With his soulful, gritty voice and smooth rocker vibes, there are few clues that the cigarette-smoking, long-haired crooner singing about the dark sides of temptation in his new music video for “Hey Hey” is the 24-year-old younger sibling of the brother trio that made up late-’90s pop-rock powerhouse, Hanson.
He grew up in the shadow of his “MMMBop” singing siblings (37-year-old Isaac, 35-year-old Taylor and 32-year-old Zac,) and initially shunned a career in music — but 21 years since his brothers first topped the charts, Mac Hanson is about to make his own mark in music with his band, Joshua & the Holy Rollers.
“Growing up, music was something I relegated to my brothers — that was their thing, and I felt I needed to discover my own identity,” the singer admits as he debuts the video exclusively on Billboard. “Looking back, I see how pride and ego can get in the way of what you want to do or are meant to do. I realize now that my hesitancy towards doing music was largely fear — fear of how it might look or be perceived.”
“I’d be lying if I said part of that fear wasn’t also [accusations of] nepotism,” he adds. “Part of my whole struggle of figuring out who I am and what to do with myself has been trying to carve out my own way, and not be identified by [my brothers]. I love and respect them and their music, but you have to create your own personhood.”
Spending his childhood the only way he knew how — on tour with his family, with a friend circle consisting of roadies — it was only natural that music was engrained in Mac early on. He wrote his first song at 14, inspired by unrequited love. While his brothers belted out their hits to venues around the world, loud and boisterous Mac — perhaps trying to be heard over the piercing screams that trailed his brothers — was constantly told to quiet down and “use his inside voice.”
Coupled with those fears of nepotism accusations, he avoided the path well-trodden by his family and started college at just 14 (aided by years of home-schooling), where he studied cinematography, video production and English. Relocating to Los Angeles at 16, Mac found work in the film industry, editing, writing, directing and also dabbling in acting.
Although music remained a passion, it wasn’t until an enlightening camping trip to Joshua Tree National Park that he decided it was time to pursue the family business.
“I was sitting on top of a rock watching the sun fall behind mountains, playing guitar and writing music, and just felt an upswell in my soul,” recalls the singer, whose full name is Joshua Mackenzie Hanson. “I stood on top of this rock, ripped off my shirt and yelled into the distance, ‘I’m fucking loud. Deal with it!’ [I had] been told to use my inside voice my entire life. I’m big and loud and there’s a certain identity there that I hadn’t come to terms with, but I finally recognized it was something I needed to be proud of and embrace, and part of embracing that loudness and my musical tendencies meant leaning into that skill set.”
Armed with the greatest lesson instilled in him from his brothers’ success and struggles — “to grab hold of the reigns yourself and not wait for someone else to make it happen for you” — Mac set out to make a record. But while some might have assumed his famous surname would help, by the end of 2017, he found himself “up against a brick wall,” with none of his musical ambitions coming together. Swallowing his pride, he turned to the family he had been trying to set himself apart from for so long.
“I reached out to my eldest brother [Isaac] and finally, absolving myself of my pride and fear, I asked if he’d help me record,” says Mac, who plays six instruments. “He immediately said, ‘Yes, of course. We’re doing this!’ which was such a wonderful, full-circle moment.”
“We had talked about it before, because a few years back I brought a song when I went home for Christmas and we recorded it, and I think it was the first time he recognized how much life experience had been going on between Christmases and between our ongoing lives,” he adds. “It was a really symbiotic moment, seeing that we’re all more alike than we care to acknowledge — and we acknowledge a lot of likeness already!”
As a co-producer, Isaac became a crucial part of the recording process, with Mac adding it was especially helpful to have his input as a vocalist.
“Isaac was the first person to ever give me a vocal lesson, and thank God because otherwise who knows what would have happened!” he says. “It’s hard to fully encapsulate how much he brought to the table — everything a producer, a brother and a 25-year veteran of the industry could bring. The music wouldn’t have been close to as good without Isaac.”
It was Isaac who convinced Mac to release “Hey Hey” as his first single. The track is his most personal yet, centering on temptations and their ugly consequences. Just like a girl inspired Mac’s first song at 14, a decade later it was another girl fueling his first single as he grappled with deceit. “I was sitting in my bathtub calling this girl and just shaking with rage, feeling so deceived and hurt,” he says. “I said, ‘Everything you have of me — every gift, every picture — burn it all! We cannot talk ever again.’”
Directing the video himself, Mac called on pals like Big Bang Theory star and “wonderful supporter,” Johnny Galecki, to help with the 26-hour shoot.
An EP, titled Tribulations, will follow before the year’s end. Echoing Mac’s journey to find and embrace his musical destiny, the songs center on finding one’s place in the world, and range from rock ballads to calypso jazz numbers.
It’s the antithesis to the sunny pop-rock his brothers (who are still touring and have a double EP, String Theory, releasing on Nov. 9) are widely remembered for, but Mac insists the contrasting style was unintentional. After all, he was singing along to Paul Simon and rocking out to Aerosmith as a “chubby, curly-haired 9-year-old kid.”
“My brothers and I have similar taste, but somewhere along the line, I started listening to a lot more rock’n’roll — Aerosmith, Queen, Van Morrison, Black Crowes,” he says. “So, I think my music is just a reflection of how very different our lives have been and my natural tendency [towards harder rock]. There was definitely never a thought to being something different. I just wrote the songs that were sitting in my head, and it turns out they were a different kind of sound.”
Watch Joshua & the Holy Rollers’ new music video “Hey Hey,” premiering exclusively on Billboard below.