Taylor Hanson Q&A: Social media, hipsters, and the future of music

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The trio of music-playing brothers better known as Hanson stopped in Chicago last week for two back-to-back shows at the House of Blues. We caught up with middle brother Taylor Hanson to discuss their social media strategy and how it has kept the band that first MmmBopped onto our radios in 1997 in the spotlight.

Tell us about your social media strategy:

The whole world is kind of a geek world. We're all geeks about something. If you can tap into an aspect of that and encourage people to embrace their own geekdom about you, their own excitement about what you are, and connect with other people that have that same interest, then you can really build something. I think that premise is a huge part of what we try to do.

How have you used social media to interact with fans?

This tour is one of the best examples. The whole tour is dictated by the activity of the fanbase. Every night people are going onto the website and they're voting on which album they want us to feature. This is our fifth studio record and it felt like this was a good time to make the tour special. For most tours it's hard to hit on songs from all the eras, you'd have to play five or six hour shows. We had the thought that wouldn't it be great to make one album a feature each night and allow you to play all of the album tracks, some of the songs that aren't always featured in the shows, and kind of let one album define the show. Then you add in salt and pepper songs from different records and make sure it feels exciting and well-rounded.

Do you ever feel too connected?

We've been able to balance the personal versus the over-sharing pretty well partly just by deciding to have a band account. Maybe it's random backstage activity and we're on the road and it's something personal, but it's still surrounding the music, it's still surrounding actual band itself versus 'here I am with my family, having dinner.' I think there's a line where you stop sharing.

Honestly I predict, in a really big picture level, and this is kind of pontificating I guess, but there's no question that there's going to be a line, maybe ten years from now, or it could be sooner, but there's going to be waves of people that just decide to revolt from this whole world that's been invented. People are going to be going off the grid. I can just see the hipsters 10 years from now, in the next wave of lumberjack shirts with their grown out beards and their sandals deciding that the hippest, coolest thing is to carry pencils and notepads and not have a cell phone number. The idea that everyone has the right to talk to you at any moment, at any time, is a new phenomenon and it's never existed in human history. Even for me personally, a part of me wants to rebel, wants to just turn the phone off.

Do you ever just turn your phone off?

I think it's a balance. With music and with artists there is a degree to where you have to every once in awhile leave an empty space because that mystery, that sense of the unknown, is kind of like the Marilyn Monroe with her shoulder hanging over in a sexy pose is more attractive than someone streaking across the street naked. You're kind of accosted with it, you want some nuance, and you want some subtlety. I think you can find that, but I think the way to get that is to go back to what it is that people are checking in for and not becoming a constant stream of nonsense.

Speaking of Marilyn, did you guys get a chance to see the Marilyn Monroe statue while you were here?

No, I didn't.

It's caused some controversy here, towering over Michigan Avenue.

Oh nice, it's caused a lot of skirt lookers? I'm sure someone did that intentionally. Somebody got that commissioned and said, 'you know what, I'm going to make this really large and hell's going to break loose.' That's funny.

The same night you guys were playing a show at the House of Blues downtown, the band Broken Social Scene played a surprise show in Wrigleyville that pretty much got spread through Twitter. Is that something you would do?

Oh yea, I'm a fan of theirs. They're great. For one, I love that idea. I think those types of things are the positive of social media, the idea that you can go zero contact, and then instantly talk to people.

Have you guys done anything like that in the past?

We did something last year which I thought was one of the most exciting things we've done. We did something called 'DeTour' where we essentially went on this little roadtrip and told people approximately where we were headed, but we basically just took a roadtrip and documented it and shared experiences that anyone would do on a roadtrip. We did this thing called 'Tune In to Rock Out' where people voted on what album we should listen to in the van and then people would tune in and watch us be stupid and rock out to an album.

Did fans find you on the DeTour?

One of the best examples happened as we were driving down the road and we were using a wireless broadcast pack. We're streaming and we go, 'Oh, you know we're coming into Phoenix and why don't we stop in the park. That would be fun. But to make it a challenge you need to bring something.' So we told people to either bring a bike or a kite to fly, some kind of activity and we said, 'if you come at this hour we'll meet you there at this point.' Literally two hours later we arrive and hundreds of people - moms, fans, kids, dogs, parents - with bikes and kites to fly and it was just this instantaneous picnic in the middle of this city we very rarely come to. And that was right before we released the latest record [Shout it Out], so we said, 'we're here now, we're going to let you hear the new album that comes out in a couple weeks,' and we literally turned the music on in the van and played the record. It was such an interesting experiment because it was effective. There were real people paying attention, connecting, and deciding to do something.

It's a Hanson flash mob.

Yea, it's a Hanson flash mob, exactly.

So who is your favorite person to follow on Twitter?

I think Steve Martin is genius. I always love him. It's kind of dark but funny. I think the people that do the best on twitter are comedians because it's all just goofy. Getting random updates from people I know just about what they're doing and I'm like, 'do I really need to know that?' Him and Jim Gaffigan are my favorite.

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