When Lewis Drapp led a trio of good-natured brothers into his recording studio barely three years ago, he had no idea things would turn out so mmm...mmm...Mmmbop good.
As Hanson performed at the Grammy's, Drapp, owner of Drapp Studio in West Tulsa, was watching, still marveling at their success which appears, like the title of their third album, to have come from out of the "Middle of Nowhere."
Appearances can be deceiving, Drapp will tell you. As the producer of their second album, "Mmmbop," Drapp says for Hanson, being discovered was just a matter of time.
"They're naturals, that's obvious," he said.
"I think that's part of their success. Everybody can see their talent. You don't have to listen to them 20 times before you realize they've got it."
It took only one listen for Drapp to realize that teen-agers Isaac and Taylor Hanson and Zac Hanson, 11 at the time, had something special.
Prepared to Make Music
They had their vocal and musical arrangements already in hand when they came to him in late 1995 on a mission to cut their second compact disc, said Drapp. Musicians, especially beginners, are seldom that well put together when they arrive at his studio, he said.
"Taylor would do these things with his voice and I'd be like...," said Drapp, giving a pleasingly incredulous look. Besides being well put together, their a cappella singing was incredible, he said.
Ironically, Drapp admits he never intended to get into the recording business. A twist of fate that seems all the more incredible as he holds a signed copy of Hanson's 15-cut second CD "Mmmbop." For the moment the classic album, which features Drapp on bass, is unavailable for public sale.
It was in the corner of a bedroom in his modest West Tulsa home that Drapp Studio, now famous for its Hanson heritage, was born. Only when a growing list of clients began wearing a path in the carpet did Drapp realize he was already in business, so he converted his one-car garage into a state-of-the-art recording studio.
"Daddy, are the kids here?" said 3-year-old Emily Drapp, suddenly poking her head into the studio to see if Hanson had returned for a surprise visit. For almost two years the entire Hanson family had been regular guests at the Drapps'.
"It's easy to feel like you're part of their family. They're not stuck up, they're just talented, friendly people," Drapp said.
While Ike, Tay and Zac, as they are now known, labored over their recordings, younger siblings of the trio played with Drapp's two children, Drapp said. Parents Diana and Walker Hanson were never far away, only occasionally leaving the boys unattended with Drapp after establishing a comfortable relationship with him.
"It was never boring working with them," said Drapp, recalling a time when the group went looking for a weird sound to add to a song.
The boys ran home and got their walkie-talkies, then Taylor stood in the control room and sang into one while Zac held the other one up to the mike, he said. Drapp's impression of Donald Duck also failed to escape the trio's penchant for quirky sound.
"There was this one song that, at one point, had a monotonous line that just kept playing over and over again, so I started talking like Donald Duck going, 'Stop it, you're driving me crazy," said Drapp, laughing through his fowl impersonation. The boys insisted that Drapp include the line in the song.
"They took (their music) seriously, especially Taylor," he said. "If we got to goofing off too much he would bring in a reality check. They all like to have fun, but Taylor made sure we got a lot of work done."
They were off to a good start with Drapp, an experienced teacher. At 16 he was giving guitar and banjo lessons at Firey Brothers Music in Sand Springs, a store he later managed for more than a decade.
Another Musical Kid
Drapp's father, a tent revival evangelist, had passed on what few guitar chords he knew to him when Drapp was 9. Drapp recalls harmonizing with his mother, who would sing while he played. His guitar seldom left his side, he said.
"I remember sitting in the tent with my guitar. I had this silvery thing attached to it, and I could catch the lights with it and shine them into (my father's) eyes," said Drapp.
After graduating from Charles Page High School in 1982, Drapp stuck with Firey Brothers Music and tuned pianos on the side. A Tulsa-area native, he played in a variety of local gospel groups.
"I've played everything from country gospel to Christian rock and jazz," he said.
Six years ago, Drapp began to notice that helping other musicians with their recordings was becoming a full-time pursuit.
Proficient in guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin and keyboards, he turned his garage into a one-stop recording shop.
For around $200 Drapp takes a typical client, who comes in humming a tune to some words written down on paper and churns out a finished CD.
Using the Nashville Numbering System, he charts all the music, giving the songs official notes and then plays all the background instruments.
"Ninety percent of the business is working with songwriters. I put all the music together for them," he said.
Like their phenomenal success, Hanson was anything but typical when they came to Drapp.
The family initially phoned him to ask about his equipment. After their first visit to check the studio out they just kept coming back, he said.
Instead of charting music, Drapp found himself playing bass guitar accompaniments and providing a guiding musical hand to a group that just needed a good venue to play in, he said.
Drapp said his unusual collection of instruments, which graces the walls of his studio, often gives off a good atmosphere for developing music.
In addition to two Peruvian guitars, one made from a turtle's shell, the collection includes a Russian guitar called a balalaika, a pan flute from Costa Rica, a 10-string quatro guitar from Mexico, a German zither and a bowed psaltery modeled after an instrument played in biblical times.
His modern mass of technical equipment does not hurt the development process either. Armed with a Macintosh computer, a 32-track digital recorder, a multi-effects system and a CD burner, Drapp can create four-part harmony with only one singer.
Should his musicians sing a bit off key, his computer can adjust sound to bring a voice up to pitch.
For a rich vocal quality, he can use a process called stacking vocals, where several recordings of the same voice are blended together.
"There's a lot of processing done on albums that can't be done live," he said.
Drapp was teaching the Hanson brothers' father how to play bass and brushing Isaac up on his guitar skills when the group was signed to Mercury Records and swept away, he said. Six weeks later, 'Mmmbop' went No. 1.
Few people may realize this, but all three brothers can play keyboard and drums, said Drapp. In fact, they had only been playing their instruments for two months when they made the 'Mmmbop' CD.
Accustomed to hearing doctored or processed bands, Drapp said he learned that record reps believed Hanson was a fake at first, a product of adults pulling the strings. They couldn't believe three kids could play their own stuff, he said.
Then they went in and performed live for these people and they blew their heads off, said Drapp.
"They're one of those musicians that are just musicians. The music is in them."
Now that Hanson's magic has left Drapp Studio as suddenly as it appeared, business has been good, but then it already was, Drapp said. Typically booked at least two weeks in advance, he continues to produce local artists who are looking for their own big break.
Thrust into the limelight for a brief time as he helped Hanson skyrocket to stardom, he is back to working with lesser known singers and songwriters who seldom do more than work their magic behind the scenes.
"There are so many good musicians that people don't know unless they read credits," he said.
Drapp said he does get girls in the studio who want to touch the mike that the Hansons touched.
He's had some who want to take home glasses that they drank out of.
One even wanted to take home a door knob. For the most part, though, it's just business as usual, he said.
"I'm just honored," said Drapp, who said he feels lucky to have worked with Hanson. "If it never happens again, at least it happened in my lifetime."