an interview with Isaac Hanson – Wednesday, March 09, 2011

By | March 10, 2011

Baeble Music

Last week, Baeble caught up with 1/3 of the pop rock wonders, Hanson, to discuss the newest developments in their fifth studio album Shout It Out, learn about their experiences creating their own independent label, and discover the benefits and challenges of their time in the music business. Hanson have always held a unique position in the music industry, balancing a continuum of decades, success, and independence within their optimistic direction. They grew up in the 80s and 90s worshiping a mo-town mix of 50s and 60s grooves. Then in 1997, they emerged with an effervescent energy to solidify the post-grunge era with enough time to catch a breath and rule a summer before the age of mechanized pop swept the airwaves. For the next three years, they embraced their success and continued working together to create the music that had always been coursing through their veins. After this time, the band’s relationship with their record label became strained, resulting in the creation of their own independent label. Though only ranging from ages 25-30 years old, these brothers have acquired enough knowledge, experience, and longevity to disprove fifteen years of questioning critics. Though often mislabeled as a gimmick in their early years, Hanson have worked tirelessly to produce unaffected records of soulful rock, jazzy pop, and singer/songwriter acoustic ballads that reveal such an undeniably genuine drive, no one is doubting them now.

After their label, Mercury, merged with Island Def Jam, the band found themselves caught in the middle of yet another shift in the music industry. While recording their third album Underneath, the band hurdled through the issues to follow, and captured this experience in their documentary on the matter, entitled Strong Enough To Break. They spent years attempting to work with their label while maintaining artistic integrity, but could feel their efforts slipping between the cracks. Determined not to let themselves become victims of a misguided process, they left Island Def Jam and began their own independent label: 3CG Records.

Isaac Hanson, the band’s chief guitar player, tells us “it’s very important to say that, artistically, [Hanson] never compromised”. “We have always been who we are, no matter what the circumstances. That was why we started our own record company, because we were not going to be put in a position where we felt as though we were compromising ourselves”. And although Isaac is sure to point out that they have benefited from trusting their gut, he admits that “it’s very, very important to not get lost in the idealism of art. The idealism of art is that you do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you feel emotionally. And on some level or another, you’re just free to express yourself in whatever way you see fit. The irony of that, is that that’s never going to be the case.” As Isaac put it, “with now fifteen years of experience and judgment to go along with that gut feeling”, Hanson have understood that, along with making the music they can’t seem to stop themselves from creating, they have also learned the value of the audience’s response.

They found that the power of music can be captured in the connection with the reception of it just as much as in the conception of it. In turn, artists might also feel their idealism challenged by “an internal situation, where you’re struggling with someone who is in a controlled position, advising you to do something that you either agree or disagree with. But either way, all of those things will always be in the sphere of influence on your art. It’s important to recognize that that’s not a bad thing. That’s actually just fine, and it’s the way it is. It can be a very good thing, especially if you embrace it and harness it and are yourself in that process. As long as you’re not faking it, you’re good”. In their case, Hanson feel “that the problem with the record business” was “ultimately that their decisions and the way that they have looked at things, was ignoring the audience”.

This, however, has never been a problem with Hanson themselves, who have developed an unusually close relationship with their fan base. “I would say that the rare connection with our fans is a direct result of us owning the record company, actually” Isaac explains. “We are constantly not having to ask questions about whether someone’s going to give approval for us to put on a stream and do this or do that”, he says in reference to a few weeks ago when the band set up a live stream for their fan club that showed them inside their studio for one week, one hour a night, without interruption. These types of views through the keyhole are exactly what have made Hanson such an intriguing band. Their fans never have to guess if their songs were actually written by them, or hear false excuses for music delays. Always straightforward, the band has even jokingly referred to lateness as running on Hanson Time. The fans trust that Isaac, Taylor, and Zac will always be honest with them about every process that the band is going through. Because they have embraced this openness, Hanson have tapped into an artistic experience that will perpetually fuel their growth, as the band and their fans play off one another to sustain their passion for music and for life. Rather than mesmerizing audiences with tricks and empty promises, Hanson have earned fans’ respect by including them in their goals.

One such case includes their mile long walks with audience members before almost every concert in the past three years to raise money for the less fortunate in Africa. Isaac spoke with us about the trip they took to Africa, which was integral in the creation of their fourth album The Walk. The eldest Hanson explains how it “really felt like, as much as anything, that it was a time for us to engage our fan base in a different way than we had before and really speak to the heart of the matter for us, which was: we have been privileged to do this for a very long time and we have an incredible group of fans who understand that we are honest with them. And it’s time to be honest with them about some personal experiences we’ve had, and do our best to make that a tangible part of what we do every day. And this was to help out others who are struggling with poverty, provide education, medicine, sanitation through water, and things of that nature to people who are having a hard time getting it with their own means”. After these serious efforts, Isaac states that “we felt the most comfortable in our skin than we had in a very long time and it was starting to show in the music. It was an opportunity for us to continue to be ourselves, but maybe reconnect with some of the earlier periods of our career”. For Hanson, this meant “doing music for the joy of doing music”. The manifestation of this full circle journey of a genuine love of music followed by fame, industry frustrations, label freedom, endless efforts, nonstop discovery, and optimistic energy comes the band’s fifth studio album Shout It Out.

“Shout It Out finds us as a band in the most comfortable position that we’ve ever been in maybe in our entire career, but certainly since the earliest stages of our band in the early and mid 90s for us, because all of the unnecessary drama that the record business had manufactured is not a part. We’re celebrating the fact that we love what we do”, says Isaac.

In terms of more recent developments with Shout It Out, “currently, the ‘Give A Little’ single will be coming out in April”, Isaac reveals. This would be the second single for the album, following “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin”, the video for which became an internet sensation last summer. Isaac expresses clear excitement over this next song, thanks to “the sparseness of the guitar riff and this very visceral thing” that, interestingly, became “the catalyst for horns on the entire record”. Solidifying the song’s future was the enthusiasm that their toddler-age children seemed to have over the song. This kind of natural response was encouraging, as Isaac says, “when people are programmed not to be biased in any way and they’re reacting, that’s a good thing. And so the more and more we worked on the song and once we got in the studio and recorded it, it was obvious that it was single material”. The band will be doing a radio tour to promote the new “Give A Little” single “doing music performances and meeting the fans” in the next month or so, followed by an international spring and summer tour in Europe and South America.

Isaac expresses that these plans are currently still being finalized, and fans in the United States may hopefully expect possible domestic fall shows following this tour abroad. One thing that is definite, however, is a London edition of their 5of5 concert series, for which the band played each of their five albums from start to finish five respective nights in a row last April in New York City. As someone who personally attended the New York set of these shows, it is absolutey a once in a lifetime event for a Hanson fan, and those in Europe should not miss this commemerating experience that holds the tangible energy and reflective power that the band has been building since the mid 90s, all felt in a single week. This will take place from June 5-10 in London, and tickets can be pre-ordered exclusively to fan club members right now before the March 21st public on-sale.

Throughout their fifteen year career, the golden trio of Tulsa have known the top of the charts as well as years of major label issues that left them at a standstill of frustration. They have overcome the barriers of miscommunication in the music industry and relied purely on their ability to create relatable music and maintain a genuine connection with their dedicated fan base in order to provide themselves a meaningful livelihood, as well as a meaningful life. Isaac tells us that Hanson find the future of the music business to be “incredibly bright, but it’s also incredibly challenging”. He believes that artists can thrive if they “make good decisions, trust their gut” and allow themselves “to be the guiding vision” for their own music. Though there is much to be learned, Isaac says that he is excited about what the future holds for the music world, “because I think that the missing elements will show themselves very soon and create a vibrant future”. Well, if the future of the music industry will reflect anything like the career that Hanson has worked so hard to produce for themselves, then there are indeed sure to be promising developments ahead.

Read more: an interview with isaac hanson – 3/9/2011
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