Hanson: All grown up and (perhaps) brokenhearted
By MALCOLM X ABRAM
Knight Ridder Newspapers
02 July 2004
Isaac, Taylor and Zachary Hanson are 23, 21 and 18 years old, respectively, and together they make music under the moniker “Hanson.”
Since their major-label debut album “Middle of Nowhere” was released in 1997, they have had a No. 1 hit single with the chirpy pop song “MMMBop,” sold more than 10 million copies of their music worldwide and performed all over the globe. And, much to the chagrin of many fans, Taylor got married.
Now there’s “Underneath,” Hanson’s first full studio effort of new songs since “This Time Around” in 2000. The release also is the first on the group’s own record label, 3CG, named for “3 Car Garage,” an early independent release.
The brothers’ tour to support the album will stop Monday at the House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach.
The name “Hanson” still may conjure up images of three towheaded kids impishly banging away on their instruments and singing slick pop tunes, but Hanson circa 2004 is three men taking control of their own music and, by extension, their careers.
Being millionaire music-industry veterans before 18 certainly is a solid foundation upon which to build, but having a recognizable name doesn’t automatically mean radio stations and MTV will knock down your door.
“The challenges for us are just like anybody else,” Isaac Hanson said.
“Just getting your record heard, whether you’re Michael Jackson or Paul McCartney, Blink 182 or Hanson, it’s getting your single on the radio and your video on MTV and letting the audience have the opportunity to hear the music — and that’s a big challenge for anybody.”
So far, the band is meeting that challenge. “Underneath” has spent eight weeks on Billboard’s Top Independent Albums chart, and the single “Penny & Me” has been in rotation on MTV’s “TRL.”
That the band has managed to get anywhere near MTV or radio without the usual major-label connections, palm greasing or image retooling is a testament to its drive and business savvy. So far, starting 3CG has been the right move, though Isaac Hanson admits that being label executives adds some twists to staying afloat in the crowded pop market.
“I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody; it’s not for the faint of heart,” he said.
The 13 tracks on “Underneath” were written, performed and produced primarily by the brothers, with a little songwriting help from respected alt-rocker Matthew Sweet and New Radical leader Gregg Alexander, and production help from veteran session guitarist/producer Danny Kortchmar.
The record has received middling to very good reviews. Billboard called it “the group’s most endearing,” and charming; the Washington Times said that “steeped in old R&B and classic ’60s pop, the brothers appreciate a good hook and know how to craft one on their own.”
They have grown, but their image is still that of three well-adjusted All-American boys singing happy tunes for happy teens — the kind of cheerful, grounded, happy young men whom every dad hopes his daughter brings home to dinner.
But “Underneath” contains some surprisingly adult ruminations on love gone bad, specifically the quartet of songs “Misery,” “Lost Without Each Other,” “When You’re Gone” and the title track.
Do these heartbreak tunes mean that somewhere there are females who hold chunks of the Hanson brothers’ broken hearts, or are the Hansons simply mining the same old territory that songwriters have drawn from for years?
“I don’t think you have to have your heart broken to understand,” Isaac Hanson said.
“People ask how much of the music is autobiographical and do you feel like you have to experience things to write about them, and my answer to that is, Michael Crichton didn’t experience ‘Jurassic Park.’ So, if you’re an artist and you have a creative mind, you can pretty much understand. The emotions are there to be felt and had, and I think we all kind of understand them, whether we have experienced them literally or not. But, yeah, everybody’s had their heart broken at one point or another, that’s for sure.
“What we feel really lucky about is that we’re doing as much as we’re doing and we’re still maintaining our independence, which is a rare thing.”