Hanson returns to SXSW softball field where fate intervened in 1994


Brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson sang at SXSW’s closing softball game in 1994 and found a manager there.

The band is celebrating 25 years together with a world tour that includes a return to Austin in September.

“This is what happens when you try to sing a song you basically haven’t sung in 23 years.”

The three brothers of musical group Hanson have gathered for a Statesman video shoot at Krieg Softball Complex, where a pivotal moment in their career took place in 1994. Isaac, Taylor and Zac — then 13, 11 and 8, respectively — came out to South by Southwest’s annual softball game and barbecue closing party, where they sang a cappella and were heard by an attorney who soon became their manager.

That manager, Christopher Sabec, helped get Hanson a deal with Mercury Records. Three years later, the label released “Middle of Nowhere,” which included the band’s career-making single “MMMBop.” More than two decades later, the brothers still make records and tour.

In fact, 2017 is shaping up to be a very active year for the band. It marks 25 years since the brothers began playing music together and 20 years since “Middle of Nowhere” was released. They’re marking both anniversaries with a Middle of Everywhere world tour that will bring them back to Austin on Sept. 13 at Emo’s.

“Middle of Everywhere” also will be the title of a greatest hits album set to come out later this year. In addition to “MMMBop,” “I Will Come to You,” “This Time Around” and other hits, it will feature a new single, “I Was Born,” which they unveiled last week at SXSW.

The brothers still live in their hometown of Tulsa, Okla., where they host the annual Hop Jam Beer & Music Fest that ties in with their own Hanson Brothers Beer line. At SXSW, they proudly headlined an all-Tulsa showcase among other appearances.

For our video, they dug up one of the tunes they sang for industry types that fateful day. They also shared their memories of that first SXSW visit, from singing in front of the Four Seasons hotel to a side trip to San Antonio to the strangeness of singing at the softball field. What follows are a few conversational outtakes from the video interview.

Taylor: “We were on a mission to get people to hear us.”

Isaac: “Amongst other things, Taylor, you were trying to make sure that you got signed before you were a teenager.” (Laughter)

Taylor: “We’d seen the Jackson 5 and watched their story, and I thought, gosh, I want to be signed earlier than Michael Jackson was signed.”

Isaac: “I have very vivid memories of singing to people at those little benches over at the front of the Four Seasons.”

Taylor: The softball game “was kind of the last-ditch effort. And it was hot. It was really hot. The smell of barbecue was in the air, and there’s the row of port-a-potties over here, there’s a sweaty baseball game over there. … There weren’t many performers at the baseball diamond, because no one was really welcome to perform at the baseball diamond.”

Zac: “Christopher Sabec followed us back to Tulsa and didn’t leave for two weeks … just trying to get his head around what this was, this band that he’d discovered.”

Isaac: “It was definitely significant. It’s a little bit funny because I think in a lot of ways, we probably walked away from it feeling a little bit like, ‘Well, we didn’t get signed’” to a record deal.

Taylor: “We did go to the Alamo afterward. ‘That South by Southwest thing was cool, but I got a knife at the Alamo!’” (Laughter)

Isaac: “We were really, really ambitious. And I think that that kind of comes with being young. … There was definitely a degree to which I think we probably actually walked away from it feeling a little bit more like we’d failed than we’d won.”

Zac: “We discovered that expectations are not usually the reality — that we were going to have to work harder and harder to keep doing what we wanted to do. That’s a lesson we’ve learned over and over again, every year that we continue to be a band. And even that first manager, with all that excitement, we were turned down by everybody.”

Taylor: “We spent two years getting turned down by everyone.”

Zac: “Thirteen different labels. So it gave you this sensation that every opportunity is one you have to take. And most of them maybe won’t come true as what you thought they would be. But you’ll get little things from each time you put yourself out that way.”

Taylor: “Another interesting part about the baseball diamond story is how it fits in to the things that don’t necessarily look at face value like they’re going to be an important moment, and then historically you realize they were. It’s a good lesson, I think, for artists. … You have to have in your mind where you’re going, and not be overly swayed up or down by what you thought was supposed to happen today. Because you don’t know if that sweaty baseball diamond performance is going to turn into something that is really critical.”

Isaac: “One of the other things I think is really, really important to talk about, with regard to the baseball diamond story, is the fact that I had never had proper Texas brisket in my life. And there was free barbecue at the baseball diamond. And I’m like, ‘OK, this is amazing, and I want this, for the rest of my life.’”

Zac: “So what he’s saying is, our first experience at South by Southwest, what we remember is: brisket, and the Alamo.”

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