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Once criticized for being too bubble-gum gooey, Hanson talks about its latest rock release.

The Boys in the Boy Band

Maybe Hanson's latest CD "This Time Around" isn't selling the mega-millions its 1997 debut "Middle of Nowhere" did, but the three Hanson brothers are still locked into a whirlwind of interviews and travel as they tour to promote the recording. It's a run that could well take a toll, but the trio that presents itself for a recent interview in advance of their Sept. 6 Carpenter Center show is eager to cooperate, and they seem to take all this fame stuff for what it is.

"It's cool to have screaming girl fans your age," Zac, 14, admits when asked about fame and fortune. "But when you get down to it, it is about the music." Never at a loss for words, Zac continues to describe stardom in a decidedly down-to-earth manner. "If it wasn't you it would be some other band. ... It's something you have to know when you get into this. If you don't somebody should hit you in the head with a sledgehammer a couple of times or something."

Zac and brothers Isaac, 19, and Taylor, 17, learned these lessons early when in 1997 they headed down a rock-star road crowded with adoring fans and stardom's trappings. They were knocked by many for being too bubble-gum gooey, and now that they've made a record with a rock 'n' roll stance, some fans have lost interest since they've changed their sound. Some also blame Hanson for instigating and being a part of the "boy band" onslaught that currently plagues the music scene. But the Hanson boys do a good job of convincing you that they know all of this is part of someone else's game.

"You are in competition with everyone," Issac says, "not just [boy bands] in particular. That's just what people say."

Isaac pauses and puts things back on track. "We're three guys that love to play music," he adds. "It's cool to have the opportunity to do what you love."

Hanson has been pursing its love since pre-teen days in Tulsa, Okla. All the brothers listened to music early on and Isaac, in particular, recalls falling under the spell of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin as a third grader. Soon, all the brothers were writing songs and performing as an a cappella act. Their break came at a mid-'90s South-By-Southwest music festival in Austin when they caught the ear of former Richmond attorney Christopher Sabec. Sabec eventually struck a management deal with the group and got them signed to Mercury Records. Their first release made them a household name. Sales of this year's CD have not matched its forerunner, but "Around" has received critical praise for its more mature sound and the band is proud of the music.

"Every time you go out there [with a new record], it's such a toss," Taylor explains. "People are giving the record respect. … It's a weird thing."

The boys agree the group's harder-edged sound is a natural evolution and not a calculated change just for change's sake. They're comfortable with their new approach whether it's what fans expect or not. "Personally, I think it's a cool thing," Zac says of the band's new rock tack. "It keeps the audience interested."

Now it's up to Hanson to take the sound to as many listeners as it can. And, since each brother agrees that touring is a gas, the prospect of months of hard roadwork is appealing. All the interviews and other demands are worth the hassle as long as there's a show to play.

"Touring and playing the show, that's where you're in a groove," Taylor says with the calm assurance of a seasoned performer. Younger brother Zac is on the same wavelength. "We're out to push [the new CD's] butt," he says. "I don't think there's anything to complain about."

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