Hanson played hundreds of gigs and made multiple records before they were ever signed. They have a career that has survived a recession, the age of digital downloads and piracy and viral success.
And still, they somehow found a sense of stasis in the middle of the ebb and flow of musical stardom. They’ve released an album every three or four years since their breakout with Middle of Nowhere,best known as the album that had “Mmmbop” on it.
Perhaps the last of their kind as pre-YouTube prodigies, the brothers from Tulsa, Oklahoma, had to learn early on that the key to success during peaks and valleys in one’s career is the fan base.
Guitarist Isaac Hanson is more than aware of this and has no qualms opening up about the Darwinian elements at play in the music business.
“One of the problems [with] label-artist relationships, traditionally, is that there becomes this certain degree of misunderstanding or animosity or lack of long-term thinking both on the artist’s and on the label’s part,” he said. “There are certainly cases where that’s not true, but because of the constant ebb and flow of the record business, where it is right now, there have been so many constant mergers [that] it’s impossible to keep a long-term focus and a plan.”
This was something that delayed the release of the band’s “third” album, Underneath. But Hanson and their fans saw them through the rough patch. The band has since taken over its own destiny, hoping its fans can appreciate the complexity of their dynamic.
“As the years go on and you’re both the record company and, in some form or another, management […] it’s a complicated career and all of us want to do more than just be artists if nothing else,” Hanson said. “If we ever truly entertained the concept (that) we would stop being a band, stop being artists, I think in some form or another we’d lose ourselves and lose our souls if we did.”
As a band that doesn’t really see a new release as a reason to hit the road, they’re at it again. This time, one year removed from the release of their tenth album. The Musical Ride Tour is a string of dates in which fans in each city get to vote on an entire album they want to hear at the show, which will comprise half the set list. Phoenix fans will be allowed to vote on Hanson.net between Underneath, The Walk and Shout It Out.
“We all realized this was a great opportunity to give power to the fans in a whole new way and make it an exciting and interesting experience for everybody,” Hanson said. “For example, Middle of Nowhere, the first album, there are plenty of songs that are not part of every single night’s show. It doesn’t mean we don’t play a bunch of songs from Middle of Nowhere, it just means there are a lot that do get continually left out. You’re playing a concert and it’s, at most, 24 songs long, you’re inevitably picking from a wide array of music.”
The band’s third record, Underneath, was entangled in record label red tape for nearly four years before it could be released, Hanson said, a period that opened the brothers’ eyes to certain truths about the music industry.
“Quality of craftsmanship and making records that are worthwhile is incredibly important, but the relationship with the fan base that goes along with it is the kind of thing that will ultimately stand the test of time,” Hanson said. “It’s the fuel in between huge smash hits and people who wouldn’t otherwise buy your records. It’s the continuous maintenance that keeps things going no matter what the ups and the downs of a career is like.”
It’s never been about whether or not the guys could make music but how they can get the record out.
“I don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I think a career is a challenge no matter what scenario you’re in,” he said. “If you’re at the top of the world, you’re always trying to stay on top of the world and it’s almost impossible to always stay on the top. If you’re somewhere in the middle of the pack, you’re always trying to break out a little bit farther than the next guy, you know? And if you’re at the bottom of the pack, you’re the underdog trying to make more noise than the next guy. There’s always a need for hunger, focus, for creative stimulation and growth and I think that’s what we focus on more than anything.”
“We joke in the band that it’s a business of survival,” he said. “It’s not a business of the most talented wins. It’s a business of the most stubborn and most willing to fight wins. It’s not an easy business.”
Hanson w/Meiko, Marquee Theatre, Tuesday, September 13, 7 p.m., $25