Hanson Interview

Green Room Effect: What are the highlights to being a true independent artist? And on the flipside, what aspects of going independent have been difficult?

Zac Hanson: The hardest thing about being an independent band is that everything is essentially on your shoulders. The success you have is based on how much sweat and tears you put into it, and the failures are somewhat the things you didn’t do. Of course, the advantages are that you have the ability to act on the things that major labels might not act as quickly on.

GRE: From your online podcast series, “Taking the Walk,” we can see how much thought goes into each and every lyric in your songs, do you think that comes from being an independent artist and having more of a pride in your work, or have you always been that way when it comes to writing songs?

ZH: Being independent hasn’t really changed the way we write or our creative process as much as it has affected the releasing process. In a way, becoming independent was a choice to say that the way we make music now is the way we will continue to make music. We don’t plan to change due to outside influences, we’re going to do what we’ve always naturally done and keep moving the way we always have. But the way we write can be very tedious. When you have three guys that are very opinionated, sometimes you just come to a stalemate. Thankfully, most of the time, we can find our way out of it---and rarely has it made a song worse when we really push each other and let ourselves not be satisfied. Usually, you come up with something better…another hook or something like that. I feel like most of our albums have songs that are “single-type songs” in the sense that they are catchy on their own. Most of them stand on their own as really good songs and that’s what we want to do. We don’t want to be like, “Oh, we’ve got the single…who cares about the rest.”

GRE: Do you feel like it was harder to write songs when your former label was looking for a certain sound, or do you think you are more critical of yourself now that you’re doing your own thing?

ZH: We’re a band that is willing to explore things and listen to opinions, but what we want is people with opinions and strong beliefs. What you find so often with major labels nowadays is that they are in this chasing game where they are not searching for an original sound as a band, they’re just trying to grab on to the most recent success of some other sound. The process of making music is still difficult, but now it’s more natural to us and we don’t have to work as hard to pull it out.

GRE: What do you think your weaknesses are as a band?

ZH: I don’t know if I’d categorize them as weaknesses, but we’re different from a lot of bands in that we have three writers and three singers rather than one lead singer/songwriter. We’re more of a trifecta…and in terms of weaknesses, none of us are the greatest players, and we’ve never prided ourselves as being great players. We’re good enough to get by and facilitate songs, but nobody is a virtuoso. You know, if we ever got into something like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it wouldn’t be because of our playing, I think it would be more for our songwriting.

GRE: In owning your own label, have you reached the point to where you are wanting to sign other artists yet?

ZH: We would love to sign other bands, but we don’t want to jump into it. We’re analyzing where the music business is going and figuring out how we can make our business better. So it has kind of been a process of getting to where we want to be as a label, and also using ourselves as guinea pigs a little bit. Because, before we sign other bands, we want to know what it is that we offer that is better or different than another label. We’re trying to figure out how you can change things up to find a better way to sell music.

GRE: What are your thoughts on the way in which the new Radiohead album was released? What effect do you think that will have for the future of the music industry?

ZH: Clearly, I think the Radiohead thing backfired in the sense that sixty percent of the people didn’t buy the record and the forty percent that did buy it paid an average of eight dollars for it. I don’t think it was a terrible idea, but it didn’t work in the greatest way. But they’ve had enough success at this point that maybe they don’t need to sell records anymore, or they could just tour…but for bands that are up-and-coming and trying to get themselves out there…or the bands that have a big fan base---but not one that’s big enough to just not sell records---for them its not a workable model. I think that music still has to have some value. It’s just a matter of finding ways of making the value that you put on it seem like a good value. I think part of it relies on bands making really great records and showing their fans that if they spend the 15 dollars that they’re going to get 15 great songs…and they’re not going to wish they just went to iTunes and just bought the two songs that they like. I’m not necessarily against it, but by their example, it just continues tell people that music doesn’t have value.

GRE: Could you tell us a little bit about your trip to Africa and more specifically, how it affected your new album The Walk.

ZH: We went to Africa right in the middle of making the record. Basically, our friends from our hometown developed some medical technology that they were giving away to a hospital in South Africa. They realized that the technology that they created was something that would make westerners lives a lot easier, but in a place like South Africa, it could actually be part of saving lives. But we were impacted by what they were doing, and we decided to go with it. We wanted to talk to people about AIDS and HIV and the impact it is having on the world and ask people to do something about it. At that time, we weren’t sure exactly what we were going to do, but we knew we needed to go to Africa. Then once we were there, we thought we could do some recording. We thought that the way we could make an impact was to use what we had available to us. We’re a band and we make music, so we need to start by giving with our music. And that kind of evolved into a much bigger design by selling shoes and T-shirts…and just trying to let people know that they can make change by doing little things. Especially with technology nowadays, the impact you can make as an individual is so much bigger than it has ever been. People have the power to get in touch with individuals all around the world. You can connect with people who are like-minded and want to do the same things you want to do.

GRE: Taylor had mentioned on your website that you are trying to show the public “tangible ways to make a difference” and from Hanson’s example, you are showing people that helping someone in another country can be as simple as buying a pair of Toms Shoes…

ZH: For me at least, Toms is more of an example than it is a “perfect solution.” That company started 18 months ago, and it was just an idea, but now they have sold 60,000 pairs of shoes and given away 60,000 pairs of shoes---and they’re still growing. The owner, Blake Mycoskie, decided that he was going to start giving from the start. He didn’t want to start a fund or raise a certain amount of money before giving anything back. To me, that sets an example and changes the way we look at giving as a generation. We have to look at the ways in which we spend our money and know that for two dollars a month you can feed a person and help keep them alive.

GRE: Tell us about the barefoot mile walks you are doing in each city.

ZH: We had the idea to walk barefoot because it’s a positive action, and walking symbolizes taking a step in the right direction. Also, its about taking a moment to understand what it is to really need something and to feel a little bit of pain on your feet for just a minute and realize the impact of what shoes are. I think we get caught up in thinking something like shoes don’t matter and people wonder, “Why are you giving shoes…shouldn’t you be giving food?” So we’re asking people to take a minute and walk with us---without your shoes. But a lot of people say, “I’m not walking without my shoes--what about glass, needles, or nails?” And then you realize the importance of shoes. The response has been really well. The crowds have ranged from two hundred people, up to eight hundred people. Everyday when we go out to do the walks, we decide that we will do it no matter how many people show up. It shouldn’t be about the spectacle for others to watch, it is supposed to be about an act you’re taking as an individual. We don’t want to march to get attention---that’s not the point. We are deciding, as individuals, that this is important and recognize the impact of something as simple as a pair of shoes.

GRE: What’s next for Hanson after this tour finishes up?

ZH: We’ll be taking a break for the holidays, and then in the spring we will do some more dates in the States. Then we’re going to find the right partners to get the album out internationally and hopefully play some shows outside the states. We’ll still be pushing this album throughout next year, but our plan is to also record more often. And maybe by Christmas of next year we’ll have something brand new.