Onstage at a Tulsa, Okla., nightclub in March, hometown singer Taylor Hanson shimmies to the beat of a dozen catchy rave-ups. Dressed in toothpick jeans, horizontal stripes and skinny ties, he and his cohorts—known collectively as Tinted Windows—plow through a cover of the Buzzcocks's "I Don't Mind" before ending their first-ever gig with a jangly original called "The Dirt." Save for the squeals of a few eager young ladies in the crowd, the performance contains none of the earnest balladeering and jammy grooves the 26-year-old Hanson and his brothers proffer in their own concerts. For this moment, at least, Taylor Hanson is a different kind of rock star. And with guitarist James Iha (41, formerly of Smashing Pumpkins), bassist Adam Schlesinger (also 41, from Fountains of Wayne) and Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos (57) as his new bandmates, it's no wonder.
If this assemblage of would-be music royalty seems a bit skewed, the members of Tinted Windows are in on the joke: just two weeks before their Oklahoma show and subsequent appearances at SXSW in Austin, the band leaked its first single, "Kind of a Girl," to YouTube in the form of a promo spot from a fictional early-1980s TV show, “Rock After Dark." In the clip, Taylor Hanson manhandles his mike in a manner not unlike Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, while transitioning between a soul-tinged rasp and a well-controlled falsetto with all the effortlessness of an early-1960s matinee idol. Iha and Schlesinger chime in on the "whoah-whoahs," and an image of Carlos behind his drum kit flashes across the screen. It's a stylized stunt that works on more levels than one: now introducing pop-rock thrills for teens, their moms and their grandpas! From the cheekily ridiculous name to the quartet's facetious debates about whether to call themselves a "supergoup," a "megagroup" or an "ultragroup," Tinted Windows will no doubt make some music fans ask the question, is this for real? But anyone familiar with the back catalogs of the band's members knows that the collaboration makes good sense—and makes for good fun.
It all started when Schlesinger and Hanson met in the mid-'90s. Schlesinger was approaching 30; Hanson was 14. "Adam and I met in 1996 when we were both making our first records," Hanson says. "Over the years, we would just keep in touch and hang out periodically. We always talked about doing something together, and eventually the stars just aligned."
Schlesinger and Iha had already worked together on several projects, including coproducing a 2006 album for the band America, and Iha played guitar on Fountains of Wayne's 2007 song "Seatbacks and Traytables." When Schlesinger joined Hanson and his brothers at a songwriting retreat in Oklahoma, the concept for Tinted Windows was born. Together, Hanson, Schlesinger and Iha approached Bun E. Carlos, who, to their surprise, said yes.
"We were all fans of each other's records," Hanson says. "There are so many kinships between the music we've all done, and so few degrees of separation: Smashing Pumpkins had played with Cheap Trick, members of Cheap Trick had come to Hanson concerts; we'd all connected. It really came back to the idea of something we could have a good time with that turns heads in terms of what it actually is, musically."
And turn heads it has, particularly since Hanson is the only member of the band to have gotten his start as a child star. "The initial idea was just that it would be cool to have a loud rock band with Taylor singing," Schlesinger says. "I think it was clear from the time I met him that he was a phenomenal musician. All of the Hansons are phenomenal musicians, but Taylor's voice is one of those rare things that you don't come across very much in life. He can sing anything with total conviction, and he has this amazing range."
Hanson scaled back his vocal licks for Tinted Windows's streamlined sound and says he made a mix CD of classic power-pop bands to inspire the recording process for Iha, Schlesinger and Carlos, who fit in sessions between commitments to their respective musical day jobs. The result of this immersion into the likes of the Babys, the Knack and the Raspberries? On Tinted Windows's self-titled debut, out April 21, the sugar smack of Hanson's "MMMBop" and Schlesinger's rousing choruses make for memorable melodies.
It might take fans of Fountains of Wayne's song "Stacy's Mom" a minute to catch on to Tinted Windows's utter lack of ironic lyrics, but those who also know Schlesinger as the Oscar-nominated songwriter behind the 1996 Tom Hanks film "That Thing You Do!" and as one third of the indie-pop band Ivy will recognize his melodic touch immediately.
And rockers rejoice: as poplike as some of Tinted Windows's tunes are, Carlos and Iha always cut the recipe with a bit of brine. "Can't Get a Read on You" opens with a big-guns riff, then chases it with a speedy "ooh-ooh" refrain that begs for repeat listening; "Doncha Wanna" brings some of the Smashing Pumpkins's famous drone to the table; and "Messing With My Head" is a straight-up rocker à la Cheap Trick's "Dream Police." It's in the same milieu as Rick Springfield's 1981 album, "Working Class Dog"—pretty-boy grit with relentless hooks—only this time, the guitar power is for real.
Even so, following closely on the heels of Hanson's latest studio album—2007's critically praised "The Walk," a sweeping production that came with its own accompanying documentary and walk-a-thon to raise money for AIDS and clean water in Africa—the Tinted Windows project must be a total alter-ego experience for this normally serious frontman. Doesn't the switch from playing piano and writing lyrics about "conquering the great divide" to playing tambourine and singing about the "kind of a girl you wanna feel the touch of" feel like a bit of a lark? Hanson, a married father of four, admits that the liberation of his new rock-star pose is undeniable. "I will tell you, it's definitely a lot of fun, and it's totally a great outlet," Hanson laughs. "Standing out on front of the stage and just singing is like a whole different set of skills as a performer. I love writing songs that carry some strong meaning, but there's always a place for songs about the effervescent quality of boy meets girl. When you do it with a pounding drumbeat and a lot of melody, it's quite fun." Now that he's all grown-up, Taylor Hanson finally gets to sing about girls. There's one irony about Tinted Windows, after all.