The term "indie rock" brings to mind bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Bright Eyes and ... Hanson? The group, which currently releases its records through its own label, 3CG, brought a self-produced documentary, Strong Enough to Break, to Emerson last Thursday in an effort to expose some of the current problems in the music industry.
The three brothers-singer Taylor, guitarist Isaac and drummer Zac-screened Break to a full house in the Bill Bordy Theater and Auditorium as part of a tour of over 40 college campuses across the nation. The group- promoting both the film and their new disc, The Best of Hanson Live and Electric-also played at Avalon the following night.
Most people remember Hanson thanks to the mega-hits "MMMBop" and "Where's the Love?" from 1998's platinum-selling Middle of Nowhere. Since Middle exploded across the world, the band has kept a low profile, eventually releasing a sophomore studio album of original material, Underneath, in 2004.
Strong Enough to Break-which currently has no official release date but is expected to hit the shelves in upcoming months-chronicles the battle the band fought to put out Underneath. The film begins with the brothers recording material in various sessions for another album (that would eventually become Underneath). They consistently consult with the higher-ups at their record label, Island/DefJam, including producer Glen Ballard and Artist & Repertoire Representative Jeff Fenster.
The group has studio time with a rotating door of producers (including Ballard), but Fenster's response is often muted praise (if not disappointment), with the implication that he does not feel the group has found another all-encompassing hit in the vein of "MMMBop."
After some time and contract negotiations, the film ends with the group founding 3CG Records, and Underneath debuting as the number one independent album on the Billboard charts.
Strong Enough to Break provides an interesting fly-on-the-wall perspective of the musicians' process while recording, and shows how an artist's creativity can be reduced by business into dollars and cents. The look of the film, however, displays its self-financed style, with a number of shots completely drowned out by light and fuzzy audio that is often accompanied by subtitles.
Most of the question-and-answer session that followed the Emerson screening addressed what the Hansons feel is the problem of the business side of music interfering with artistic expression.
"They [record companies] became ... huge conglomerates," Taylor, 22, said. "As music fans, we're all a little disenfranchised."
Isaac further explained the band's feelings in a recent phone interview with The Beacon. At 24, he is the oldest Hanson and, as he calls himself in Break, the group's "pessimist."
"Artists become comfortably aloof because it's easy," Isaac said. "The industry has a certain set of tendencies advantageous to getting in the way [of musicians]."
He added that "people are signing bands that are manipulated and groomed and shaped to be acceptable."
The group, however, believes that the music world is in the midst of a transformation and, as a result, things may be different for artists in the future.
"The whole idea of 'indie' and 'major' is changing," Taylor said.
One thing that the trio promises is that 3CG Records will stay in good hands.
"The company is the three guys in front of you," Zac, 20, said.
Additionally, the brothers fielded questions from various Emerson students who asked for their perspectives on future careers in everything from tour managing to image consulting.
Taylor encouraged fans to "take an active role in what happens" in the music business by requesting songs on the radio and purchasing albums. He also praised Web sites like www.myspace.com, which allow fans to connect and discuss music (among other things).
Although the brothers feel their message is important, they are clear about the reason they keep making music.
Isaac said, "We're in it because we love what we do."