When I was 11 years old I would write “Mrs. Zac Hanson” over and over on sheets of paper. I never did the *NSYNC or Backstreet Boys thing. I was all about Hanson. And lucky for me, unlike those other bands that were popular in 1997, Hanson didn’t break up and stop making music (or get ugly) when they grew up.
When their debut album Middle of Nowhere came out in ’97, the Hanson brothers, Isaac, Taylor and Zac were 16, 13 and 11. “MMMBop” reached #1 on the charts in twenty-seven countries and I would say it is one of (if not the) most recognizable songs from the ‘90s. As a point of comparison, The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” reached #1 in a mere 12 countries.
Unless you are someone who, like me, has followed and loved them from the beginning, you probably wonder, “What happened to them?” If it comes up in conversation (Hanson coming up in conversation? Hey, it happens.), someone might say, “Oh yeah, I heard their new stuff is actually really good”. But no one seems to have heard any of it. Get with it people!
Antone’s is one of the oldest music venues in Austin, TX and the first nightclub to open on the famous 6th Street. Boy can you tell… grime city. Possibly the last place you’d expect to see the (still) fresh-faced Hanson play a show. (A big thanks to the Antone’s crew though who let me and my photog go up into the old light booth and watch the concert with an amazingly unobstructed view.)
Despite the venue seeming to be a strange pairing for the band, we really could have been at any other concert in Austin, just with a higher percentage of females than normal (which I can’t say I noticed until the shrieking started). It was the usual mix of hipsters, preppies, and regular people. And I only spotted two right hands with “X” stamped on them. Grimey nightclub, filled with girls who love Hanson, all drinking beer. How awesome. People even started lining up outside at 2 pm.
On this, their Musical Ride Tour, Hanson did something I wish more bands would do – for each show fans go online and vote on what album Hanson should play that night. For the Austin concert the winner was Underneath, Hanson’s first independently released album.
Hanson left their label Island Def Jam in 2003 after a drawn out struggle to get the label to sign off on and support their new record. Record execs cited a lack of marketability as the reason for the delay, constantly having the band work with different producers and encouraging them to write with other musicians instead of just with each another. Eighty demo tracks later, Hanson left the label, and then 40 months after they started the process, Underneath was finally released on their own label 3CG Records (3 Car Garage… get it?) in 2004. Underneath debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Independent chart and at #25 on the Billboard 200 album chart—making the album one of the most successful self-released albums of all time.
That this was the album fans wanted to hear played was not surprising—we waited an awfully long time for it, and it was worth the wait. The first single off that album “Penny & Me” is probably second only to “MMMBop” as a “Hanson hit”; both got wild audience reactions as soon as the first note was struck.
In talking about the issues the band had with their first record label, Taylor Hanson says that so much time and effort was put into impressing their young age upon people when Hanson first started, that ever since then they’ve had to “un-press” that upon people to be given a fair chance. Hanson now plays events like SXSW as other emerging artists do, looking for that fair chance. Since Underneath, Hanson has released two other albums under their own label, The Walk (2007) and Shout It Out (2010).
Of course, seeing a concert in a venue jammed packed with people who love the band as much as you do, is always a blast. In this case, the experience was heighted by the fact that we started loving this band at such a young age. Like revisiting your favorite Saturday morning cartoon, you can’t help but feel warm and fuzzy. It wasn’t only the girls lining the front of the stage who knew every word to every song.
If you want to get a feel for the grown-up Hanson (who, by the way, are all married and collectively have EIGHT children), go listen to “Crazy Beautiful”, “The Walk” and “Give a Little”. Then swallow your pride and admit you tapped your foot a little bit. Didn’t you? When they played “Give a Little” at the concert people started doing the jive. Isaac, Taylor and Zac are really, really good musicians and awesome performers. You’re totally missing out if you haven’t heard any of Hanson’s music since 1997.
While Hanson holds a special place in my heart, my every day life is filled with mostly alternative rock and electronic pop—you know, the typical hipster stuff that doesn’t give you warm fuzzies. But now there’s a little more bounce in my step, because from up in my perch in Antone’s lighting booth, I made eye contact with Zac Hanson.
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