In their 13 years as a band Hanson has earned many titles; Grammy nominees, pop phenomenon, and Carnegie Hall headliners. And now they can add to that list chart-topping independent group, having entered the Billboard Independent Chart at #1 in late April of 2004 with Underneath. The album, released Stateside on the trio’s own3CG Records, has quickly gone on to become one of the most successful self-released records in history.
Isaac Hanson, the elder of the three brothers at 24, says that of all the band’s achievements, the newest one ranks right near the top for him. “We set as a goal to have a top five debut and it debuted number one. You can’t ask for much more than that,” Isaac says proudly.
The success of Underneath, the trio’s first album in four years, has been significant for Isaac, Taylor (21), and Zac (19) for a number of reasons. For starters, in the disposable world of pop culture where four years between albums might as well be measured in dog years, the fact that fans have so embraced Underneath, which also debuted at #25 on the Billboard Top 200, and spawned a number two single in the utterly engaging lead track “Penny And Me,” is a testament to the impact the brothers have had on pop music. But the #1 debut on the Independent charts is most meaningful because it speaks to where Hanson is at this point in their career. “Hanson is a real indie-rock band. It wrote, recorded, produced and issued its own disc. And it's touring on its own dime,” said Denver’s Westword paper.
It ain’t bragging if you can back it up as the old saying says. And Hanson has backed up their claims of independence by releasing Underneath on their own 3CG Records and completely financing the recording and marketing in the U.S. In addition, the group has entered into a number of licensing deals internationally with leading independents like Cooking Vinyl (UK/EU), JVC (Japan) and Univision (Mexico). And just to prove they’re open-minded, the trio even has a deal with Sony to release their recordings in Southeast Asia (where the band recently had a number one single) and Latin America.
The desire to declare their independence stemmed from the friction the band felt with former label Island/Def Jam. After trying to make the relationship work despite their differences, the threesome decided it was time to move on. “After a certain point, we said, ‘We can’t do this anymore. This is not productive and we know where we need to go with this,’” Isaac recalls. “We said, ‘Look, the only way that we can have a career in music is to go with our gut, as we always have’” adds drummer Zac.
As it has in the past, the collective gut of Hanson didn’t let the trio down. The same instincts and talent that led them to create “MMMBop,” the work recently hailed as genius by Bono to CD:UK, that led the trio to Grammy nominations in 1998 for Best New Artist, Record of The Year, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals, has led Hanson to its most accomplished and mature album yet with Underneath.
Influential alternative weekly paper “The Village Voice” surmised prophetically of Underneath, “This perfectly pitched record reveals that these hardworking brothers valiant quest for independence shall be rewarded.” “The New York Post” said in its review of Underneath, “Hanson has established itself as a credible rock band whose best years and music are still to come.” And “Billboard” said, “Underneath spotlights a more mature, melodic pop/rock Hanson…This newest effort is the group’s most endearing.”
Underneath is indeed all of those things, and then some. Heralded by the mid-tempo gentle ease of the harmonious lead single, “Penny And Me,” and the sing-song energy of the infectious opener “Strong Enough to Break,” Underneath showcases all of the trio’s formidable songwriting prowess.
The title track is an acoustic beauty co-written with veteran pop craftsman Matthew Sweet, while the band gets soulful on the piano-heavy closing ballad, “Believe.” But there’s plenty of high-octane music on Underneath, as well. The pop/rocker “Lost Without Each Other,” co-written with the New Radicals’ Gregg Alexander, dances and shimmies out of the speakers, as does the rocking “Get Up And Go,” a shot of pure adrenaline.
“We were writing songs with a definite flavor,” says Taylor. “We wanted that to survive to the final mix.” “Our goal was that every part that was played had a clear purpose in order to make this album more dynamic,” adds Zac. “This leaves the music feeling complete without overwhelming the listener.”
As much as critics have embraced the new album, Hanson’s fans, both new and old, have been right there with them. And that, along with themselves, is ultimately who Hanson makes music for. Since launching their Internet site, www.hanson.net, around the release of Middle of Nowhere in 1997, Hanson has been one of music’s most gregarious groups in interacting with their fans around the world.
“There are so many people for us to re-reach again or re-touch base with, but every fan that we grab is one that we want to value more than we have ever before,” keyboardist Taylor says. "We have an opportunity not only to build a direct relationship with our fans around the world and fuel them in times of drought, but also allow them to communicate with each other and create a powerful community of music fans. Our currency with our fans has always been trust and passion, and that relationship is also our future." Zac said in a recent interview with Reuters.
All three of the brothers believe that that is the best way to resuscitate an ailing music industry. “When I look at the music industry the tipping point for reenergizing the excitement in music is so close, because we’ve reached such a low point, that all we can do is go up. Out of the ashes is gonna come the passion, excitement, and reinvigoration. It all starts with connecting with a generation and having it be their own again,” Taylor says. “We want to bring people back to believing it’s worth it to get invested again in music and artists.”
Hanson not only talk the talk, they walk the walk. The band recently concluded a whirlwind world tour that had the band performing live in 25 cities across 13 countries in just over four weeks, including Indonesia for the first time in seven years, and the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Denmark for the first time ever. Of the band’s sold out show at London’s famed Shephard’s Bush Empire, the London Times declared that Hanson, “are about to be big all over again. Only this time, it’s with good old-fashioned rock.” Isaac admits, “About two and a half weeks ago I was more tired than I’ve ever been in my life.” But all the traveling was made worth it by the response Isaac, Taylor, and Zac received wherever they went. “What we’ve been able to do with this album is affirm the successes that we’ve had over the years with the music, and lay a new foundation for this music and records to come” Isaac says.
The four years in-between albums might not have been an easy stretch for Isaac, Taylor, and Zac, but as another old saying goes: “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” “We’re liberated musically more so than we’ve ever been,” Isaac believes. “We’re stronger as a unit now than ever,” adds Zac.
If anything, the turbulent years leading up to Underneath and the album’s subsequent success have made the band even more resolute that it is on the right path. “A lot of groups would have collapsed or fallen apart and for us to have done all that we have done, just in the last four years, and still be able to have success around the world and be moving forward, yeah, you do appreciate it in a different way. And every success is that much sweeter,” Taylor says.
And now the band plans to take
that steely resolve into a very long future. “We’re hopefully
just at the beginning of the race,” Taylor says. “We’ve
been a band for 13 years now, but we want to be having these conversations
as old men, talking about the past 30 years. It all comes back to that
simple thing of saying, ‘What is it we’re really doing?’
We’re just three guys who love to make music.”
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