Hanson Dishes on Their Decision to Appear on The Masked Singer: We're 'Looking for New Challenges'
Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson open up to PEOPLE about their time as the Russian Dolls on The Masked Singer, as well as their new album and single
This post contains spoilers from Wednesday's episode of The Masked Singer.
The Russian Dolls have been unmasked as ... Hanson!
Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson were revealed Wednesday night to be the elusive singers under the seemingly constantly multiplying costume on this season of The Masked Singer — no doubt a nod to their evolution as a band over the years, as well as their large families (the guys are the oldest of seven children, and have 15 kids of their own among the three of them).
The brothers — who will celebrate their 30th anniversary as a band next year — expressed their gratitude for their time on the show after being unmasked in fifth place, with Taylor, 38, saying, "It's been a blast."
"We would normally be touring," said Zac, 35, of why they said yes to joining The Masked Singer lineup. "But we had this unique opportunity to do something very different and also play to a whole new audience."
"The fact that you spend all these years performing, you're always seen as a certain thing — people think they know what you are, and to able to just start with music and focus on singing and say, 'Hey, you don't know what's behind this,' " added Taylor.
Below, PEOPLE catches up with the "MMMBop" masters about their experience on the hit Fox singing-competition series, their new single and album and more.
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PEOPLE: I have to admit I was surprised to see you guys on this show but also that, as a fan, I recognized your voices immediately. Tell me about what got you to sign up — I'm assuming your kids had a huge hand in it?
Isaac Hanson: Actually, believe it or not, I don't think any of our kids had watched the show before! We really liked the idea of doing the show, in no small part because of the anonymity element of being able to be out there wearing a mask and just singing and having a good time with it, and that guessing game of, "Who is this? What are they doing? Wait, are they a band? Are they a vocal group? What are they?" Being able to play with people as much as possible with that was really fun.
Zac Hanson: The biggest thing for me about this was just that it probably does relate to this COVID year, where you can't tour and you can't do all these things. We normally wouldn't even be able to [do this show], because we'd be on the road. So you have this opportunity to show up, and it's something you would never have normally been able to take advantage of, and you just go, "Hey, let's go for it. This could be cool. We don't really know what it's going to be like, or what the results will be."
"But what we do know is it's singing, and that's something that we always want to do in front of people." That was our motto when we started out, which probably comes from our parents: "If someone asks you to sing, sing, because you just never know where that's going to lead. Even if it's at a pizza parlor or outside somebody's front door, you go sing. Hopefully, that will just connect people to what you do."
Taylor Hanson: I think the other component, with business, we have been doing this for many years. We've had lots of challenges. We started an independent label. We've attended causes. We've started festivals. You're looking for new challenges and you're looking for things that get you to be creative. It's been such a crazy time.
We love how positive the show is. It's celebrating different people, different backgrounds, doing something that we've known how to do since we were kids: singing. It was something that really put a bright spot into a time that a lot of people have been looking for something positive. It just really is a thing to connect with, and we were happy to be a part of it.
PEOPLE: What was it like inside those costumes? They did not look easy to move around in. Also, I'm assuming two of you doubled up inside the bigger costumes for some of the performances?
Zac: Pretty much every time the big doll was out, there were two people in it. That was not fun. ... We're full-size men. So you get two people in there and, if nothing else, just the body heat and the stale air, it was a challenge.
Isaac: Let me just say that if it were not for it being 2021 and you having the ability to have a little battery-powered fan, it would have been suffocatingly painful to be in for very long.
Zac: I think you have some advantages and some disadvantages from the different other kinds of costumes. In one sense, you have to [stay still], so that was kind of better. But it also means the face of the doll is pretty far from your eyes, so you can't see. You have no peripheral vision. ... So you just have to use The Force, essentially. You start counting in your head, "Okay, I know if I go four or five steps this way, that's pretty much the end of the stage." You start to get a feel for it. You listen for the other dolls on the stage, because you can kind of hear their footsteps — "Okay, I'm getting close to them." And practice. Never enough practice.
Taylor: It's interesting how many of the contestants are not performers. We have the advantage — even though we have not spent much time inside of Styrofoam dolls, we have spent a lot of time performing, and being on stage and to express and connect. So those experiences and that skill really came through, because we know how to walk a stage, how to try and reach out to an audience, even through the costume. If you hadn't had that experience, as a football player, or actor, or somebody else that hadn't necessarily spent so much time as a [musical] performer, I think that would be a disadvantage.
We certainly knew what it meant to go out there and try and make a connection with an audience, and it allows you to stretch those muscles. We learned very early on that we threw out the dancing as quickly as possible. But we [also] did learn early on how to cross our legs a couple of times and turn at the same time as a group. So we used all the skills we know.
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PEOPLE: I swear I thought there were four of you at one point, and that your younger brother Mac [who is also in a band, Joshua & the Holy Rollers] might have joined you guys too. Did that ever happen?
Isaac: He did not.
Zac: We thought about it, but that was against the rules, to have non-contestants in the costumes. So we tried as hard as we could to bend the rules, but [couldn't].
We were able to use the dancers to help move the fourth doll. In several cases, they would sort of slide it in off camera. So it'd be like, "Oh, wait, did that doll ever move? Where'd that come from?" That was just more working as well as we could to make it seem like there's still a question — keep that game of guessing going.
PEOPLE: What was your strategy in the songs you chose to perform?
Isaac: One of the challenges we had was because we've been a band for this long, because we tend to want to be creative throughout tours and throughout shows, you pick up covering various songs that you like that you feel like you can do well.
Unfortunately, when you do that, it also means you can't do those in the show, because there's a reference point where people could figure out immediately, "Oh, that's exactly them." We wanted to do, for example, Steve Winwood's "Roll with It," and we couldn't do it because we've done it before and there are videos of us doing it. The list of songs was limited in part because of that, so we had to be creative.
Zac: It really was just about finding a nice variety of songs that really connect with you personally — the songs people would expect, the influential artists that have made us who we are — but also referencing different things that people don't expect you to do to keep them a little bit off the trail of Hanson. Obviously people, [with] the first episode, the first song, they knew it was Hanson; there's distinct groups of people who knew it was us. But to whatever extent we could, we felt like it was better to be a part of the game of this. It's not really a contestant show as much as a game about guessing and about hearing music.
[With] "24K Magic," it wasn't really about the singing as much as about the energy. That was also something where we were like, okay, it would be hard to do this as a solo artist, so this is something where we can be our own hype men that distinguishes us from the other contestants. "Man in the Mirror" was just such a great song. We were so glad in that moment that we'd never performed it, because now we could open with it. Then the others, it's just that variety of a good song that we can do well. Kind of an arc, so you're building a little bit [and] you're changing the energy.
PEOPLE: You just released your newest single, "Annalie," and announced a new album, Against the World. Can you tell us a little bit more about what to expect from the album, sound wise? I'm getting a little bit of (2007's) The Walk vibe, which I personally feel is Hanson's most underrated album.
Taylor: The Walk is actually a pretty good reference, for the feel. When you hear all these songs together, I think you do get a sense of that. That's probably the most relatable project, mostly because of the lyrical concept. A lot of these songs are actually pretty heavy in the tones and the messages. They're hopeful, but they're taking on challenges. Later you'll discover something fearless, stronger, one, only love. But we felt with the feel of the record, "Annalie" was a great way to start — really inviting and kind of, "Here comes this journey."
We are releasing one song [from the album] a month; it's released unlike anything we've ever done before. A lot of that comes from the fact that we know we're not able to visit every city and do a full world tour for a while, so we just wanted the chance to have something interesting in discovering music all throughout the year, so people really feel that [momentum].
Zac: We have released so much music over the years, and you see these songs you love never quite get the opportunity to have a spotlight put on them — songs that are deeper in an album, the fourth song or the seventh song. In 2021, it seems like there's this opportunity to give love to every story. That's really what we do. It's not about selling albums. It's about bringing people along on these journeys. Some of them are three minutes long, and some of them are two hours long. Sometimes it's about an album.
Zac: I think that was the emphasis behind the idea of releasing songs one at a time. They'll become an album at the end of this process. In November, people will get their hands on a CD or a vinyl or be able to listen to it as a full digital collection.
But from the point of view of introducing it, we're not saying, "Here's our whole family." We're saying, "Here's my son. And here's my daughter." It's one person at a time, so you get this moment together where you learn about that story, and that seems cool.
The Masked Singer airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.
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