The evolution of Hanson

By Doug Gruse
Tuesday, April 22, 2008 1:48 AM EDT

When the perky tune by the trio of Hanson brothers hijacked the airwaves in 1997, Zac Hanson was 12 years old. At 22, he's already a music industry veteran.

"People ask, 'What's it like working with your brothers?' What's it like not working with my brothers?" Hanson said. "I've been doing this since I was 6."

That doesn't mean that Hanson, or either of his brothers, have thoughts of doing anything else.

"It's just always what I've done and always what I wanted to do," he said.

Hanson will perform at 8 p.m. tonight at Northern Lights in Clifton Park as part of the group's tour supporting "The Walk." The CD is the latest release from the brother's 3CG Records label, which they formed in 2003.

Although the brother's had found mainstream success with a big label, they were put off by the atmosphere of the record industry.

"Like good Midwestern gentleman, we tried to make that process work for awhile, but it was a very frustrating process," Hanson said.

So the trio decided to form their own label -- at a time when the concept was fairly new in the entertainment business. Hanson admits the move seemed risky at the time.

"Certainly we were concerned. Most of our friends, who were in bands, were concerned for us. It certainly wasn't the norm," he said.

"To preserve the way we always made music, we had to do something different and drastic."

The brothers haven't looked back.

"We're happy to be outside the process. We have felt like it was the future," Hanson said.

Five years later, the industry has started to catch up with their business model.

"I even heard somebody say that Jessica Simpson is going to do that on her next album," Hanson said with a tone of sarcasm.

It seems a little ironic to hear a member of Hanson take a dig at a pop princess, but Hanson has "The Walk" to back up the talk. The album shows the musicians' continued growth and their commitment to creating music their own way.

"This record is 100 percent Hanson," Hanson said. "This record is a little rough around the edges. We decided to record most of the record live -- the three of us playing together. We really wanted this record to have the energy of our concerts."

Hanson sees the album as a natural progression for the group.

"You do music that you're inspired by. I know my taste constantly evolves," he said.

A trip to Africa served as much of the inspiration for the release, even motivating them to donate the proceeds from the track "Great Divide" to the Perinatal HIV Research Unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa.

"We've always done things we felt passionate about with our music. We all felt really passionate and affected by what we had seen. It seemed undeniable that we had to do something," Hanson said.

Although the group's current tour is helping to raise money for the cause, Hanson is humble about his contribution to the fight against AIDS in Africa.

"We don't have the new wonder drug or a million man army. Maybe you can make an impact with something small," he said. "It's something you do because you love it and because it is the right thing to do."

It's the kind of move that would be difficult if the group worked for a big label. But these days, the brothers are calling their own shots.

"In the end, I think what matters most is making a quality product that fans can grasp on to. Music is culture. It's not a required commodity. You have to earn people's trust and people's desire to be a part of what you do. It takes more than just the lowest common denominator," Hanson said.

The boys of Hanson, along with their legion of fans, have become adults.

"If somebody hasn't heard us in 10 years, they're going to be pretty surprised," Hanson said.