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Band of brothers Hanson ages against the machine.

Middle of nowhere: Hanson and their sound grow up.
  • Middle of nowhere: Hanson and their sound grow up.

Sometime after 1997, when they recorded a chewy bit of bubblegum pop that had everybody singing "MMMBop," the three Hanson brothers grew up. Not just physically, but in the business of making records too.

After a six-year relationship with the Universal Music Group -- which oversaw the release of half a dozen albums, including a holiday disc and a live set -- Isaac, Taylor, and Zac Hanson pulled up stakes early last year and founded their own label, 3CG (named after their 1998 odds-and-ends collection, Three-Car Garage). The breakup was "cordial," but it had to be done, says 23-year-old Isaac Hanson, the oldest of the trio. "There was just an understanding that maybe everybody wasn't on the same page with each other," he explains. "It wasn't anyone's fault. It was just a lack of synergy artistically. You've got to potentially make a change, and that's what we did."

It's paid off. Four years after the underwhelming This Time Around, their last album with Universal, the brothers released the self-produced Underneath, which recently climbed to the top of Billboard's indie chart. Hanson is spending this summer on the road, kicking off its tour on Memorial Day with a 6 p.m. show at the Great American Rib Cook-Off. Isaac says the gig is intended to showcase the brothers' maturing sound and songwriting collaboration. "We wanted this record to be a raw and intimate experience, because we're perfectionists, constantly looking for the exact right part here and there," he says. "But what we wanted to make sure we did was to maintain the honesty and integrity that sometimes get lost."

And in the four years it took to write and record the 13-track CD, the brothers discovered that their teamwork was the sum of three distinct parts. "I'm the one who's more spontaneous and leaves the raw edges in, whereas Taylor is more of a perfectionist," says Isaac about his 21-year-old brother, the trio's singer. "Then you've got [18-year-old drummer] Zac, who's a cut-and-dried kind of guy. He kinda tells it like it is. Sonically, it's definitely a more rich and spacious album."

Hanson's Monday performance is the last in a five-day series of Cook-Off concerts, which includes shows by Saliva (6 p.m. Thursday), Donnie Iris & the Cruisers (6:30 p.m. Friday), Spyro Gyra (4:15 p.m. Saturday), and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (9:30 p.m. Sunday).

And Isaac admits that he's coming to Cleveland to do more than work Tower City Amphitheater's stage. He also plans to check out the grilled goods from 11 professional barbecuers competing for the "Greatest Ribs in America" title. Yes, Isaac Hanson plans to spend Memorial Day with a bib around his neck. "I'm a hot-dog guy myself," he says. "But [a perfect barbecue] definitely includes ribs. And you can't resist some pulled pork. As long as the barbecue sauce is spicy enough, I'm good."

Speaking of Highlights

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