Taylor Hanson, one of three brothers who comprise the band, recently spoke about the group's history and the Take the Walk Campaign they started a couple of years ago to fight hunger and poverty.
Thanks to the success of their infectious single "MMMBop," Hanson's major-label debut, 1997's Middle of Nowhere, sold eight million copies. After lackluster sales of a follow-up, This Time Around, the band left the majors and started their own label.
You've been called the "finest straight-up rock band in America"? How does that make you feel?
Well, obviously we think that's a good quote. Otherwise, it wouldn't be in [our press kit]. As a band, you're trying to balance the difference between just reaching fans and trying to get props from journalists. One of the things that's interesting about us is that we've been doing this since we were really young. We've always been about playing live shows, even when we were little kids. That quote from The Village Voice is great because it's based on seeing our show and seeing what we do live.
What's life like after leaving the major labels?
You could ask that of the entire industry. The important thing to identify is that the majors all started out as indies and just lost their way. They lost their focus on what it is that they do. They lost touch with their audience. When you have these business people focused on doing creative jobs, you're going to make bad decisions. Life where we are is really good. We're in a strong position; we've stuck it out for 12 years since our first major record and 17 since we debuted as kids at a local festival. We're able to manage our marketing and work with bands we want to work with. There are good labels out there. Everyone doesn't need to build their own bubble. We're a case where we had mainstream success and needed more guts to be able to do what we needed to do. You can't start from scratch. We can't start over. We've been lucky to stay afloat and maintain a connection with our audience.
Is it true Island Records rejected 80 of your songs?
That was the number, yes. But that's the way a lot of records are made now. If you knew the number of bands submitting 50, 70, 80 songs for a 12-song album, it would blow you away. We made a documentary about our experiences and are in the process of releasing it. If you have 90 minutes to see how bad the process can be, you'll like the film.
Bands of brothers tend to be quite volatile. I'm thinking of the Black Crowes and Oasis. What's made things work out for you guys?
Our band is volatile. I think every band is at some level. We share enough core values to know that we didn't want to do something really stupid and blow it. We've done our dirty laundry in private so when somebody throws a fist, you don't see it onstage. Even if we get pissed off, we have enough respect to not do that in public. We don't want to ruin this with petty arguments. It's like a good marriage. You love your spouse and disagree about things, but you still value your relationship and your life together.
Tell me about the one-mile barefoot walk.
We started that in 2007. We have personally hosted more than 100 walks. We've walked in snow and rain and blistering heat. It's been great, actually. It started out as a simple idea. We didn't know whether people would respond. It's really resonated, and it's about how we connect with one another in this over-information-filled world we live in and start talking about how we need to approach these big challenges and focus on small actions. We are empowered to do things directly and reach out on a one-on-one level. We have this obligation to say we'll use this new power and start making an impact in our own way. It's everybody's job but especially those who are the next generation. We have new tools. The walks are about making a simple connection and getting people to do something singular and real and linking it to a grassroots message which people can go out and replicate. People are now organizing their own walks all over the world.
Don't you ever get tired of performing "MMMBop"?
I think we get tired of people misunderstanding it. It was written and recorded by three guys under the age of 16. We're really proud of it. It's not everything we represent. If you read the lyrics, it's about the fleeting nature of the pop-culture world we're in. It's perceived as such as a pop song, but it's really somber. People don't usually get that.