Three short years ago, Hanson put Tulsa on the pop music map. Boy, oh boy, how things change.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
OK, yes, Hanson is comprised of three boys. This does
not, however, make them a boy band.
At least not in the strict sense of that new
colloquialism. The Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, 98 Degrees --
these are "boy bands." They're pretty, preened and packaged
for ready sale. They hire European professionals to write
their songs, and they sweat through vigorous choreography
The Hanson brothers might be young and fresh-faced, but
they have no time for synchronized dancing because they're
actually playing instruments. They also write their own
songs and even co-produced their new album. They are boys,
for now, but they are definitely a band.
"From the very beginning, we tried hard to do our own
thing, to write our own songs and to be as involved in the
whole thing as any other real musician would be," said Isaac
Hanson, the eldest member of the brotherly trio.
In two weeks, the world will see what happens when three
brothers — Isaac, Taylor and Zac — stop being polite and
start getting real. "This Time Around," the Tulsa band's
follow-up album to the '97 multi-platinum hit debut "Middle
of Nowhere," hits record store shelves on May 9. The new
record pumps up the volume a bit, leaning more heavily
toward guitar-driven rock and featuring some high-profile
In person, the differences between Hanson old and new
would be quite apparent. Isaac's braces are gone, and he's
now the middle child height-wise; Taylor tops him by an
inch. On record, the contrast is almost as clear. Where the
hit single "MMMBop" hearkened back to the sweet grooves of
the Jackson 5, the new single — the title track — is a
piano-driven shot of Southern soul that could land Hanson a
slot on a new H.O.R.D.E. tour.
"When you're the one evolving, of course, you don't
notice it much. To us, it feels like a natural change,"
Taylor said during this week's conversation from the band's
promotional duties in Tokyo. "Those changes you do hear
right away are, OK, the voices are lower, so there's a
slightly different sound to accommodate that, and in that
sense it has more of an edge to it."
The increased soul quotient is no surprise, really.
Before the Hanson family — now seven children strong --
settled in Tulsa, they followed father Walker Hanson's work
transfers around South America. In their home-schooled
foreign isolation, the Hanson brothers soaked up Mom and
Dad's collections of '60s soul music. "When you hear
Aretha Franklin sing 'Respect,' that's like an undeniable
sense of musicality that can't help strike you, no matter
who you are or what you want to do," Taylor said.
This time around, Hanson hooked up with one of those
early soul icons. One track on the new album, called "Dying
to Be Alive," features a gospel choir led by Rose Stone of
Sly and the Family Stone. Working with her was a humbling
experience for the Hansons, Isaac said. "She does that
scatting thing on the end, and she was very sheepish about
doing it. The 10 people in there said, `Rose, what are you
talking about? You should do it.' So she wailed. She's this
little lady, too, and this huge sound came out. It was just
amazing. We were standing in the studio, looking at her in
the tracking room, and she belted it. All of us looked at
each other like, `Wow!' We thought, `We're just going to
retire right now.' All that singing we thought we were
doing — we realized how far we have to go," he said.
Blues guitarist Jonny Lang — who's Isaac's age — plays
three solos on "This Time Around," and Blues Traveler
frontman John Popper does some wailing of his own on
The resulting sound is indeed miles distant from the
boy-band clique, which often flies under the banner of R&B
(an acronym whose antecedents have been somewhat forgotten --
it's rhythm and blues.
"The early R&B had a big influence on us," Isaac said.
"Aretha Franklin is R&B. But Lauryn Hill is great, and she's
R&B. The Backstreet stuff is closer to what I call rhythm
pop. It's just pop, really. We're pop, too, in a sense, but
this is more rock 'n' roll in its essence."
"The (new R&B) is more drastically different," Taylor
said. "Now you're layering loops and it's a completely
different style of music. It's not even the same thing
anymore. The only thing (today) that touches on original
soul is someone like Lauryn Hill, who is still vocally in
that real R&B sense. She's one of those people who really
The key to "This Time Around," if you haven't yet noticed,
is that it's an album that might finally be discussed for
its musical offerings rather than generating mere useless
gossip about three cute pinups and their dating prospects.
The fans of the first album are older now, a little less
prone to hysterics and probably listening to music more
than simply reacting to it.
That doesn't mean the gossip mongers have lost any work.
The boys are still amazed at how quickly the minutiae of
their daily lives is reported on someone's Hanson web
"Sometimes you wonder who's telling people all this
stuff," Zac said. "We got a dog at one point. I mean, we'd
just gotten it. We hadn't told anyone, and the next day
what kind it was and how old it was was out there (on the
web). There's not much you can do about it." Some
personal information is sought after just to check the
status of the band, though. Two waves of rumors about Isaac
quitting the band to go to college palpitated the hearts of
local fans last year. A home-schooled student like all of
his siblings, he is technically finished with high school
now and is auditing a few college courses (physics and, go
figure, music theory). He said college plans are on the
table for the future, and he has looked at some schools.
What that would mean for Hanson's future remains
unclear. Isaac himself said probably very little, because
the music is the driving force for the family.
"I think we all want to continue this as long as we can,"
he said. "I saw Les Paul two months ago in a little jazz
club in New York City. He's 83 now and still playing
guitar. He invented the solid-body guitar and multi-track
recording, and he's still playing, still doing it. I hope
we can do that."
Hanson brothers ready for another busy year
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Children seem distracted? Are they having trouble
focusing on schoolwork? Newly shellacked nails already
bitten to the nub?
Relax, it's probably nothing to worry about. They're
just anxious for the new Hanson album, "This Time Around,"
which is due in record stores May 9.
The three Tulsa-native Hanson brothers — Isaac, Taylor
and Zac — took time out from promotional duties in Tokyo
this week to phone home and chat with the Tulsa World about
the new record and its amplified rock 'n' roll chops.
The boys are ready for another busy year of circling the
globe to promote the record.
"I hope it's a crazy year," Zac said. "That's a good thing.
That means somebody likes it."
"This Time Around," on the reorganized Island Def Jam
record label, is the trio's fourth album, but it's the real
follow-up to 1997's multimillion-selling "Middle of Nowhere"
disc, which featured the hit single "MMMBop." After the debut
record came a Christmas album ("Snowed In") and a live set
("Live From Albertane"), but "This Time Around" is the first
full-length recording of all-new material since Hanson
opened the Top 40 floodgates for bright teen pop.
It's a bit overdue. The new record was scheduled for
release last fall, but original recording sessions with
noted producer and former Cars singer Ric Ocasek were
scrapped for still-murky reasons. The boys rehired "Middle
of Nowhere" producer Stephen Lironi and tried again.
"We actually did take longer than we thought to make this
record, and that's just the way the dice fell," Isaac said.
"We felt confident about it, though."
Most of the songs were written and demoed in the
Hansons' home studio in Tulsa, and three more were created
in the California recording studio.
No touring plans have yet been set to support the new
album. Hanson leaves Japan on Sunday for more promotional
events in South America, and they said they look forward to
coming home again — whenever that might be.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Tulsa's own Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is about to launch
an exhaustive national tour, circling the continent in a
few months and headlining some of the country's premier
improvisational music venues.
"Two nights ago, Eric (Gerber, the band's new Los Angeles
manager) read me just the confirmed stuff. It's
unbelievable," said JFJO bassist Reed Mathis this week.
The band's summer tour — it's fifth national go-round --
will consist of 52 concerts, taking them to headlining gigs
in New York City and Boston, south to Memphis, through
Tulsa ("We might actually get one day off here at home,"
Mathis said) on their way to a week of shows in Colorado
and points west. They'll return in time to play the
Greenwood Jazz Festival in August.
The band is still riding the acclaim of its third album --
the first to reach a national audience — "Welcome Home" on
Massachusetts-based Accurate Records. The May issue of Jazz
Times hit the streets this week with a story about the
nation's improvisational music scene focuses on seven
bands, including Phish, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and
Medeski, Martin and Wood.
"Things have really started changing," Mathis said. "I did
a Web search of radio playlists the other day. We're
getting played alongside Zappa; Medeski, Martin and Wood;
and Mingus. These people haven't seen us live. They just
assume we're huge because they can get our record now. ...
Plus, people are recognizing the music now. At a recent
show in Chicago, Matt (Edwards, drummer) started the beat
to `Seven Inch Six' from `Welcome Home,' and people started
clapping and cheering."
Fans have begun to tape shows, too — just like
"And that's fine, 'cause we're an improvisational band.
If you have 'Welcome Home' and three bootlegs of our shows,
you've got four completely different records, really."
This weekend's all-ages show will feature some of the
band's newest material, which Mathis said is on a new level
from the band's work thus far.
"Like Mingus or Ellington, we've begun to write for the
band we're in, instead of just creating music and making
each guy fit it and not the other way around," he said.
"We're able now to conceptualize the parts for the people,
to give each player the chance to show his strengths."
Like most Odyssey members, Mathis has plenty of extra
work on the side. In addition to playing in the Jacob Fred
Trio (each Wednesday night at the Bowery), he plays in the
Neighbors with local blues legend and Spot Music Award
winner Steve Pryor. Expect to see a Neighbors CD released
within the next month, featuring Pryor chiefly on pedal
steel and some very un-blues music, including covers of
John Coltrane and Eddie Harris.
Catch Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey while they're home, playing
at 8 p.m. Saturday at The Delaware, 1511 S. Delaware Ave.
It's an all-ages show, and the Western Champs — an
eight-member band featuring some former Blue Collars — open
the show. Tickets are $5 at the door.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Nearly 15 years ago, I took a date to a great date show. Brave Combo was playing on the lawn at an art museum in Oklahoma City. We took a picnic, we languished through the warm evening on the cool grass, and later, as I laid back on our blanket, the band started playing "The Bunny Hop." Lead singer-accordionist Carl Finch stepped into the crowd and picked up a long line of children behind him. They meandered around the grounds doing "The Bunny Hop," and Finch led the entire processional stepping right over my head.
So it was really no surprise when we caught up with Finch this week as he and the band are working on their next record — a children's album.
"It's definitely a natural step for us," Finch said from his Denton, Texas studio. "People have told us for years how much their kids liked our music, and these were all albums not (solely) intended for kids."
The children's album will be a typically quick follow-up to Brave Combo's current CD, "The Process," which was just released and is itself a significant departure from the band's norm. Brave Combo, you see, is a polka band.
Polka is their musical base, anyway. In the last two decades — for they just celebrated a 20th anniversary — Brave Combo has served as a freewheeling crash course in world dance music, creating new songs based on old forms and turning rock 'n' roll classics into something you could dance to cheek-to-cheek — those being literal cheeks or the, um, other body part. Their early polka remake of the Doors' "People Are Strange" definitely raised their profile, and "The Process" turns Foreigner's "Double Vision" into a smoky, seductive mambo.
Brave Combo, however, is not a novelty act. Twenty years later, Finch is still having to defend himself and his band — though not as much as he used to — and this week he talked about that, about the overlooked genius of polka music and about winning his first Grammy award.
Thomas: If someone had promised you, back in 1980, that you'd still be making records and even winning Grammys in 20 years, how would you have reacted?
Carl: With great disbelief. I knew I dug the music, but I had no idea how large the polka world really was. I thought I was kind of onto something, but I realized a lot of other people were thinking along these same lines. For me, it's been a process of figuring out that I fit into a picture already, not that I have to paint my own ... So I've been able to get swept up in it. I like the power of polka, the tension and release. I like how polka musicians are aware of the power of this formula, how this happens technically within the polka and how they work to maximize that impact of the tension and release. A lot of music does that but not to the degree polka does it, and so many cultures have latched onto that power — Tejano, Slovenian, Czech, Polish, German.
Thomas: Some people out there are laughing at this by now — polka music. Why does polka get that derision?
Carl: Well, it's changing. The youngest generation with any listening and buying power now don't have as many preconceived ideas, and a lot of younger musicians don't have the old connections with squareness. It's a dying concept leftover from square TV and perceptions of polka as this bland, Lawrence Welk thing — though even he, when he was younger, was hopping on buses and going from town to town. There was mission behind what he did ... People who think polka is square are the most square and uninformed people around. The hippest people know it.
Thomas: Just a month ago, you won the Grammy for Best Polka Album for your record that came out last year, "Polkasonic." Has that helped your own mission to nationalize modern polka?
Carl: Actually, our challenge now that we won that Grammy is to not be considered ungrateful outsiders within the polka world. We have to make sure that those in the trenches know we're serious and committed.
Thomas: Being somewhat irreverent and pop-oriented, it's probably harder to play for a polka-loving crowd than a rock club.
Carl: Some of the polka fans get livid about us, saying we shouldn't even exist. They don't think we're serious. They also usually come from the belief that polka should be played only one way: their way — in a certain style like Slovenian or Czech, etc. We're a weird mixture of all the styles, and we've been around doing this for 20 years, so our (musical) vocabulary is pretty good.
Thomas: About five years ago, Brave Combo issued a collaboration album with the late Tiny Tim — certainly a mixture of new attitudes and old. Your band is pretty well-armed with irony, while Tiny took his music very seriously. The album is fantastic, but how did that pairing work?
Carl: There's a lot more irony there than you would imagine from him, and we in turn were a lot more serious. The record took a long time to do, but we were conscious throughout that we didn't want this to throw us further into the novelty bin people always channel us into. We didn't want this to be a cheap knock-off for him, either. That's why we had him go into his big songbook to get stuff from the turn of the century and the 19th century, in addition to, you know, the Beatles songs we did.
Thomas: Like "Sly Cigarette," which is such a great old song.
Carl: Exactly, it's my favorite of that batch. "Sly Cigarette" — how politically incorrect can you get? That's why we chose it. And we still play it.
Thomas: The Grammy for "Polkasonic" was awarded in February, then your new record, "The Process," came out in March. Wasting no time, I see.
Carl: "Polkasonic" was on another label, and we certainly didn't plan on the Grammy. But it was released by a label, Cleveland International, that got behind it and pushed it really hard. It made serious headway into the polka world, and it actually won the Grammy, beating some pretty heavy-duty guys. "The Process" came out the next month, which is both great and unfortunate at the same time. A little confusing.
Thomas: "The Process" is your most accessible, pop-oriented album yet. Was this the plan or just the next evolutionary step?
Carl: The total effort behind this record is to find more airplay. We were working on the songs and writing a group that fit us but reached out in different directions. We wanted to make a record that might confuse critics and our fans but open some new doors into radio.
Thomas: Was it difficult to fit the polka elements into the pop songs?
Carl: It's different than usual, different than putting the dance style first. For me, part of it was a catharsis, using music to help deal with some internal struggles. I made those the reason and meaning this time out. It's about a process not just of writing and expressing but of living and being human. The song "Golden Opportunity" sums it up: even the (bad) things are supposed to happen.
Thomas: And you've finally written a song called "Denton, Texas," your home base. Why did it take you 20 years to do that?
Carl: Just kind of time, I guess. We've been treated so well here. They've named it Brave Combo week here, and we've become sort of ambassadors for Denton. We're working on becoming the kings of Denton. We're very recognizable here.
Thomas: How did Denton, Texas, come to be so supportive of a polka band?
Carl: When we got together this was a big jazz and prog-rock town. So when we came around doing polkas, they kind of understood the sophistication of it.
Thomas: Tell me about the children's record.
Carl: We're doing it with a couple of kid album veterans, Marcy Marxer and Cathy Fink. We were doing a festival in southern California, and they were there. They saw our show and were staying at the same hotel. We hung out, and they said they'd like to do a record with us ... I'd never thought about it seriously until this. To be honest, the songs and content may be more for kids, but the songs sound like Brave Combo songs. Musically, it's just as sophisticated and adult, but the themes are for kids. We're doing an old Harry Belafonte song, "Real Simple Thing." It's concepts kids can relate to — mountains, water, valleys — but adults will be able to put their own meaning to it, as well. One song is about not wanting to clean up your room, and we've put it to a sinister cha-cha beat. Whatever it means, you know, it doesn't matter. It's just a song.
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.