25 years after ‘MMMBop’ Hanson is still touring (and headed to Danforth Music Hall)
Twenty-five years after it topped the charts and made them international sensations, Zac Hanson of the sibling pop band Hanson says people still don’t quite understand what their song “MMMBop” is about.
Although it’s set over a happy beat and buoyant harmonies, drummer and singer Zac — who complements guitarist and singer Isaac, and keyboardist and singer Taylor — says the song has a much more sobering meaning that most realize.
“‘MMMBop’ is a song all about loss and making adult choices as kids,” he said recently over the phone, as Hanson celebrates its 30th anniversary with a new album, “Red Green Blue,” and a 90-city world tour that touches down at the Danforth Music Hall on Wednesday.
“When you have success, you realize very quickly that people aren’t always hearing everything that you’re saying and some don’t even catch it by the 10th listen. I think that’s probably the biggest takeaway we’ve had with this song is that people are still surprised these days. It touches people on so many different levels.”
For Hanson, “MMMBop” was supposed to be the beginning of a glorious career for the Tulsa, Oklahoma, rockers and an endless string of chart-topping hits, mainly because the talented trio wrote all their own earworms and had a musical maturity beyond their years — which were 11 (Zac), 14 (Taylor) and 16 (Isaac) at the time.
Signed to a worldwide deal to the Mercury label in the U.S., the hype of the three brothers becoming “the next big thing” was shouted from the rooftops of the eager record company’s building to anyone within earshot.
Hanson’s 1997 debut album “Middle of Nowhere” — their first major release after two indie albums — sold more than seven million copies around the world, including 500,000 in Canada, yielding the aforementioned “MMMBop,” “Where’s the Love” — which reached No. 2 — and “I Will Come to You” and “Weird,” which lodged themselves in the Top 20.
The project also earned them three Grammy Award nominations and the future looked extremely rosy.
As with all arrangements, however, when the organization’s chemistry is altered stuff happens: Mercury’s parent label PolyGram ended up merging with Universal and, suddenly, Hanson didn’t have the label support that was first assigned to them.
Eventually, they went their separate ways and, to their credit, founded their own label, 3CG, and exercised creative control over their own releases, still managing to fill theatres around the world with their “fansons.”
“We’re the youngest heritage band in the world, you know,” Zac declared half-jokingly. “We’ve lived long enough and worked long enough that we’re a different class of band.
“I think Mercury understood what we were through a certain commercialized lens that every label has with their bands, right? They were interested in finding that balance between, ‘Hey, I see that there’s a market for what you do,’ while our A&R guy (the record company reps who sign artists and develop talent) was really more looking like, ‘Where are the next Beatles … the next Monkees?’”
Youth has always been a bit of an aphrodisiac for long-term-thinking record executives and, when things didn’t work out, Zac said Hanson realized “very quickly in the media world, we weren’t really going to be understood.”
“We were just too much of an anomaly,” he said. “Only time was going to fix that. We were writing really mature music for our age and having to make, like, hard choices — obviously with the help of management and our parents — on issues like, ‘Do you want to sign this record deal? This is what it costs. This is how long you’ll be legally obligated’; crazy things that kids don’t normally have to do.”
Fast forward to today and Hanson has 14 albums in their catalogue since they went independent in 2004, including “Red Green Blue,” a 16-song, hour-plus effort where each brother produced a third of the album independently rather than creating a true communal experience.
They’ve worked with everyone from Weird Al Yankovic (appearing at the Danforth Music Hall Monday and Tuesday) to Blues Traveler to Owl City, and even appeared last season on Fox TV’s “The Masked Singer.”
But perhaps the biggest off-the-radar accomplishment for Hanson is personal: between them, Isaac, now 41, Taylor, 39, and Zac, 36, have 15 children.
“I think we’re working on a horn and string section,” joked Zac, who accounts for five of the junior Hansons.
“The fans that come to our shows now represent three generations,” Zac noted. “There’s the moms that (were) bringing their kids to shows in the ’90s. Now those kids are bringing their kids to shows. If these songs can last for 30 years, what will they look like at 60 years? Everything about who we are will be true at that point.
“Our longevity is a very hard thing to grasp. How do you get people to invest in you in a way that says, ‘Hey, I’ll keep coming back … you’re still part of my life … I’ve changed in every which way, but I still listen to your band’? I don’t know what that is, but we have really been very conscious about everything we do being very real. The songs that we’re writing are our life and our views, and we’re not trying to be anything that we’re not.
“I think that’s really helped us musically to be relevant to people whether they’re 12 or 35.”
As for the long-term view, Zac said Hanson is looking “at more bucket list ideas” than just making conventional albums.
“A few years ago, we did an album with a symphony (2018’s “String Theory” with the Prague Orchestra, conducted by Toronto-born David Campbell),” said Zac. “I think we’ll do more projects like that moving forward, as we wonder how to tell bigger stories.
“But right now, it’s been two years since we’ve been able to tour. We’ve put out two albums during this period and we’re finally getting to play them live. We’re just grateful to still be a band, be onstage and see fans.”
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