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Hanson looks for 'the right band' at SXSW
By: Matthew Danelo
Posted: 3/24/08

One of the 1,700 bands that performed in Austin during the 2008 South By Southwest festival was a band of three brothers from Oklahoma who have been in the business for more than 10 years, produce and write their own songs, own their own record label, and released their fourth studio album last year.

Amid the faux-hawked and skinny-jeans-wearing hordes who invaded downtown last week, the brothers Hanson showed up to rock the crowds (some who lined up for their shows at 5 a.m.), speak on some panels (one about the love/hate relationship between music journalists and pop music stars), and listen to some great music (they caught Nada Surf and gave it six thumbs up).

But since they didn't have a new album to plug, why come to a festival that's all about looking for the next big thing?

"Our eyes and ears are always open. We're not here like A&R guys searching for bands, but we've been very ready to sign the right band," Taylor Hanson said.

It's true that Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson (27, 25 and 22 years old, respectively) had a great deal of success with their first album and, specifically, with their infamous first hit single. For those who lost track of Hanson circa 2001, after they defeated public adolescence, their recording careers turned into a classic indie rock fight against the Man similar to tales of woe shared by both Wilco and Spoon.

"I don't buy into the concept that when a record company pays for a record that they own it outright," Isaac said.

Hanson started their record label 3CG Records in 2003 after their former label passed on the 80-plus songs they turned in (all of which they wrote).

They released Underneath in 2003, on their own terms; produced "Strong Enough to Break" in 2005, a documentary about going head to head with their former label and followed both up with last year's album/multimedia combo The Walk and "Taking the Walk" (the free "making of" podcast on iTunes).

By independently releasing their own music, the trio that critics once stuck under the coffee table of '90s music alongside other chewed-up bubble gum acts, earned respect as respected indie rock musicians. Publications like Paste and The Village Voice, which in the past would have turned up their noses at Hanson, unanimously praised their latest efforts.

"Soon we'll be to the point where we may add other bands to the roster," Taylor said. "Honestly, we've spent the last five years being guinea pigs for our own label."

"A record is about making sure that everything on that album is an A-side," Isaac said. "That every song should be able to, on some level or another, be a single."

"You don't just have 12 songs on there to have 12 songs," Zac said.

Zac, who plays drums and sings backup, recently stepped up his creative involvement on The Walk. He sings lead on several of that album's songs. When they perform, both his and Isaac's soulful vocals complement Taylor's slightly higher, more straightforward singing.

Taylor sings lead vocals on most of the songs and generally takes the lead in any conversation with the band. He's not abrasive, and the other two don't seem to mind. Zac jumps in with quick anecdotes, while Isaac sits back and sums up the gist of what they're all trying to say.

When they communicate, each seamlessly interrupts the other in an overlapping system probably developed as a by-product of professionally harmonizing for the past 10 years.

They all acknowledge that the reality of how people digest and discover music has changed quite a bit since they started in this business. Nevertheless, they aim to stay independent and see if they can help others do the same.

"We've always made our music for us," Taylor said.

"Even 'MMMBop,'" Isaac said.