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August 31, 2015

Hanson is all grown up, and they're coming to Philly

Zac Hanson dishes on playing old tunes and finding new fans

When the Forbes Under 30 Summit comes to town this October, they'll be closing out the three-day event with a music festival. The lineup is quite a mash-up of musical styles, with DJ and producer Avicii, electronic violinist Lindsey Stirling and rock group Hanson headlining the gig.

Yes, that Hanson.

The three brothers, Zac, Taylor and Isaac, who make up the band have come a long way since their long-haired "MmmBop" days. 

In fact, if you haven't kept up with them since their late 90s Grammy-winning hit parade, then you've missed five studio albums and their evolution from teen heartthrobs to soulful rockers. In their more than two decades making music, Hanson has established a dedicated fan base, created a philanthropic organization called Take The Walk and started brewing their own beer, appropriately named "Mmmhops."

In addition to playing Forbes' music festival, the group will once again be involved with the Summit itself, though details have yet to be released. Last year, Taylor Hanson joined the Summit's "Music Goes Moneyball" panel to discuss how data impacts the music industry. 

As a group Hanson has experimented with using big data to book tours or pop-up gigs -- anything to reach fans in unexpected ways. This strategy, which is in part thanks to the tumultuous late 90s music industry the band evolved in, kept them going strong when similar young acts faded out. 

After all, the success of "MmmBop" and their 1997 album, "Middle of Nowhere" made Hanson very famous, very quickly. But their next big album, 2000's "This Time Around," was released during a major shakeup at their record label and, though it was critically well-received, wasn't a commercial hit. For their next album Hanson separated from their label to create their own, 3CG Records. 

"Being a part of a less stable music business, in a way, seeing lots of big changes and mergers, particularly in the first five to eight years of your career, certainly keeps you on your toes," Zac Hanson, the youngest of the group at 29, told PhillyVoice. "The digital revolution of the 90s, going through digital files and MP3s and now Spotify, that’s definitely a major change. That’s like going to the moon as far as music is concerned."  

"We have people who are younger than 'MmmBop' that come to shows," Zac said.

Thus, rather than change their sound for marketability's sake, the band focuses on getting their music to the right people. For instance, this fall's "Roots & Rock N Roll" tour is a fan-centered experience. Each stop will include two concerts: one where they play their favorite cover songs and one for original records. The first night's afterparty features their brand of beer and a DJ set by Taylor.  

"We’ve been a band just long enough that you have a second generation of people experiencing your music," Zac said. "Maybe not a whole new generation, but it’s like their younger brothers or younger sisters. We have people who are younger than 'MmmBop' that come to shows and that’s cool. It creates a new reason to continue to do it because you realize you're exposing new people to old music." 

Considering their early songs were written when Zac was as young as 11, it's surprising how well the tunes hold up. Many would cringe at the idea of their teenage thoughts being sung aloud to an audience, but that's essentially what Hanson does each night on stage. But then, writing songs that stand the test of time is part of Hanson's songwriting philosophy. Their voices may have changed, but the vibe survives. 

Of 1997's "Lucy," Zac said, "It’s pretty cool that you can still sing it. It has certain nostalgia and certain innocence about it, but you can still sing it as an almost 30-year-old and it still makes sense. That’s kind of the goal, to make music like we grew up listening to, where the songs are 30 years old before they get to you, but they’re still relevant." 

Of course, they're working on new music too - not that Zac could spill any details just yet. They've also been carving out time to collaborate with other artists, like Blues Traveler and Owl City. And, though Zac said there's no collaboration planned, fans did go wild when Hanson stepped in for Ed Sheeran's opening act two nights in May. He did, however, confirm they love the Brit's music.

"He’s just a monster. He’s so talented," Zac said. "Watching him play, watching what he does with one guitar, that sets the bar higher." 

Despite being veterans with 20-plus years of performing under their belts, the Hanson brothers are at an age where others might be just finding success in the music industry. Thus, according to Zac, they won't be slowing down anytime soon. 

"I'm proud of what we’ve done. We’ve always made musical choices for the right reason. I can’t help but be excited about what we’re doing now," he said. "I guess I’m still just too young to consider retirement. There is still that drive to go 'I want to do that better, I think I am better, I think I can do better.'"