Strong Enough To Break is a 12-part documentary relating the events surrounding the release of Hanson’s third album, “Underneath”. For those who don’t know, Hanson is a band of three young brothers from Oklahoma who had a huge global hit in 1997 entitled “MmmBop”. After some major label musical chair, they ended up on a Rap Label (Island/Def Jam) with Jeff Fenster (best known for Britney Spears and the Back Street Boys) as their A&R. They couldn’t satisfy Mr. Fenster, got dropped and ended up starting their own record company (3CG Records) to release and promote their record independently. That saga spanned over three years.
80 Songs, No Hit
I found this very instructive because it shed light on what it feels to be an artist under a big record label. You can feels the boys’ frustration as they are told by their A&R that the 80 songs they had written so far sucked and that they should try to write some songs with Glen Ballard (Alanis Morisette’s “Jagged Little Pill” co-writer and producer). Predictably, Ballard couldn’t do anything with three bruised egos and promptly gave up. They even went to Mile Copland’s (The Police, Sting, The Bangles) famed songwriter boot camp chateau in France to write with Carole King (“It’s too late”).
Obviously the whole film is totally one-sided and the rest of the Hanson family is conveniently absent, so as to make us believe that the boys are taking all the decisions. I would also venture to guess that the Island/Def-Jam exec had a totally different view of the events. After all, they bankrolled Hanson’s recordings to the tune of several hundred thousands and ended up with not hit and a scatting documentary for their trouble. In fact, at one point, Hanson’s manager calls Fenster a “douchebag”. That gotta hurt. Read this TAXI interview with Jeff Fenster to see that he is not that bad after all.
This film also brought Hanson something they’ve never had before: street credibility. In the film, they come off as three intelligent, clean-cut, talented guys who don’t drink, don’t smoke and most importantly live to write songs and play music. They even did a tour of college campuses showing the film and giving talks about the record industry and making it as independents. We can all learn something from these guys. Go Hanson!