Hanson brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac continue to demonstrate that evolution on The Best of Hanson Live and Electric, once again released on their own 3CG Records label. Live and Electric spotlights a band that has sold more than 15 million albums performing all their platinum-plus hits, as Entertainment Weekly put it, "newly energized as they kick out brawny guitar-rock jams," recorded live last June before an enthusiastic audience in Melbourne, Australia. The disc includes new versions of the #1 smash "MmmBop" along with hits like "Where's the Love," "If Only," "This Time Around," "I Will Come To You" and "Penny & Me," as well as bonus tracks like "If Only" and "A Song to Sing." Showing their versatility, the album also includes covers of Radiohead's "Optimistic" and U2's "In a Little While." In addition, a limited edition CD/DVD version will be available with new live footage, the previously unreleased "Being Me," music videos and a photo gallery among the bonus features.
The album release will coincide with the band's Live and Electric Tour '05, a 24-date jaunt that will show a side of the band that has taken what the New York Post calls "talent and perseverance" to "brilliantly display what you can achieve." Every ticket-holder will receive a free limited edition Live and Electric Tour '05 CD sampler, to be distributed at each performance.
The fall tour includes visits to local colleges, where the band will talk to students about their experiences in the music business, and especially their quest to succeed outside the consolidated corporate culture. At each campus along the way, Hanson will screen their self-produced documentary, Strong Enough to Break, illustrating the current state of the music business, why the band decided to set up their own record label. At the conclusion, they will hold Q&A sessions with the students.
"Our choice to become independent again was about our belief in the relationship between us and our fans," said Taylor. The band's last album, Underneath, debuted at #1 on the Billboard Independent Album chart in 2004. "We're passionate about the future of independent music."
Pointing to the success of their 3CG Records, the band looks to build a grass-roots community of artists, labels, promoters and fans to help bring independent music to the forefront.
"The future depends on the commitment and passion of musicians, fans and the industry to career artists," said Zac. "If we don't get involved, we only have ourselves to blame."
To demonstrate their allegiance to the indie cause, Hanson will work with local college radio stations and newspapers to sponsor a contest to select a developing band as its opening act in each tour market.
The success of Underneath was significant for Hanson for several reasons. After a four-year absence, the band saw its fans enthusiastically embrace Underneath, which bowed at #25 on the Billboard Top 200, and spawned a #2 single in the engaging lead track, "Penny And Me." The single also debuted # 10 in the U.K., where it was released by indie label Cooking Vinyl, their first Top 10 single since their acclaimed debut.
But it was the #1 debut on the Independent charts that was most meaningful to the band. Said Denver's Westword: "Hanson is a real indie-rock band. They wrote, recorded, produced and released their own disc… and they're touring on their own dime."
As they did with Underneath, the band completely financed the recording and marketing of The Best of Hanson Live and Electric. In addition, the group has a number of licensing deals around the world with leading indies like Cooking Vinyl (UK/EU), JVC (Japan) and Univision (Mexico). The trio also inked a deal with Sony to release their recordings in Southeast Asia (where they recently had a #1 single) and Latin America.
The desire to go out on their own stemmed from the friction the band experienced in their dealings with former label Island Def Jam. After trying to make the relationship work despite their creative differences, Hanson decided it was time to move on. "After a certain point, we said, 'We can't do this anymore. This is not productive and we know where we need to go with this,'" Isaac recalls. "Look, the only way that we can have a career in music is to go with our gut, as we always have," adds drummer Zac.
As it has in the past, Hanson's collective instincts didn't let them down. It was the same drive and inspiration which led them to create "MMMBop," the work recently hailed as genius by Bono to CD:UK, and led the trio to Grammy nominations in 1998 for Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals.
And the press is coming around, too. The New York Post praised them: "Hanson has established itself as a credible rock band whose best years and music are still to come." Billboard chimed in with, "Underneath spotlights a more mature, melodic pop/rock Hanson… This newest effort is the group's most endearing." Meanwhile, internationally, the London Times raved: "Hanson appear to have done the almost impossible jump… from teen poppers to credible rockers."
The Best of Hanson Live and Electric furthers the case for the band as a powerful live outfit capable of a magical, transcendent connection with their fans. And it's for those followers, as well as themselves, Hanson ultimately makes music. Since launching their Internet site, www.hanson.net, for the release of Middle of Nowhere in 1997, Hanson has been one of music's most interactive groups in maintaining communication with their fans around the world.
"There are so many people for us to reach again or re-touch base with, but every fan that we grab is one that we want to value more than we have ever before," keyboardist Taylor says. "We have an opportunity not only to build a direct relationship with our fans, but also allow them to communicate with each other and create a powerful community. Our currency with our fans has always been trust and passion, and that relationship cements our future," said Zac in a recent interview with Reuters.
All three of the brothers believe that that is the best way to resuscitate an ailing music industry. "When I look at the music industry the tipping point for reenergizing the excitement in music is so close, because we've reached such a low point, that all we can do is go up. Out of the ashes will come the passion, excitement, and reinvigoration. It all starts with connecting with a generation and having it be their own again," Taylor says. "We want to bring people back to believing it's worth it to get invested again in music and artists."
To make sure fans get the message, the trio made guerilla appearances at multiple college campuses last fall, including the University of Southern California, New York City's Columbia University and Denver's Regis University, where they played acoustic performances and spoke out about striking out on their own outside the corporate system, a message the students took to heart.
"Our goal is to draw attention to the independent music scene, because one out of four records are on indie labels," Isaac explained to Westword on the band's visit to Regis University.
The band grabbed fans' attention with their straight-ahead, no-frills shows, described by USC's Daily Trojan as a "short acoustic set, just voices, guitars and a tambourine." And they made sure those attending got the message that goes with the music.
"It's not about us," Taylor told the crowd. "Music is going down because it sucks. But you have the power to change that."
Hanson is spreading that same message around the world with a whirlwind world tour that had the band performing live in 25 cities across 13 countries in just over four weeks, including Indonesia for the first time in seven years, and the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Denmark for the first time ever. Of the band's sold-out show at London's famed Shepherd's Bush Empire, the London Times noted: "Hanson are about to be big all over again. Only this time, with good, old-fashioned rock."
"What we've been able to do with this album is affirm the successes that we've had over the years with this music, and lay a new foundation for records to come," declares Isaac. "We're liberated musically more so than we've ever been. If anything, the turbulent years leading up to Underneath and now The Best of Hanson Live and Electric have made the band even more resolute that it is on the right path.
"For us to have done all that we have done and still be able to have success around the world and continue moving forward, you do appreciate it in a different way. It's that much sweeter," concludes Taylor.
And now the band plans to take that steely resolve into a very long future. "We're hopefully just at the beginning of the race," Taylor says. "We've been a band for 13 years now, but we want to be having these conversations as old men, talking about the past 30 years. We're just three guys who love to make music."