’s last record, 2000’s “This Time Around,” boasted earthy elements that contrasted sharply with the unabashed pop of the 1997 breakthrough, “Middle of Nowhere.” It sold poorly. The brothers found that stereotypes are hard to break.
“Pretty much whoever you are, no matter what band you are, you’re either ‘too young’ or you’re ‘too old’ or you’re ‘too hip’ or you’re ‘too artistic.’ You’re always gonna have some box,” Taylor said.
Their music may be all over the map, but the brothers are consistent in their respect and affection for each other – no feuds yet on par with other sibling bands such as the Kinks or Black Crowes.
“We push and pull each other,” Taylor said. “That’s really the biggest thing about this band… we’re always challenging each other to do something that we haven’t done before, or challenging each other to not let something be only mediocre, whether it’s the music or as friends.”
Hanson’s tour begins Aug. 9 in Baltimore, and wraps Aug. 28 in Los Angeles.