When I Grow Up: In four years out of the spotlight, the boys have formed their own label and found a new voice

I can't tell you how many times I've talked to someone who's in the industry and they've made a joke about doing drugs," says Taylor, the pretty, singing brother in the pop trio Hanson. "And they're like, 'Oh, then you'd be recognised as being cool.' And I'm like, 'You know what? It shouldn't have anything to do with who you snogged or how much coke you did to make you a band that's recognisable.'" 

Hanson have been portrayed as the eternal kiddie band, but clearly the brothers have done a lot of growing up since the huge "MMMBop" was released in 1997. Taylor has graduated from kid to dad, having married his long-term girlfriend Natalie Anne Bryant in June 2002, four months before the birth of his son, Jordan Ezra Hanson. But still, as they wolf down two plates of hot chips with extra tomato sauce it's clear Isaac, 24 Taylor, 21, and Zac, 19, are growing boys. Aside from a penchant for talking over each other and shooting sideways glances here and there, the image is a parent's dream: angel-faced brothers who eat, sleep, and sing together in three-part harmony. 

In the midst of a 24-date international tour to promote their new album, Underneath, the band hit Sydney and Melbourne for two sold out shows in November 2004 as a precursor to their larger Australian tour this month. They've staggered the release of the album so that, after a four-year hiatus, they can be on hand for fans and media around the world as Underneath hits the record stores. The boys are back, and they want you to know it. 

"This way we could give each area of the world attention in a different way," Taylor explains. "It's been so long between albums and we wanted to be there to re-lay the foundation -- not just put it out and be like, 'OK, we can't be involved.' As a business decision, we're going, 'How can we be a part of the release?'" 

Underneath, which debuted in Japan in 2004, represents four years of work for Hanson. They formed a record company, 3 Car Garage, after splitting with their long-time partners Def Jam due to creative differences. Between marketing the album and finding a supportive staff, Hanson have found that developing a successful record company isn't so easy. "One hard thing was building the coalition around the world," says Isaac without a trace of irony, "because that took time." 

Defying the prognosis of critics who saw the trio as small, blond one-hit wonders, shamelessly aping the Jackson 5, Hanson have found that the fan base they built with the release of Middle of Nowhere in 1997 is still in place. And as all pop stayers must, the band have changed with their fans. Underneath is mature enough to suit the teeny-boppers who are now facing their 20s. 

"Naturally, you evolve as a band," says Isaac. "Whether you're in your 20s and going into your 30s, or in your teens and going into your 20s -- you're constantly evolving. The three of us are very different, creatively, so when it comes to actually making an album, each album is definitely going to have a unique stamp on it." 

Their fans are ready for them, but are Hanson perepared to grapple with what they perceive as an industry that places form over functon? "You find so often that music has been trivialised into this thing which is less relevant than whether your girlfriend is cute or not," says Isaac, who thinks the most disturbing trend in pop culture is the ascension of Paris Hilton to international fame. 

"Because we all know our girlfriends are cute," adds Taylor. Zac agrees, voicing his irritation over the media that ignores artistry and heralds sex appeal. "When was the last time you saw a female singer or female anyone on a cover that wasn't almost buck naked?" he asks. 

"It's sexist and has nothing to do with music," Isaac adds, again without irony. "As a musician, I'm sitting there pissed off, thinking, 'Sure, she's cute but, let's save it for GQ, or whatever-the-heck magazine." 

Hanson have written a song expressing their feelings about an image-driven industry, "Rock'n Roll Razorblade". 

"It's not about cutting and mutilationg yourself," Zac quickly clarifies. "It's about when you experience what making music is supposed to be like." It's the band's self-proclaimed anthem, based on what's become an ongoing theme for Hanson. 

"I feel bad because we sound like purists and that we know it all," says Zac. "There's always going to be a manufactured side. But there's such an opportunity to create a sort of unstoppable force of great music. And that's really a call to artists to say, 'Let's do something meaningful.'" 

What do they have to say to the critics who still see them as the three long-locked "MMMMBop" kids from 1997? "It's just people who don't know," says Zac. 

"Firstly, I would also challenge them to listen to that entire record [Middle of Nowhere]. Then I would say, 'Do you really know the music made back then and the music that's made now?'" says Isaac. 

"They've only seen the spin that was put on it by its success. Just the celebrity element, not actually who we were back then," says Taylor. "Our job as a new record company and as a band is always to push forward what we are -- which is guys who play music."