Monday, January 23, 2012

Hanson brothers rooted in soul

Fans crave contact and the boys are smart enough not to hole up out of touch


Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson make records they want to make. The Walk was filled with heavy themes, while Shout It Out was lighter and fun.

With the encouragement of the trio's fans, Hanson is doing what it wants.
This is freedom, of sorts.
Isaac, Zac and Taylor Hanson have created a bond between themselves and their fans, which has led to the creation of an independent label, spurred them on to special projects, and reinforced their activism, all while surviving tall and strong when around them the music industry is crumbling.
Hanson probably could have gone on untroubled when the 1997 single "MMMBop" from their first major label release, Middle of Nowhere, made it an instant teen sensation. Immediately, Hanson had three Grammy nominations and since has sold 16 million albums.
It instinctively knew that a teen sensation had a superficial career. When its Mercury label folded and Hanson was shunted over to Mercury's successor, Def Jam, there was disagreement. Hanson spotted it, and so began a four-year struggle to break free and set up its own label.
In the meantime, also recognizing a threat to its credibility, Han-son began to forge closer links with its fans. It started with a fanzine, MOE, then issued special CDs and DVDs, a book, film documentaries and podcasts.
Now, Hanson can make the records it wants - 2007's The Walk is described by Taylor as heavy, more for its subject matter, including AIDS in Africa and world poverty, than for its music, while last year's Shout It Out, Taylor says, is a lighter revisitation of the band's roots in soul.
Hanson can also release its records without obeying a corporate schedule. It can develop as it wants to, and it is flying successfully, undetected by the music industry radar.
It can do all this as long as the fans are there. They are, and Hanson is listening to them.
"We definitely want to make records, but our fans want more con-tact," says Taylor.
This roughly means that the fans would rather get closer to the Tulsa, Okla., brothers via tours and blogs and videos than have them holed up somewhere out of touch indefinitely making records.
That they can do it is the end result of a battle to get off the corporate treadmill.
Hanson set up its own independent company in 2003, called 3CG, and saw that its best chance for survival was direct communication with its fans.
The fans have responded to Hanson's invitation to interaction. They feel like they are part of the band. In return, the trio has kept up its special releases, such as the Stand Up Stand Up EP, sold only at Hanson concerts, exploiting more than most bands MySpace and iTunes, and showing up in unexpected places such as the Katy Perry video for "Friday Night."
"You feel like you're working for someone else," Taylor explains of the need to set up its own label, "rather than having people who are sup-posed to be working for you.
"We're fiercely independent," he continues. "Everything comes out of our pocket. It's a great place to be if you don't mind the extra work."
Taylor and his brothers were caught in the endless conflict between "art and commerce," witnesses to what he calls a "paradigm shift" in the music industry that resulted in more attention being paid to the bottom line while losing touch with the desires of the audience.
"It's a wonder that records got made at all," says Taylor.
"We made our decision quickly. From the vantage point we had, we could see where it was heading. We weren't afraid to leave our label because we had such a strong connection with our audience.
"You need your fans to trust you and you have to build on that trust."
Still in the early years of what looks to be a long career, Isaac, 31, Taylor, 28, and Zac, 26 (all three are married with children), felt free to go back.
One of the products of its trust is Shout It Out, Hanson's rediscovery of the rhythm and blues that inspired the brothers.
"It was easy to make," Taylor says. "Five records in (not counting early releases, live albums, EPs or special releases), it was the easiest. It reminded me of just how much of our music comes from soul.
"It was a matter of, it's been a while since I've heard that Ray Charles album or it's been a while since I played Otis Redding's 'Try a Little Tenderness.'"
Where: Vogue Theatre, 918 Granville St.
When: Monday at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $35 at

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