Underneath – It starts with U
A Hanson calendar is a thing of great beauty, from the concept of the art to the glossy pictures.
The band’s birthday pages are always keenly anticipated and the monthly images scrutinised for every little detail.
Some would say though, that the wonder of the Hanson calendar is the history that it records.
Just as it marks public holidays and celebrations, it logs every album release date, the start of tours, appearances at celebrated venues, DVD releases and key moments in the career of the band.
With each year’s calendar the story extends, as another record, appearance, event or tour is added.
We would ask any music journalist worth their salt to sit down with a Hanson calendar, create a timeline of the events recorded and defy them to ask one single inane question about this band’s output and productivity over the last 22 years.
This year several events mentioned on the pages of the calendar stand out for particular recognition.
Released in August 2003, Underneath Acoustic was a victory over adversity.
It included eight songs that Hanson crafted for their third studio release and showcased a range of musical styles.
Pop sounds mixed with country rock and a touch of something alternative, as Hanson wrote their new music while listening to The Jayhawks, Wilco, Travis and Nick Drake.
This short album stands as testament to the determination and ingenuity of Hanson who, after almost three years of back and forth with the label, had the courage to put their cards on the table and hand over a record.
This they declared was it. Take it or leave it.
The versions of the songs cut for Underneath Acoustic were recorded before a live audience at the very first MOE in Tulsa, which reunited Hanson with their fans after a 36 month absence.
Everything about this release is worth celebrating. There is boldness in its content yet there is humility in its presentation and expectation.
The music, some of which had been written and fought over for almost three years, was a taste of what a year later became Underneath, the album which defied the game players and which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Among the first songs to be recorded early on and sent to Island Def Jam as demos, were Get up and Go, Crazy Beautiful and Dancing In The Wind, songs which all seemed to define the sound, vision and feel of the new music.
Hanson set the agenda, said here’s the start and waited for the get go to record.
What followed was three years of frustration and uncertainty as Hanson worked with different writers and producers, wrote over eighty songs and attempted a working compromise with the label in order to produced music with substance.
If you were a fan between 2001 and 2003, it was impossible to escape the empty space and speculation surrounding Hanson’s long hours away from social media. The photo updates showing the band in various studios, encouraging comments from close friend Ash Greyson and short but sweet blogs from Taylor or Isaac sometimes simply saying Hi, were just enough to keep the enthused fans listening and waiting – not always patiently, but hanging on in there.
This experience was mutual as it seems that Hanson were equally encouraged by signs that fans were waiting and wanting and holding on.
The cover notes on both Underneath Acoustic and Underneath acknowledge this, as Hanson thank “all of our fans who make it possible to do what we do …. whose patience and encouragement is more valuable than you know”
The struggle that was Underneath took Hanson up and down on an emotional and creative rollercoaster that came to a halt with the decision to leave the the label and release independently.
Who knows if Hanson read Otto Scharmer, or use Theory U as any sort of inspiration. I certainly don’t.
I do know however, that Underneath itself is composed of songs that take the listener on a journey down into uncertainty, turmoil and longing( mirroring much of Hanson’s experience in making the album) and then up and out into hopefulness and belief.
The Walk, album four, explored these themes more fully, but Underneath was the experience that gave Hanson the right to speak about them with confidence and offer a challenge to others. That challenge was to listen.
“Are You Listening”, a line from Lost Without each other, became a key question from this time.
It asked people to consider what they listened to, how they listened and if they were really listening at all.
This was the big question for the record industry, music consumers and fans of Hanson to face at the time.
It remains a great question still.
A lot has happened to Hanson since Underneath. A lot has happened for their music and their business and their fans.
This year’s MOE event will end with the first Hop Jam, Hanson’s music and craft beer festival, where local brewers and musicians will come together to celebrate the best of both worlds.
What will be heard, if people are listening, are the sounds of something new, people having a good time, creativity flourishing, friends celebrating and the distant echoes of courageous choices and turmoil turned into triumph.
Happy Anniversary Underneath.