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J > Hanson
by JAY S. JACOBS
2005 PopEntertainment.com All rights reserved.
Posted: September 1,
– indie rock champions?
better believe it, bud…
Hanson – the group who stormed the charts with the infectious pop single "MMMBop"
when they were just kids – have grown up. Not only gotten older, but
they have taken control of
their musical destiny and want to show others how to do it too.
Isaac (lead guitar), Taylor (vocals) and Zac (drums) Hanson were only 16 to 11 years old when their 1997 album Middle Of
Nowhere became a surprise smash. It's hard to remember now, but
the group first appeared on the scene to universal praise. The reviews were stellar. The
album had a very cool background. The Dust Brothers, who were white
hot after producing Beck and the Beastie Boys, were behind the boards on some of the songs.
Hanson had perfected a brilliant fusion of the Jackson 5ive and hip-hop and
the CDs flew off the shelf.
strangest thing happened. The little sisters of the hip rock
journalists fell in love with Hanson, too. Suddenly the fashionistas
realized that it couldn't look hip to listen to the same stuff as their
little sisters – so for reasons that had nothing to do with the music or
the members of Hanson themselves, suddenly there was a hipster backlash.
recognized that they were being defined by the pop world of the late 90s
that they had helped to create. So they stretched their muscles and made
artistic and melodic strides on the 2000 follow-up album This Time Around.
The second album was an amazing stylistic jump from the debut. The
group brought in hip guest stars like Jonny Lang and John Popper of Blues
Traveler. The album
also got a rash of great reviews and sold very well and spawned a hit
single with the title track. However, because sales were not as huge
as the debut's, it was generally considered a disappointment in the
As they were
working on their next disk, the brothers decided that they were getting
lost in the corporate machine. After a lot of soul-searching, the
decided to create their own record label, 3CG Records. In 2004 they
released their first album on the new label, called Underneath.
The new album included songwriting collaborations with power-pop Gods
Matthew Sweet and Gregg Alexander (The New Radicals). It continued the
brothers' musical maturation and again received critical love letters and
also sold extremely well for an independent release The rock-pop
single "Penny & Me" received a decent amount of airplay.
Now Hanson is
releasing a live album called Best of Live and Electric which takes a
more rock-edged tour through their back catalogue as well as a fascinating
Radiohead cover. There is also a new documentary on the making of
Underneath which is called Strong Enough To Break. As well
as touring, the guys have also done a series of appearances at different
universities around the US, discussing the state of the music industry and
the idea of independent labels.
Hanson brother Zac – who is believe it or not is now college-aged himself
– was kind enough to sit down with us and discuss the band's music and
Hanson has been going to college campuses talking to young musicians to give
advice on the business and how to survive as musicians. What kind of
experiences and knowledge have you been sharing with them?
only is it for young musicians, it’s more a reach out for music
fans. The time of your life when you’re in college is really the time when
you’re most active in almost everything, including music. Our reach out to
college has been based on just giving knowledge of the state of the music
industry and the corporate state of where everything is right now. We’re
trying to raise awareness about the fact that people really need to support
music now more than ever, because of the huge companies that are really more
based on stock prices than they are on careers of musicians. We’re trying
to say, "These people are trying to market to you. You need to stand up and
say this is what I’m listening to. This is the music that I want to hear."
Because, you’re going to be defined by the music that’s played on radio.
That’s going to be the music that people look back on and say,
what the generation of 2005 was listening to." You need to make sure
you’re not being misrepresented.
you wish someone was there to talk to you guys like that when you were
were lucky to have a lot of good people that were around us. [There was] a
really good attorney that generously came out of retirement when we first
started, to help us with our first contracts and tell us about what we
should and shouldn’t give up. Good, passionate, young management. They
didn’t know much, but they cared a lot about the band and wanted to help us
succeed. All of those are things that people need. We were lucky to
have a lot of that. Knowing what I know now, it would have been nice to
have me now tell me then, "Hey, it’s going to be hard. You’re going to go
through these things… You’re going to have to deal with a lot of stuff in
the music industry that really isn’t about music. It’s something you’ve got
to find your way through."
day you’re a student singing at home in Oklahoma, the next you’ve got one of the biggest albums in the country. What
was it like when the debut album and “MMMbop” just exploded?
it’s such an incredible experience to have your voice out to that many
people. To have so much recognition around the world; not just your home
state or in this country, but we were going all over the world playing
concerts and TV shows and magazines. One of my
biggest highlights was going to see George Lucas on his ranch. I got
introduced and he goes, "Oh, I know who these guys are." This is George
Lucas, you know? It was a really amazing thing. For us, there was a lot of
time put into getting there. It wasn’t just out of the blue. We had been a
band for five years at that point. We played probably 300 shows and we put
out a couple of independent albums. Still, you wake up one morning and you
get that call that says, "Hey, you’re the number one single in the country.
You have the number one album in the country." You just go, this is so
surreal. Because, you believe in your music. You believe in what it can
do and you believe you’re making great music that people should love and
enjoy and want to buy and be part of. But you never quite know it’s going
much as I like
Middle of Nowhere, I think the other two albums are even better,
definitely more mature and more varied. Was it a little frustrating that
the albums did not do as well?
quite as much notice. Still, a million sales on the second record – not bad
at all. (laughs) You know, you’re always struggling against a lot
of things and most of it is just timing and fate. Who knows, if
would have come out three months later, it may never have been heard and not
[been] successful. So, you’ve just got to believe in what you’re doing and
keep looking at the end goal. You make
albums. You're really proud of them.
But you know in the end it’s not that
album, it’s the five albums in a row that are great quality experiences.
That people can put on and listen through top to bottom and never want to
skip a track. It makes a difference.
was your first self-released album and got some of the best reviews of your
career. How is it different recording an album outside of the major labels?
some ways, it was a little more stressful, because there’s that much more
that’s on your plate. In the sense of fewer employees, even more legwork.
That was really more something we put on ourselves, because we said if we’re
going to self release this, if we’re going to form a label, we immediately
wanted to make sure we did more work than we had ever done. [We] did the
extra work that people don’t do to set up records nowadays. So, it was more
stressful, but there was a sense of relief because you
did know that everything was being done right. The decision to become our own label was really more based on the ability to
take Underneath, or any album, and go this is a stepping stone for
the album three albums from now. I’m going to keep building.
to look at this and everything we do in a way of long-term value and
investing in your fans, and them investing back in you.
3CG just going to be a label for releasing your own albums, or do you see
releasing other artists on the imprint eventually?
Definitely we have plans to release other artists for 3CG. It’s just,
there have been a lot of artists who create labels and sign a bunch of
artists and do bad jobs with all their artists. We don’t want to be another
label not giving the attention to each product and the attention to having a
vision for each artist you sign. So, we have been slow about signing other
people and been real particular about the projects we want to work with and
create. But there will be other artists besides Hanson, it’s just a slow
build so that we can really give something special – the attention and the
focus that you don’t get from labels these days.
the upcoming live album, it sounds like instrumentally you are making some
of the older songs a bit harder, like with the guitar line of “MMMbop” more
prominent live and “Where’s the Love?” is definitely more rocky. Was that a
conscious choice or just how the band has evolved over the years?
think more than anything, that’s just a by-product of being in a live
environment. I know it’s more rock than it was seven years ago when we
played it live. I think even then it was more rock than the albums. I
don’t know, you get that energy going and who can’t enjoy a rockin’
distorted electric guitar? Yeah, the sound of the band has definitely
evolved, so I think that does play a part. Hearing new music, taking
different influences maybe than we had been, it’s changed your ear a little
bit. Where you hear things in a different way and want to go, okay, let’s
push it this way. Everything musically – we’ve never tried to change
things. It’s just something that happens. I remember I listened to
“Where’s the Love” the other day. We’re doing all this old music and
there’s the new music on this live album. I listened back to one of the old
records and I was like, “Man, the phrasing is so white bread.” I realized
you get so used to a song that you start changing it subconsciously. You
don’t even realize it until eight years down the line you turn that old
record back on and you go, wow, I changed that a lot.
Radiohead cover of “Optimistic” on the live CD is really great
and a rather unexpected choice. What made
you choose the song?
know, that was kind of a surprising choice, I think. But, it just fit. We
like to do covers as much as we can, just to throw other things in there.
Show people influences and also introduce fans of our music to music that
maybe they haven’t heard. We were
listening through covers, I think we were working on a Tom Petty song and a
Ryan Adams song. Somebody said, "Why don’t we do something like a Radiohead
song?" It just seemed like, when you listened to all the Kid A songs,
["Optimistic"] seemed like a song that we could really pull out some of the vocal
harmonies and the drum part and make it even more aggressive than it is on
their album. Just do it in a Hanson way that was still Radiohead.
did you decide to do the
Strong Enough to
Break documentary? What was it like to have a camera crew watching as
you went through the process of making an album?
know, the guy who filmed and directed most of it is a dear friend of ours.
So it wasn’t as intrusive as it might seem, because it’s like having a good
friend around all the time. It came about before we even knew what was
going to happen with Underneath. At the time, there was
no idea that we’d end up forming a label or doing all the things we did with
Underneath. So, we started out to film a movie about what it’s
really about to make albums, to an extent that was more intimate than anyone
had ever seen. Going from songwriting to producing to releasing. It ended
up being more a film about what you go through to make a record – outside of
the recording. What it takes actually to get approval, to spend your own
budget to record songs. How much bureaucracy there is in making music and
little it is about art. I think Strong Enough To Break
is really about the same decision that almost every artist today is
making. Which is either to push through and follow your own vision for your
music, or get caught up in appeasing the companies and people around you who
don’t really have a vision for where you’re going in the long-term?
your upcoming “Live and Electric” tour you will be giving all ticket holders
a limited edition CD. What’s going to be on it and how did you come up with
That CD is a selection of songs from the new live
album. The reason we did that is not everybody is going to buy a
Hanson live album, or any live album. I only own four or five in the
hundreds and hundreds that are released. Because a live album, I
think, is perceived as something that is for really hardcore fans.
People who are, "I love the real album so much I
want to listen to it live everyday." Playing
live music always has been a really big part of who we are, and what makes
Hanson the band it is. I think we wanted to make sure that people
walked away with that experience. And also, give people more. The way
downloading, new medias and music is becoming something that you’re going to
have to give more and more content. Better albums. More music.
More things. So, we’re just a band that sort of believes in the idea of
giving more and more quality in everything we do.
you guys working on any new studio stuff?
studio tracks are… we’re sort of in a writing phase, now.
The recording process will start after the Fall tour. Early next year, late
this year, we’ll start the recording process for the next album. The hope
is to get it out next spring or summer.
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