A music career spurred on by a video blog
Many modern musicians turn to YouTube to publicize their work, but Hank Green turned to music as a way to fill time on an unusually ambitious preexisting YouTube project.
Green, who will play the Majestic Theatre Sunday, agreed in 2007 to converse with his brother, John (later the author of "The Fault in Our Stars"), by uploading a YouTube video blog every day for a year. The brothers hatched the unusual project, dubbed "Brotherhood 2.0," as a rejection of the texts and emails they'd been using to communicate. Irreverent and nerdy, but often thoughtful, the videos drew a sizable young fan base. Green says he started feeling the pressure to keep his entries interesting.
"Once you have that much to do, you're like, 'Well, I need to keep being entertaining somehow, so I'd better learn how to be entertaining,' " he says. "So I started writing funny songs, basically."
Although Green laughs that he was "definitely learning" his way around songwriting in those days, his musical career has since taken off tremendously, thanks in part to the huge popularity of his and his brother's "Vlogbrothers" YouTube channel. Green has since released four studio albums. For his most recent, "Incongruent," he enlisted a full band, the Perfect Strangers, with whom he'll perform on Sunday.
"I'm a pretty dirty acoustic guitar player," he says. "For me it's definitely about lyrics more than about the instrument. I am lucky to have a good group of people around me who can fill in that gap."
Green's lyrics on "Incongruent" are certainly a force to be reckoned with. The tunes mostly have a pop-punk sound, but the number of syllables Green fits into some lines is enough to make even the deftest rapper's head turn. The subject matter occasionally recalls "Weird" Al Yankovic in its goofiness but, generally, Green is more earnest, extolling his unabashed love for the "Harry Potter" books in two different songs. Another running lyrical thread is the allure of science, a field Green has an extensive professional background in. He has a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and a master's in environmental studies, but he says he "didn't love" working in research labs.
"I came out realizing that the thing that I really liked was teaching and learning and getting other people to be excited about science," Green says.
He's also applied that passion to "SciShow," a YouTube science series that is just one of the many projects Green pursues in addition to his music. He and his brother still address each other regularly through videos on "Vlogbrothers," and in January he was granted a post-State of the Union interview with President Obama. Now 34, Green is at least a decade older than his audience of mostly teens and young twenty-somethings. Green references the occasional gap between himself and the young-adult zeitgeist in the "Incongruent" track "Favorite Pony," about his ignorance of particularly obscure Internet fads. But he says he loves trying to keep up with his fans.
"It keeps you on your toes," Green says. "I'm really interested in learning and seeing the world in new ways, and seeing things from other people's perspectives. I find that when I get a little bit below the surface of what teens these days are into, I find that it is very much the kind of thing that I would be into if I were that age, and after using it for a little bit, I'm also into it."
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
Hank Green and the
with Driftless Pony Club, Harry and the Potters, Rob Scallon and Andrew Huang
5 p.m. Sunday
4120 Woodward, Detroit
Tickets $20 in advance, $25 day of show