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A conversation with Hanson: The process of making music and their new album Red Green Blue

Hanson has just started their Red Green Blue tour, and on June 12th they did their first ever concert in Oslo, Norway. We got the chance to meet with the band before the show, to talk about their latest album.

Red Green Blue celebrates 30 years of the band, and the brothers have each contributed with a solo project for the album. Each project consists of five songs and has it’s own color – Taylor’s red, Isaac’s green and Zac’s blue – which combined makes up the album. As much as it is a celebration of the band’s anniversary, it has also become an opportunity to showcase both the talent of all three brothers, and also their individual sounds.

Photo: Jonathan Weiner

Congratulations on the new album! What does it feel like releasing an album again and being back on tour?

TAYLOR: It feels good! It’s one of those strange things, I mean, we’ve spent most of our lives touring.

ISAAC: Spending two years not doing as much of that was definitely a weird experience. It was actually quite stressful, to be honest, it didn’t make life easier.

ZAC: It’s a weird thing when the world tells you you’re non-essential and you can’t work, and everyone you know can’t work. You know, we’ve been blessed that we’ve been successful for years, and so we had more of a safety net to be able to, sort of, live and thrive. But it feels great [to be back]! This project is unique for us, celebrating 30 years of being a band, and that’s something to be proud of.

You’ve each contributed with your own set of songs to the album. How do you approach that kind of project?

ISAAC: It was a first time.

ZAC: The beauty of it is, that we each approached it in our own way. I’m not sure how everyone looks at a project like this. I think we’re a very unique band having all three members be singers, all three members contributing songs, able to be producers, and do that. That’s not normal. If you look at, you know, great bands over time, it’s not normal for every member. So that’s a unique thing for us to put a spotlight on, and that’s part of the inspiration for this project: How do you show more about who Hanson is, what Hanson is?

ISAAC: And also, change the conversation.

ZAC: Well, there’s always conversation-changing, because you are deepening what people are hearing. So I think we each took a different approach. We worked with Jim Scott (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty, Sting), who’s an amazing engineer and producer. We also worked with another producer on the project, David Garza (Fiona Apple, Midland), who’s more of an artist, but has also won Grammys [as a producer]. I really wanted to be affected by that. It’s easy for me to sit down and write songs, but what happens when other people walk into the room and when you walk into other people’s space. How do they change what you’re gonna do?

TAYLOR: One of the great gifts of making albums is, it is kind of a laboratory you know. With touring, the job is actually to go do the same thing, even if you change the setlist, your job is to perform. You’ve created the song, you know the arrangements. But the joy of making a record, really, is that you’re inventing what you’re gonna end up doing over and over, and what you’re gonna be able to share. And so, that laboratory part of making a project, is like: What are you bringing into the laboratory, and what do you leave out? We’ve done albums and projects where we’ve said, “Okay, we’re only gonna write songs in the nighttime-hours”, which was interesting…

ISAAC: It was kind of a bad idea. Sleep all day, work all night – literally.

TAYLOR: And we’ve had ones where we’ve written with loads of different people, and we’ve had projects where we haven’t written with anyone outside writers, and we’ve had projects where producers have been more involved. In this case, I think it was a balance. Each of us did essentially come in with five songs, and then used the collaboration differently. For me, I thought of it a little bit more as a “Okay, if this is different, then I will approach it differently”. In many cases, I’d keep the songs simpler, and not try and pretend that it is this other project, but to say “Hey, what would I do if I didn’t have these things”, and I would do this and this. Ultimately, you’re just telling stories. This is a Hanson-album, even though we’re coming at it a very different way. We know we’re lucky enough to share it with the fanbase that is following our band, so this album is still fitting in to a bigger picture of 30 years of music. I think it’s cool, because it does continue to show an interest in making things. It’s never been, for us, about “Okay, how do we make it as easy as possible?”, and just cruise-control in the vehicle and sit back. It’s about the process. The joy of getting to do this is you actually get to make things. I think it was definitely gratifying in different ways, and challenging too.

Did you record separately or work together on it?

TAYLOR: We had one studio that, essentially, everything was made in. We basically did it in shifts. Zac did his work first, his section. Mine was second, and Isaac’s was third. But in each case, essentially, we collaborated with our two other partners and then brought the other band members in to add things. You know, time for drums, time to do harmonies, time for this, etc. We each pulled one another in to finish the projects.

ISAAC: We kind of almost functioned more as session-players for each other’s portions of the record.

ZAC: Very poorly paid session-players.

TAYLOR: Or free.

ZAC: Paid only in residuals, no advance.

ISAAC: So that was interesting. I think that was a good test for us too, in a certain way, it was certainly challenging in a different way. To get philosophical about it, I think you have to learn things about yourself along the way, as a human being but also as an artist. And I think knowing when not to say things and when to be just a part of the process, and when to insert yourself into the process, is important. Because we’ve collaborated together so much as co-writers, a lot of times it’s like “Hey man, here’s my opinion”, and that’s fine if that’s your opinion. But maybe sometimes it’s just as well to just leave it be, and just ask “What do you want?”. And I think this was a really good test in the “What do you want?”-part. Because in relationships, in life, certainly in marriage, you have to say things like that, and I think in that probably, in the end, it will make us a better band and better bandmates, friends, by forcing that decision. Instead of me saying “Taylor, this is what I wanna play”, I have to say “What would you like me to play? This is what I would play, but is that what you want?”. We’re moving the ego, we’re moving the self-preservation of “it’s important that I get my way”. And I think that was very valuable.

Say if Zac wanted to put out a certain song, would you be like “No, that’s not going to work” or was it more like “You can put out whatever you want”, in terms of creative control?

ISAAC: Luckily, we didn’t have that problem.

ZAC: We’re at a stage in our band and in our musicianship, where, for better or worse, we know what each person is capable of. It’s not some unknown. “Will Isaac make a record that’s good?”, it’s not an unknown to us, whether we’ll like it or not. So now it was just a question of people’s choices, and that’s why I think now is such an ideal time for us to be doing a project like this. What tends to happen with bands, is that someone has success and immediately the industry goes “Okay, I’m gonna take this one and they’re gonna go solo, this one’s gonna solo”, and they start sort of tearing you apart. In this case, we’re doing the deconstruction wilfully, because it’s our choice to expose uniqueness about our band and to tell stories about who we are.

You each have your different colors, and I’d say you have your own sounds within the same overall sound on this album. But what are your favorite songs off this project?

ISAAC: Well, my favorite songs are the green songs of course! [Laughing] Oh you mean from the others? For me, I really like Zac’s approach on ballads a lot of the time, and the songs on the blue-section is really great. I especially like “Wake Up” and “Where I Belong”. But if I had to pick one I’d probably pick “Wake Up”, because it’s both really beautiful, but also has this pop-sensibility about it that is very approachable and understandable. “Where I Belong” is more complex, and orchestrated beautifully. And for Taylor, it’s always tricky for me to choose between some of the stuff he does.

TAYLOR: Because you hate it so much?

ISAAC: [Laughing] No, because, kind of like Zac, there’s these different things that you guys do, and I feel like you kind of have a wide breadth of things. I like “Rambling Heart” the best. I think it’s the most Taylor, in a certain way. When I hear “Rambling Heart”, I hear the way Taylor looks at the world. And I like that about it. It’s very “Penny & Me”-reminiscent.

TAYLOR: I think this is some of, speaking of the other guys, some of their best creative work that I’ve experienced. A lot of the history of our band has been about “how do we merge our interests”, so this is very different from other projects. I think Isaac’s vocal performances on this record are really amazing and really powerful. I would say “No Matter the Reason” is probably my favorite out of his tracks, which is really beautiful. And I kinda like “The World Goes Around” from Zac’s section. He played it the other night on the show, and I think it’s just a great song, a great melody.

ZAC: For me, let’s go with “Write You a Song” and “Child at Heart”. It’s always a funny thing to pick songs, because they all tell us different stories. I would pick those songs as some of the top songs on the album, and that’s the reason they were picked as singles to, sort of, represent.

ISAAC: Agreed.

ZAC: But with this kind of question, I sort of always go, “Hmm, maybe this one today”.

Like it’s a new one every day?

ZAC: Yeah, kind of.

You’ve obviously taken on so many different projects, both musically and otherwise, but what does the future look like now?

ISAAC: That is a really good question. I don’t know what the future looks like, but I like the idea that we’re doing things we haven’t done before. We had Against the World last year, which was interesting, and we released it one song at a time. Before that, we had String Theory, which was orchestras. This year it’s a three-part record. It’s things like that where we’re trying to be creative and do something different. I don’t know exactly how that looks, whether there’s other things on the list that each of us as individual wants to check off. I’ve started doing a little more producing of other people’s music, so there’s definitely some things like that probably.

TAYLOR: I think generally, the fact that we’ve been able to be a band this long is something I’m super proud of. So just building on that legacy is really something that is awesome to be able to do, to be able to continue to tour and to make creative things. And again, that’s why this project was a project that had to happen, because it was an idea Isaac had had. But this isn’t just some any-time-kind of project, it needed a special moment, and this was the time to do it.

ISAAC: 30 years, three parts. Kind of seemed okay. One for each decade.

Hanson played at Vulkan Arena in Oslo on June 12th. Read our concert review here, and check out photos from the show in our gallery.

Listen to Hanson's album Red Green Blue on Spotify and Apple Music. Follow Hanson on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

by Nathalie S. Knudsen Conducted by Nathalie S. Knudsen & Emmi Sollie


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