As an intrinsic observer of the world, which naturally lends itself to my profession, the silent and deeply felt connection that occurs between artist and audience during live performances does not escape me. I love glancing at people as a melody progresses into a powerful, upsetting crescendo – whether those people are in the pit or bleeding from their noses, their reactions are indistinguishable: bright eyes, swinging arms, heads swaying vigorously to the rhythm of the riff. At that time, we are, on a very cellular level, the same. We are weightless, we are invincible, we are free.
In an experience where we are essentially reduced to soul matter, I have always wondered: what is it like to be on the other side of that? To be a card-carrying member of a very exclusive club where you can go around the world and hear your words, those you wrote thirty years ago before being paralyzed by the idea of failure, sing back to you?
A practicing musician since the age of six, Zac Hanson of the eponymous pop-rock band achieved near-Beatlemania levels of fame 25 years ago when he and his older brothers introduced “MMMBop” into our collective vernacular, making him a very qualified person for my question. And luckily for me, he was up for skipping small talk (we agreed banter can be excruciating) and diving headfirst into existentialist territory, like how meaning can be actualized through music. Hanson will be bringing his color wheel of sounds to the Fillmore Minneapolis on Friday, August 19.
When the first lockdowns first sent shockwaves around the world, we pondered a future without live music for a hot minute – and it was depressing as hell. Hanson says being considered ‘non-essential’ after a career to come together and see each other and share those experiences,” he says. “All these sayings about judging people on their character – it’s played out in communion with each other [at shows]. When we get together, our political opinions don’t matter anymore, our skin color doesn’t matter anymore, our height… we all share a special occasion. And we like to be at the center of that, kind of throwing the party and bringing all these people together.
From child prodigies to lyrical virtuosos
And then there’s Hanson’s catalog of epic music, spanning a 30-year career, whose early hits have perhaps the most staying power of all, written when the brothers were barely on the threshold of adolescence. “You look at the songs you wrote when you were 8, 9, 10, and we can still play those songs – like ‘MMMBop’ and ‘Where’s the Love’ – next to ‘I Was Born’, which came out a few years ago, and they all fit together perfectly to tell a story, which is kind of wild,” he laughs.
Caught between a series of saccharine “ohs” and “oh yeahs” in “MMMBop,” there are some seriously shrewd words, like, “You have so many relationships in this life – only one or two will last… You go through the whole pain and conflict, then you turn your back and they are gone so quickly. Thirteen-year-old Jamie nodded to the skipping melody; Thirty-something Jamie nods to how these words sting with relatable truths.
“You write songs about the few things that will last and to achieve your dreams and live your full potential, and you see these people living those words with a tattoo on their arm, their husband or wife standing by their side during “a show, taking those thoughts we had and turning them into real life. These days, he says, the typical Hanson fan isn’t just a couple in their thirties, they’re bringing their daughter or their 12-year-old son at the show, the same age he, Taylor and Isaac were when they rocket launched at the scene.
Inspired by the music of the 1950s (he references Buddy Holly several times), he says many artists he admired died young and tragically or had cut short musical careers, forcing the brothers to reflect on how they want their music to survive them in case they follow the same path. “We thought of our music as…what’s it gonna do when we’re dead?– in this beautiful morbid way,” he says. “You hear it in our songs, where we try to talk about our manifesto – there are a lot of love songs and fun songs, but there are also songs about overcoming whatever you’re up to. confronted, at any stage of your life, and finding your place in the world, an incessant journey that generally begins in adolescence.
Primary nuances + sounds
Hanson’s latest record, Red, blue, green, embraces the spectrum of emotions in our lives and showcases their range of songwriting. Each brother “owns” a color (Taylor’s red, Zac’s blue, Isaac’s green) where a sample of songs – divided into thirds – has their individual stamp on them – musical direction, songwriting, everything hooray. Hanson says thirty years later, it’s not just about making more music; it’s more about letting the music be the catalyst for telling stories. “It’s not about individualism [on this record], it’s about the pieces, the unique combination of skill sets that we all bring,” he says. “Isaac did something completely authentic and beautiful and wholesome, Taylor did something melancholic and contemplative, and I went somewhere completely different. [with Americana rock undertones]. I think that’s what rejuvenates our sound year after year.
He compares the perceived “flyover state” of Oklahoma, his home state, to Minnesota. “Like Minnesota, a lot of amazing musicians have come from Oklahoma, but they end up going out into the world and sometimes people don’t realize the spirit of their music comes from there.” He says people don’t go to Oklahoma for the mountains or the coastline, “there’s a way to carve out a place in the middle of the ground.”
“[In the case of Minnesota] the beauty of the cold, I think, brings out the musicality. Minneapolis is an incredible musical city – people can go listen to Jonny Lang, who’s all over our second album; we’ve been friends with him for a long time… we’re very friends with Shannon Curfman, who plays with Kid Rock. No connection with Lizzo however, he concedes. “But if you have his number, send it!”