Hanson stays ahead

How the former pop superstars keep on the cutting edge of the music industry

Zac, Taylor and Isaac Hanson

Hanson is the future. I know. You don’t believe it. You remember their 1997 hit — yeah, the one that just got stuck in your head — and you think they’re the past, the long-gone past.

That’s OK. You don’t know. You don’t know that after the group’s first album thrust them onto the international stage, Hanson hit a wall. Caught up in a record company dispute, the band wrote more than 80 songs that their label rejected. They went on tour on their own money. They were adrift.

So they innovated, launching an independent label in 2003. Then they innovated again, releasing iTunes-only podcasts documenting the making of their music. Then they did it again, and again, and again.

The band you thought was history is still making history — and making albums, including the soulful and super-catchy Shout It Out in 2010. On their current tour, which swings through the Fox Theater Sept. 17, Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson are letting fans vote online for the set list they want to hear — the band will play an album of fans’ choice front-to-back live.

“We’ve had, in some cases, 30,000 votes on a single show,” says Isaac, the oldest brother. “A lot of people have been very excited about this concept.

“We’ve allowed people to vote on encores, Twitter requests. We’ll continue to do that because we think it’s about engaging the fan base no matter what.”

That’s just scratching the surface of how Hanson’s trying to listen to its audience. Since it hit the global stage, the group’s made it a priority to communicate with fans. Hanson.net was like a band’s Facebook or Twitter page years before those networking sites existed. And Isaac says the band’s biggest ideas are still in the works.

“We’ve alluded to the possibility that this may be our last full-length record,” he says. “We’ve been feeling for a very long time that the medium of a full-length album released every two or three years is not the way the public consumes music.”

If fans can buy songs separate from albums online, Isaac says, there’s no point to releasing a full-length disc.

“The audience just wants the three good ones,” he says. “They’re not gonna pay for the other nine.”

And they’re not gonna wait around, either.

“It’s a very quick-response type of world out there. You have to constantly create interest,” Isaac says. “Every three to six months, you have to be doing something that is interesting.”

Other artists would be wise to listen — Hanson’s been ahead of the curve on social networking, live streams of concerts and many other promotional strategies.

“I think bands coming up need to stop releasing records. And they’re starting to do this,” Isaac says. “Look, put out three to five songs every six months. It’s four, five, six times harder to get 12 songs right than it is to get five, four or three right.”

Getting it right doesn’t always come easy for Hanson, as brotherly love has sometimes given way to brotherly frustration. Isaac says it’s a struggle that Hanson continually tries to resolve.

“There is a long history both of less-than-productive relationships and very productive relationships of brothers in bands,” he says. “It’s personal time, but also job time. It can get messy.

“Anybody that knows us knows there’s plenty of tension between the three of us. But for the most part we leave it on the sidelines,” he says. “Playing a show, you might have been pissed off, but by the end of the show you’re playing the songs going, ‘This is the dream. Every band wishes they had this, and we have it. So this doesn’t suck.’” What sucks is when your brothers team up on you — usually. But Isaac says it can resolve conflicts in the band.

“The fact that there are three of us actually helps. One way or another somebody’s getting teamed up on,” he says. “Majority rules. Two of the guys are telling another guy, ‘Dude, get over yourself.’” For a band that had tons of success early, Hanson has gotten over itself. It has done so by maintaining a laser-like focus on the driving element of its success: its fan base.

“The key is listening to your audience,” he says. “That is one of the most basic, straightforward things you can do. If you do it, the audience will respond.”

Fans can pick from three of Hanson’s five albums to hear at the Fox Sept. 17. Vote for Shout It Out, Middle of Nowhere or This Time Around on Hanson.net.


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