By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
"Middle of Nowhere"
Say what you will about these three well-scrubbed rich boys --
they're going to be big. They'll take the unique sound of south
Tulsa to the world!
Oh, I, too, thought I was having acid flashbacks when I heard
that these cherubic, largely ignorable local whinsies had not only
landed a major-label deal but hooked up with the Dust Brothers to
produce it. I thought, it's a wonder anyone could turn a doorknob,
what with all the greased palms.
But however it came to be, “Middle of Nowhere'' is just the
kind of tight, slick record that will beat us over the head for
years to come. Over each track's hurried, lite R&B and incessant
record scratching, 13-year-old Taylor doesn't just sound like
1967-vintage Michael Jackson, he also sounds like 1996-vintage
Michael Jackson. Sometimes his thin coo melts your childlike heart
(“Weird''), and sometimes his roar is both “Dangerous'' and
“Bad'' (“Look at You'').
The one thing that will rescue Hanson
from the inevitable oblivion of acts of their ilk, i.e. New Kids on
the Block, is that they play instruments (11-year-old Zac is a
maniac on the drums) and participate in their writing of their
songs. Yes, Mercury hauled in some bigwigs to pen hits for the
album, but the first single, the frighteningly catchy “MMMBop''
(from their Tulsa indie record of the same name), and a couple of
the most interesting tracks are the ones with Hansons in the credit
lines. These kids grew up listening to classic soul records, and
when those influences show up through their young, modern
rock-saturated filters, the result is some surprisingly fresh
music. Maybe, just maybe, youth is not wasted on the young.
Regardless, though, “MMMBop'' debuted at No. 16 last week, and
it will be drilling into your head around every corner in no time.
Meanwhile, the Tulsa sound still resides peacefully in Tulsa.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
The Hanson album isn't due on record store shelves until
Tuesday, but the buzz leaked out months ago. By mid-March, e-mail
was already arriving in the Tulsa World queue from people around
the world wanting more information on the fab three.
“They are sooooooo cute!'' wrote one young woman. “Do you have
any pictures of them?''
Another fan wrote, “Hi, I'm from Australia and ... Tulsa is
about to be put in the global spotlight in a MAJOR way by none
other than your very own local band, Hanson.''
The smart money is on that prediction. While legions of Tulsa
kids try to put Tulsa on the map with still more groaning modern
rock, along come the three Hanson brothers (Isaac, Taylor and Zac)
with the slickest, sweetest pop sound since the Jackson Five — and
they're better poised than anyone to win over the world.
The album isn't even available yet, but the single, “MMMBop''
has drenched radio and thus debuted at No. 16 on the Billboard
singles chart this week. The most recent band to pull off that kind
of buzz was U2, and they had the luxury of resting on the laurels
of a nearly 20-year career.
All Hanson has are three cherubic faces and numerous glossy
grooves. That was plenty to get Mercury Records excited enough to
sign them and back the Tulsa trio with unheard-of support. When we
caught up with the Hanson family last week, they were in London,
still traveling across Europe to promote the new album, “Middle
of Nowhere.'' Oldest brother Isaac, 16, was blase about his travels.
“We're just back from Germany. We spent 10 days in the U.K.,
five days in France, three in Germany, doing interviews with
different magazines, TV and radio,'' he said. “We've lived all
over the world, so the travel we get to do now is fun, but it's not
like we've never done it before.''
Walker Hanson is head of the clan (in addition to the singing
trio, there are three younger siblings), and his job in
international finance moved the family from Tulsa to Trinidad,
Ecuador and Venezuela before returning home. He encouraged the boys
to sing together one evening after a dinner blessing, and something
“I never dreamed it would lead to this,'' Walker said last
week, proud but slightly exasperated.
The Hanson brothers debuted their act in 1992 on one of the
Mayfest stages. They sang a capella, doo-wopping to standards from
the '50s and '60s, and enough people gushed about how cute they
were that they were encouraged to continue. Three years later,
guitars and drum kits were purchased, and an independent record of
lite R&B, “Boomerang,'' quickly followed.
“We had all each played keyboard, but we'd been very interested
in other instruments. We wanted to make our own music instead of
singing to a background track all the time. Playing guitar gives
you a whole different inspiration than the keyboard, and we needed
that different inspiration,'' Isaac said.
Zac, 11, took to the drums, and he's a maniac behind the kit. He
offered a humble explanation for his choice of instrument.
“I'm not that great a drummer, but everybody says I can play,
so I'll take their word for it,'' he said. “The secret is, nobody
else's arms are as long. I couldn't play guitar or piano, so I went
to the drums because I've got long arms.''
By the time a second album, “MMMBop,'' had been recorded
locally, the phone at the Hanson residence was ringing with serious
business calls as well as the usual blather of giggling girl fans.
Mercury Records signed the band last summer after seeing the kids
perform on the Blue Rose patio — at 16, 13 and 11, they aren't
allowed inside the bar — and the big wheels started turning.
In February's Billboard magazine, the Hanson brothers appeared
in a photograph next to two Mercury execs and the Dust Brothers,
John King and Mike Simpson, who produced Hanson's debut disc for
the big label. (Steve Lironi, of Black Grape and Space expertise,
also produced parts of the record, and the Dust Brothers' last
project was the Grammy-winning “Odelay'' album for Beck — whose
last name, oddly enough, is Hansen.) When Billboard runs photos
like that, boring shots of people just staring right into the
camera, it usually means the corresponding label has made quite a
fuss about the upcoming project.
The record, fortunately, is worthy of the fuss. Both sets of
producers found a sturdy balance between the brothers' latest pop
leanings and their original soul-flavored sound, a sound that
developed during those years living far away from home.
“Before we left, we bought a bunch of these tapes of old '50s
and '60s rock 'n' roll,'' Isaac explained. “We had no radio to
listen to, and it was just coincidence that we picked this
particular style to take with us. But it was very inspirational in
our minds. It's just great music, all that Chuck Berry, Bobby
Darin, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, old Beatles. These people are
the origins for what all music is today. They're the ones that
started it all out.''
This week, Hanson will take that reverence for rock's roots and
debut their chirpy songs on national television. They're on “The
Late Show With David Letterman'' on Monday (10:35 p.m. on KOTV
Channel 6) and “The Rosie O'Donnell Show'' on Tuesday (4 p.m. on
KTUL Channel 2).
They're not even nervous.
“Nah. If you get nervous, you don't act like the natural you,''
“It's Letterman! It's like, whoa, why would Letterman want us?
But if he wants us, I'll go,'' Zac said.
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.