In Advance of Next Week’s Show at the Masonic Auditorium, Isaac Hanson Talks About Working with a Symphony

click to enlarge In Advance of Next Week’s Show at the Masonic Auditorium, Isaac Hanson Talks About Working with a Symphony
Big Hassle Publicity
Those cute Hanson siblings that gave us the hit tune “MMMbop” in the '90s are all grown up. A few years ago, the band drove that point home with its Roots and Rock ’n’ Roll tour, a special 10-city tour that featured two concerts in each of the 10 major markets.

Its latest tour is an even more adventurous and ambitious. It comes in advance of String Theory, an album featuring symphonic arrangements of both old and new songs. The disc pairs the group with a small orchestra, and the tour stops at the Masonic Auditorium at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 8.

In a recent phone interview, singer-multi-instrumentalist Isaac Hanson spoke about what to expect.

When did you start thinking about doing an album like this?
A while ago. It’s two years-plus as far as us conceptualizing and deciding to do it. All in, it was about a year straight of solid work to do it. We thought of this idea as a celebration of our 25th anniversary as a band. We thought it would be a unique and cool thing to do. It would have worked but we realized there was an extraordinary amount of preparation that goes into it. Once we dived into the thing musically, we realized we wanted to make it a truly unique experience and not just be built around our anniversary. We quickly shifted toward doing something after the 25th anniversary tour. I’m glad we did it that way. It allowed for both the anniversary celebration and for this tour/record to really expand upon what we hoped it would be.

How do you know David Campbell, who arranged the songs on the album?
He did some string arrangements for our first record. He did stuff on the single “I Will Come to You” and on “Yearbook.” He did arrangements on our second record as well. We knew he was the perfect guy for the job, but since it was such a big project, we thought we’d be lucky if he had the time to bit it off. On a whim, we called him up and asked him about our idea. We didn’t just want it to be a band with the orchestra backing us up. We wanted it to be as much about the orchestra, and we wanted it to have a story that would progress. We told him that there was going to be a lyrical narrative going on. He loved the idea and thought it would be a lot of fun. He was the perfect guy for the job. I don’t think we’ve ever worked with anyone that intimately for that long of a time. It was fantastic. He’s really good at his job.

Where did you go to record and what was that experience like?
The actual orchestra was recorded in Prague. We didn’t go to Prague, but we did an online session with them on something that was like a fancy version of Skype. The most significant thing was that we rented out the Performing Arts Center in Tulsa where we live. We did three days of rehearsal with the Tulsa Symphony. That made a huge difference in the execution of the show. There’s a lot to learn. It’s a big shift. You have 45 plus people behind you. They’re reading your charts, and the conductor is your friend. It was an interesting process, and I’m grateful for the Tulsa Symphony for getting on board with us.

How’d you decide which songs to include?
It was a challenge. We started and stopped three times. You have to ask yourself what is the motivation to move this process forward? You could go in there and play the singles. It’s a little too much what people expect. You’re not really stretching yourself. It’s just like if a part is played by violin and not guitar. That’s not interesting. The trick was finding the balance between the stuff you know people want to hear and stuff people don’t know they want to hear. You have to throw in stuff that shifts the mood and really takes advantage of the fact there are oboes and lutes and French horns and cellos. The thing we had to do was storyboard the whole show. It’s broken into two pieces. Part One is called Reaching for the Sky, and part two is called Battle Cry. The first half talks about the motivation and dream, and the second half is about fighting for the dream.

I like what you did with “Mmmmbop.” Talk about working on that particular arrangement.
I’m excited because we let people hear a little bit of it on a social media post. It made it to the show not because of its iconic status in our career. It made it into the show because the lyrics mattered. It tells this story, and it’s fun to accept the fact that this song is relevant because of the narrative, which is choosing to follow the dream and choosing it over friendships and things of that nature. It’s saying, “The dream to pursue this music is important and maybe more important than losing people along the way.” In a “Mmmmbop” moment, it’s all gone. To draw out the melancholy parts of the verse with the horns and violins was really fun. It’s basically an acoustic version of the song but then it’s a 45-plus piece orchestra playing with us. We just used acoustic guitars, shakers and a tambourine. It’s one of my favorite moments in the show. It happens early in the show in the same way that it happened early in our lives. People get excited about hearing it and then because it’s early enough in the show, they wonder what’s next. It’s fun to have that chance to get people on the edge of their seats wondering what we’re going to do next.

What will the live show be like? There’s still guitar, bass and drums?
Yeah. If you watch some of the YouTube videos about the album and the show, you’ll see the album and the show are the same. That’s unique in and of itself. We’ve never done that before and made both a record and a show from top to bottom. We're really looking forward to the shows and Cleveland audiences have always been great. 

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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