Taylor Hanson Looks Back on Band Starting Own Record Label 20 Years Ago: It Was 'Unorthodox' (Exclusive)

PEOPLE caught up with Taylor amid the 20th anniversary of Hanson's independent label, 3CG Records, and their EP 'Underneath Acoustic'

<p>Carly Earl/Newspix/Getty </p> Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson in Sydney on June 21, 2017

Carly Earl/Newspix/Getty

Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson in Sydney on June 21, 2017

Hanson is celebrating a huge milestone this fall: 20 years on their own independent record label, and their first record under it.

Speaking with PEOPLE amid the release of his nonprofit For Women Life Freedom's new version of the Grammy-winning song "Baraye — For Women Life Freedom," the 40-year-old musician reflects on the two decades since he and brothers Isaac and Zac Hanson launched 3CG Records, based in their hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"Underneath was such a significant record because it was the decision to leave Universal start around record company," says Taylor, referring to the band's third studio album and first under 3CG Records, which included an acoustic EP in 2003 and, the following year, a full electric version.

"I was 20 years old, and we were 'starting over,' starting a label, building up a team, becoming independent in 2003," he recalls.

Taylor, Isaac, 42, and Zac, 37, also released a documentary called Strong Enough to Break, which they screened at universities around the country in 2005. The film chronicles Hanson's 40-month journey toward creating 3CG — an acronym for 3 Car Garage, a compilation album they recorded in the mid '90s, in a time period that predated their "MMMBop" and Middle of Nowhere fame.

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<p>Amazon</p> <em>Underneath</em> (2004) album cover art


Underneath (2004) album cover art

Related: How Taylor Hanson Helped Get 16K People on Song Supporting Women in Iran: 'You Have a Voice' (Exclusive)

Strong Enough to Break also served as the title of Underneath's opening track, in which the brothers sing in part, "Things keep coming, and I keep wondering / I start feeling the walls close in / Things keep coming, and I keep stumbling / I start feeling I'm strong enough to break."

"Oh, nothing ever seems to change / We just play like broken records in a deaf man's charade," goes another poignant lyric.

Addressing how Underneath was a "significant" album for him, Taylor says, "It was a call to reframe, to re-articulate, just how true whatever it was that you might've heard from the band as a fan early on to be able to say, 'No, whatever you felt then, it was true, and it's even more true [now].' "

"Like, here's a song called 'Strong Enough to Break' about being strong enough to grow up, essentially — to fall apart and put yourself back together again," he adds.

Touching on a "bright spot" from the album, fan-favorite track "Penny & Me," Taylor says it's "really about how life continues to move and you don't get to stay put, but you take these people, and you take these affections, and they act as your soundtrack to get through the good times and the romanticized times."

<p>Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy</p> Hanson performing during A Grammy Salute to the Beach Boys on Feb. 8, 2023, in Hollywood, California

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Hanson performing during A Grammy Salute to the Beach Boys on Feb. 8, 2023, in Hollywood, California

Related: How Hanson's Upcoming (Themed!) Concert Series Is a 'Full Ecosystem' for Fans and Local Business

Since Underneath, Taylor, Isaac and Zac have gone on to release seven more albums under 3CG — including their second Christmas album, an orchestral-fueled double album and their latest offering, 2022's Red Green Blue.

The brothers haven't slowed down in terms of connecting with their fans on the road either, regularly touring their albums, showing up for special events dedicated to their fanbase and more. They are currently playing in the U.K. alongside Busted for the latter's 20th anniversary tour.

And as he looks to what's next for the band, Taylor is grateful for how Underneath "really taught" him, aside from the music, "about building things," and the revolutionary thoughts" he and his brothers had as a band at the time.

"When we did that acoustic tour, we were telling a story not only to the fans but to the industry around us that said, 'Hey, Hanson is not going down in the night. We're continuing to push forward,' " the father of seven tells PEOPLE.

Taylor adds, "And it was pretty unorthodox for a generally mainstream artist like Hanson — who had done pop radio and been on MTV and all the things the era prescribed as being mainstream — to say, 'Hey, we're going to start a label and we're going to set up our distribution separately and we're going to run it and we're going to talk to our fans directly.' "

"Baraye — For Women Life Freedom" is streaming now on Spotify.

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