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Interview: Taylor Hanson

5 November 2021

Photo by Jonathan Weiner

The members of pop rock band Hanson – brothers Taylor Hanson (vocals/keyboards), Isaac Hanson (guitar/bass) and Zac Hanson (drums) – rose to fame as teens with their 1997 worldwide hit “MMMBop.” Since then, they’ve managed to avoid the many personal and professional problems that can plague young artists as they navigate the difficult transition into an artistic career as adults. Earning respect right from the start for writing their own songs and playing their own instruments, they’ve successfully sustained the band (and a harmonious brotherly bond), as they prove with Against the World, their seventh studio album (out on November 5). They’ve even earned a major power pop seal of approval by having Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen as a guest musician on “Don’t Ever Change,” which was released as a single in June. During a phone call from his Oklahoma home, Taylor Hanson discusses the new album, and explains how determination and keeping a positive attitude have been crucial elements in the band’s longevity.

How did you know it was the right time to do another album now?

TAYLOR HANSON: This record was actually made pre-pandemic. As the pandemic begin to unfold, we sort of stepped back. 2020 was not the year to try and get out there, so we focused on polishing the album and preparing for it to come out in a different way. So I think it’s kind of interesting: it very much presents itself as a project that was written during and through the times we’re in, but it was more predictive then it was prescriptive. I think it’s an album that was fitting for this time.

How did you get Rick Nielsen to play on “Don’t Ever Change”?

TAYLOR HANSON: We’ve been making records for years, and along the way you get to connect with certain people that are legends that you respect. Cheap Trick are an example. I think Rick brought his daughter to see us play years and years ago, when we were in our teens, and then we kept a relationship with Rick. I also had a side project about ten years ago, Tinted Windows, that had Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos. So that’s another connection point to Cheap Trick. Bun E. is not on the road with Cheap Trick anymore, but he’s a part of that camp. [Tinted Windows also included Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and Fountains of Wayne multi-instrumentalist Adam Schlesinger.] So when we came to this record, we were looking at songs on the list, and “Don’t Ever Change” is just a total power pop and guitar pop song. It was screaming for that Rick Nielsen touch. So we reached out, and he was gracious enough to want to be a part of it. We felt like it was a blessing.

What was your writing and recording process like this time?

TAYLOR HANSON: Everyone came with strong ideas. We didn’t write nearly as many different songs for this project. It was a little more, “These are the songs that are ready for this time.” We recorded them mostly in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which is a legendary location. We purposely went there, trying to capture some of the spirit of that place. That was probably one of the best things about the overall project, was just going there, experiencing the energy in that place and building on the positive history that it has. Hopefully you do feel that in these songs. But all the songs really carried a lot of weight. I think the takeaway of the overall record is, [these are] songs about coming through difficulty, and looking for the silver lining. Fighting through things and seeking meaning amidst chaos and challenges. That’s really where the greatest strength lies, to be able to overcome those things.

Where does that grit come from, for you?

TAYLOR HANSON: I think all people have inside of them the ability to withstand difficulty. Otherwise, none of us would have made it very far! We definitely had to choose to stick to our guns, to stick to things we believe in, regardless of whether everyone understands your creative vision. We definitely grew up in a family realizing that difficulty was a part of the package. That was something that was always taught to us growing up. I’m getting much closer to forty than I am to thirty, and some of the greatest experiences and most meaningful experiences have come through doing difficult work and moments where you could have chosen to say, “This is too hard” and not fight, that would be easier. Those situations where the choice was made to withstand or push through or to find a way to overcome adversity, the reward has been given.

That seems like a necessary attitude to have if you’re in the music business, in particular. As you grew up, how did you know you should be a professional musician, instead of maybe thinking it was something other people thought you should do?

TAYLOR HANSON: For me, it was pretty simple, as far as the recognition of deciding to work on music and have that “push through it” attitude, because at a really young age, I could sing easily and harmonize – that was something that just was in the DNA. And I saw how people would respond to it, and I remember thinking, “Well, if others respond positively to this, I could get to do this rare thing that I see can be incredibly impactful.” So once you identify this possibility, this goal, that right there was enough motivation to almost overcome anything. You paint a picture in your head of living out this idea, writing songs, making music, performing – it can reach a lot of people. All the sudden, this picture is this ideal possibility. It’s enough motivation to withstand the naysayers. One of the things about anybody choosing a path is that the universe knows when you’re bluffing. So part of deciding to have longevity is just making no Plan B. A lot of people talk about having a back-up plan. My thought has always been, yeah, it’s wise to know that you can build skills, not just literally have one skill in life. But identify something that you want to be great in, and commit to that. Take all the risks. Throw enough risk into it that your sense of survival is attached to it. Part of longevity is not allowing yourself to hedge your bets and allowing yourself to say, “If this doesn’t work, I’ll just bounce back to the predictable thing.” Say to yourself, “This is what I’m doing and I will stick to it.” It may not be gloriously successful, but the attachment to that mission in and of itself is the deciding factor, because people will gather around that. I really think that you set the tone for what you begin to get from the world. If I walk into a room confident and willing to learn, but also willing to stick to what I believe in, you’d be amazed at how often it attracts others that are hungry for that. We all want to feel like we’re part of something.