The Kaje talks success to Hanson

I must admit I am slightly nervous meeting Hanson for the first time. While they were enjoying phenomenal global success with their debut album “Middle Of Nowhere”, which spawned the unforgettable “MMMBop”, I was busy declaring my love for my first girlfriend with “I Will Come To You” in the background. Their sound was so tightly infused with my teenage years that I am unsure what exactly I will say, I hope to goodness I don’t slip up and embarrass myself.
Thankfully the boys are a relaxed warm presence as I meet them in the publicist’s office on Tottenham Court Road. The necessary introductions are done and we launch into a bizarre conversation about metals – led by the joker of the pack Zac. With the ice broken, I press record and set about finding out more about what has been justly hailed as their best album to date “Shout It Out”…

It has been a busy few months for you, I understand you have just arrived in the UK…

Isaac: We were in Paris just last night.
Zac: Technically it was yesterday.
Taylor: The tour has been great. The album came out in the UK a few months ago. One of things we really tried to do this year was to get outside of the US, to be here. The UK is really sort of the next home base to build the activity outside of the States for us. This is our fourth time here this year.
Isaac: We set out with a plan to spend a lot of time outside of the US.
Taylor: To just take a little more time to prioritise that. Having done the independent thing for quite a few years, we are always doing the balancing thing with the core business – the touring of the US. We do a lot of things that cater to that core fanbase, but you have to also allow yourself to be able to spread your wings and keep the fans that are not based around the core engaged.

Though you have released several albums since “Middle Of Nowhere”, “Shout It Out” has been termed a comeback. How do you feel about the term comeback?

Zac: That is fair.In a lot of ways for the UK audience, because we haven’t been here. Some of the records we have not released outside of the US, so it is a comeback in a way. We will take that as long as it is in a positive light.
Taylor: When we put out our third record, there had been a pretty good gap between that and the last record. That was when we first went independent. That was kind of a step in the right direction. On the last album some things happened where we didn’t prioritise the international stuff as much. So it has been a pretty good amount of time between actually being on the sand. It is one thing being like ‘hey, there is an album out’ and being in the market, playing shows.
Isaac: I also think that playing things like V Festival, which was a huge thing for us. We have not had the opportunity to play a lot of the festivals in Europe before. This year we were able to play Pinkpop and V Festival. We got a very positive reaction.
Zac: You are playing in front of a bunch of people who aren’t your fans and you have to win them over. That is the hard part of our job. In one form or another, your job as a musician is to try and win people over.
Isaac: Also the opportunity of doing that, which is one of the amazing things about festivals in general, you get to play in front of a lot people who are not your fans. They won’t have thought about coming to a show of yours in a long, then all of a sudden they are like ‘Woah! I will go and see that show..” Then the next thing you know you have an opportunity to quote unquote ‘try win them over’. It has been fun.
Taylor: It has been amazing to see the reaction. The audience just have not been catered to. We haven’t been here doing shows.

With different audiences aware of different material, do you find there are different levels of expectancy as you travel around from audience to audience?

Zac: There is just some material that you know people won’t be as familiar with. You play slightly different songs. There are songs we can play in the States that every single fan sings, that people over here don’t know.
Taylor: Our fans are still a little bit odd though, in the sense that even thought there are a lot of people with a lack of familiarity, the core fans will have probably bought the record online somewhere….
Isaac: ….or found it online.
Taylor: I think the familiarity is just the same as everything. You have your close buddies that you are with all the time, so you don’t catch up on the things you did over the last several months. You already know so you are on to the next thing. With your fans there is a degree of rapport.
Zac: With everything we do the commitment is the same. Whatever we do, we share it on the web community. We try to ensure there is another type of fandom, where people are all involved.
Taylor: Ever since we started we have tried to make the web a real big part of it. There are a lot of fans who interact with each other around the world in a very close way. That helps to make it feel less like ‘it’s been a while!’ There is a little more excitement because of the gap, but people don’t feel on the outside.
Isaac: But there has been a lot of excitement as it has been years. A lot of people are like ‘we haven’t seen you play a show for four years!’ It is an exciting thing for us and we try to make our fans realise that we appreciate them being around.

“Shout It Out” marks a return to your poppier sound, was this a conscious decision?

Zac: I don’t think we have ever made decisions consciously.
Isaac: (laughing) It has all been substance enhanced!
Zac: There is a natural ebb and flow to where you are creatively. I think this record just shows where we are. It shows a lot of the artists who have recently inspired us. Those early 60s and 70s Motown records, and records from that time period. It just comes out in the music as there is always that DNA in the music.
But “The Walk” is a little more of a rock record, we went to Africa and searched for personal stuff. I think that really came into the record. I think the topics of the lyrics on that record were just more in your face. I think when you hear those songs, you know more of what they are about. You don’t need that second or third listen to know what the song is about.
This album there was a sense of release. Just a natural connection back to some of the music that originally inspired us. We weren’t ever trying to do something, but we were just excited to explore that really thoroughly on this album.
Isaac: I will say that there is actually an example on “The Walk” of one of the catalysts for why ‘Shout It Out’ ended up going the direction it went, which was the song “Been There Before”. I remember when we finished that song…
Zac: It is a little bit more R’n’B.
Isaac: It is the most R’n’B song on “The Walk” album. When we wrote that song, we all felt that this was one of those songs that you had always hoped you would write or hope you could put on the record. We were all very very proud of that. I think that in some form or another I remember feeling that it was part of the process of coming back to where we have.
Taylor: When it comes to the songwriting, it is definitely a lot more pop in that sense. The good thing about the process of making music, you have to start by entertaining yourself. You have to think ‘this is really good’.
I think also when you look at the point we were at when we went to make this record, it just reflects a confidence. “The Walk” was the steady climb and “Shout It Out” –  the artwork, the name, the sound – we are just comfortable with what we do. We like what we do. We want to celebrate the survival of being a band.

Given that you started out so young, have you ever sat down and defined a common goal?

Taylor: World domination!!!!
Isaac: World domination was always the goal.
Zac: A reasonably sized but modest island in the Carribean named Zactopia.
Taylor: There are a lot of layers that have been developed as far as goals go. There are new things that have developed since you were 12, things you couldn’t have known you would want to take time to do. I really do think that the commonality is of what we are and what we do. I don’t know if we are slow now or if we were advanced then, but the focal point still remains true.
We genuinely feel that we have an opportunity to make music, we all love making music. We feel that what we do is meaningful in some way. You feel as if you are genuinely getting joy from something, but you are also giving something that matters to someone out there. That connection and that job is a good job, it is the job that everybody wants.
The business stuff creates this whole other world. We have always been fairly hands on. When we started our own label, it gave us the excuse to be completely hands on in every way. No one else could complain about how hands on we were wanting to be.
Isaac: As we were supposed to be!
Taylor: But back to what we were saying, underneath that surface, new types of goals start to arise. I am sure that in the next couple of years, or in ten years time, somebody will say ‘I want to go and study crossbow!’
Zac: I have always wanted to go in for the world trebuchet contest. The longest launch of an overgrown potato.
Taylor: We are doing this talk at Oxford next week and they have different people come to speak. It is a very broad thing. You have to really think about it, as it is such a compliment, but you have to think about what it is you want to say. What statement are you trying to make. I do feel that part of making music, for me anyway, if you think you have some degree of talent then you sort of have an obligation to do it. It is sort of like the universe is going to turn on you and suck you into a black hole if you decide not to do something that you can do.
Isaac: or you will just be perpetually unhappy.
Taylor: There is just a sense of I need to do this.
Isaac: We have one ultimate goal. World domination is the joke but we want to be doing this twenty or thirty years from whatever point we are. We used to say that when we were younger. Here we are 15 years later and hopefully 15 years from now we will hopefully be a little bit better than we are now, we will have hopefully done a lot of other exciting things in the process. Sustain and grow is what you are always trying to do.

Given that “Shout It Out” was released in the States over a year ago, are you already working on a follow-up?

Taylor: We are really active but the records have tended to be quite far apart – an average of about three years. Next year is probably not going to be new full record.
Zac: There is definitely going to be new music next year but what form that takes we are undecided. We are definitely keen to make more music next year, but we are also going to do more touring. We are definitely going to Canada, to Asia and hopefully back here again.
Isaac: next year is the 15th anniversary of the first record and 20th anniversary of the band
Zac: So we are trying to think of something amazing to do, like group skydiving for the hardcore fans. The biggest formation of the Hanson logo ever.
Taylor: We have to find what is a cool way to look back without it being hokey. We want to highlight where have been while being excited about what is next.

“Shout It Out” is out now.
Words and Images by Jeremy Williams
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