Hanson Working On Third LP — Whether You Like It Or Not

Brothers working with Matthew Sweet and hope to pair up with Ben Folds, Ric Ocasek.

The Hanson brothers know that their teen-idol looks and impeccable hooks, along with their unsettling habit of, like, playing guitars, make them an anomaly in the pop-music world of 2001.

But as Hanson begin work on their third full-fledged major-label album, they don't feel trapped between pop and rock — they just feel free. And if you don't like it — well, they don't give an mmmbop.

"People have so many misconceptions about the band, and we don't care," lead singer Taylor Hanson said Monday from the brothers' family home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "It's always cool to challenge yourselves. In some ways it liberates you to have people go, 'You suck.'"

But while some older listeners may hold a grudge against Hanson for giving the world "MMMBop," and younger ones may have been perplexed by the roots-rock of last year's This Time Around, the band has more than its share of fans among fellow musicians.

They've already teamed up with power-popster Matthew Sweet to write one song for possible inclusion on their new album, and they may bring him back to co-write more, according to Taylor's brother, guitarist Isaac Hanson. The song they wrote, a midtempo ballad called "Underneath" — one of more than 30 songs Hanson have penned for the new album — came together easily.

"This writing experience with Matthew was so successful that we joked that I hate to try it again because it can only be a downer from there, because we wrote this song in four hours," Isaac said. "He had friends coming over that night at 8, and we showed up at 4 and were actually kind of late, so we started chatting with him, and he said, 'I have this chord progression for a verse,' and we're like, 'Wow, that's really cool,' and we just kind of went from there."

The brothers said they also hope to do some co-writing with piano guy Ben Folds, as well as with former Cars frontman Ric Ocasek, who was originally slated to produce This Time Around but left the project early on.

No matter which collaborators they ultimately choose, the brothers hope to build a bridge between the pure pop of 1997's Middle of Nowhere and their more rock-edged current sound.

"I'm never gonna be afraid of a really good pop song — I'm a fan of that great song that just gets in your head," Taylor said, citing the guitar-pop nugget "Runaway Run" from their last album as an example of the sound he's pursuing for the new one.

Taylor and Isaac, along with Hanson's third member, drummer Zac Hanson, have just begun recording sessions for the disc, laying down tracks with producer Bob Marlette, whose credits range from Tracy Chapman to Black Sabbath. But they ultimately hope to use several producers for the new album, which is slated for release before the end of the year.

While This Time Around was a commercial disappointment, the brothers said that they're more concerned with improving their chops and gaining respect than with climbing back up the charts.

"I think we're in a really weird place as a band because we are a band, and we always have been, but a lot of people don't realize that," Taylor said. "I want people to hear the name Hanson and think credible, musical, creative music. That's what people should think 'cause that's what it is — it's just about the music."