“There are so many things that have to happen in order for an artist to be successful,” Jennifer Hanson tells CMT.com. “It’s almost like winning the lottery. All the stars and planets have to line up just right.”
Hanson’s self-titled debut album arrived in stores Tuesday (Feb. 18), but the 29-year-old California native remains firmly grounded in reality following the success of her first single, “Beautiful Goodbye.” Hanson co-wrote “Beautiful Goodbye” (with Kim Patton-Johnston) and another eight songs on the album.
“My parents both were musicians,” she explains. “My mother was a songwriter and a wonderful singer. They were in bands together, playing the Top 40 of the time, which was the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. My mother was a huge Linda Ronstadt fan. I was always surrounded by music and found at an early age that I had a knack for it. I was always singing and listening to records in my room.”
Hanson grew up watching her father perform on the road with the Righteous Brothers and later with the most successful band in country music history. “My dad started playing with Alabama when I was in junior high,” she says. “This was in the mid ‘80s, and they were running strong. In ’87, my dad had moved to Nashville so he could travel with them. He’s been with them for the past 16 years.”
After Hanson’s parents divorced, her mother stopped singing professionally. “But she supported me,” Hanson explains. “Honestly, I think she was more of an instigator than even my dad was as far as really encouraging me to pursue this career. I think she really felt that I had a talent that was really worthy, so she was always supportive. She’d put me in these talent competitions and all these things, just to get me in front of people to learn how to sing and to work on my craft.”
Referring to her parents’ music careers, Hanson says, “I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to grow up around this business and sort of stood in the wings to watch and learn.” When asked if being onstage always looked like fun, Hanson replies, “I think anybody will say that the fun part is when you’re out on stage performing for the people. But what I was able to see is that it’s a job and a lifestyle. You really have to like it. You have to like to travel and you have to like to be on the bus. My dad did it and that was always normal to me. Being surrounded by music and playing music just for the love of music was always normal to me, too, because that’s just what my family did.”
After attending college in California, Hanson moved to Nashville in 1995. “I had every intention of finishing school in Nashville,” she says, “but I moved here and got totally sidetracked by the business. The funny thing is that even though I didn’t actually get back in school, I was in school. I was in the Nashville school. I spent the first five or six years here just trying to find myself — trying to find my niche and my voice. As artists, I think we’re always going through an evolution and growing. Right now, I’m really proud of this record and what I’ve done, but hopefully with the next album, I’ll grow even more.”
Hanson co-produced her album with Greg Droman, a recording engineer who has worked in the studio with Brooks & Dunn, Lee Ann Womack, Trisha Yearwood and others. New artists seldom get the chance to produce their own albums, but Hanson received the OK from Capitol Nashville chief Mike Dungan. “The best thing for me was to have the creative freedom,” Hanson says. “I owe Mike Dungan a lot, not only for signing me , but for having enough faith in me to allow me to truly make this record the way I wanted to make it.
“Hopefully what we got is something that’s different and fresh and something that is artistically true to who I am. Unfortunately, some artists don’t have that opportunity. There’s kind of that Nashville machine that happens here. Lord knows, I’ve been caught up in it before. It’s been interesting the way this whole thing has unfolded. I landed here at Capitol, and the end result is that I got an honest shot.”
As for Droman’s involvement in the album, she says, “He kind of came in at the 11th hour, but it was just a great combination and we had the best time making this record.” So what was the plan if Droman hadn’t shown up at the 11th hour? Hanson laughs, “Well, we didn’t have one. That was plan C. We had plan A, we had plan B, but we didn’t have plan C. Fortunately, plan B worked out.”
Hanson has received insights about the music business from her husband, songwriter Mark Nesler , whose songwriting credits include Tim McGraw’s “Just to See You Smile.” Nesler and Tony Martin wrote “This Far Gone,” a song that gets a classic country arrangement on Hanson’s album. Noting that the track is being considered as an upcoming single, she notes, “It’s one of my favorite songs on the record, and it’s truly who I am, heart and soul, as a country artist.”
Hanson will be supporting the release of her album with a series of February tour dates with Alan Jackson . Opening shows for a country superstar won’t hurt Hanson’s CD sales, but she’ll continue to take things in stride when it comes to her career.
“It’s luck. It’s timing. It’s so many things that have to happen to have a hit. You hold your breath. You keep your fingers crossed, and you keep your toes crossed. You just try to enjoy whatever blessings or success that comes your way.”