Jesse Hanson

by Amanda Beland

(Originally published in the MetroWest Daily News on Sept. 16, 2015. Linked here.)

Jesse Hanson was 17 when she started her career.

“It sounds stupid,  but it was just this realization that like ‘Wow, nothing is going to happen unless I do something,'” said Hanson, of Ashland, Mass. “And that’s sort of been the motto of my career. People in my life call me a task master, but you know, I get things done.”

Four years later, Hanson, now 21, is combining this attitude with her deep love of music to raise awareness on state’s opiate epidemic.

Her new music video for her tune “Weapons“, to be released Wednesday night, aims to shed light on addiction’s effects on family, friends and loved ones.

“A lot of people don’t pay attention to that detail,” said Hanson. “They pay attention to the addicts and their life choices. But even regardless of that stigma, regardless of what this person has done, there’s a whole family behind them … there’s a whole army of loved ones, most of the time, who are at their whits end and don’t know what to do and didn’t do anything to deserve what they’re going through. The song is about that destructive relationship.”

Hanson is a classically trained violinist. She’s been playing violin since she was three; cello and viola since her teens. At 15, she started seriously dabbling in guitar and joined a band. At 17, Hanson made a choice to pursue a career in music and not attend college. Shortly after, she worked with her brother to produce her first record.

“It was an extremely important learning experiment,” said Hanson.

In November 2014, Hanson began a Kickstarter campaign to fund the making of her second record, which was recorded partially in Los Angeles at the famed Boulevard Recording in Hollywood, (Neil Young, Ray Charles, Pink Floyd). “Weapons” is one of the tracks on this record. Hanson wrote the song about the destructive relationship between an addict and their family and what an addiction and possible overdose means for loved ones. The song is personally motivated – Hanson said she has several close family friends who have dealt with addiction first or second hand, including a high school friend who overdosed in 2012.

“Addiction has been described to me as paying for a front seat to watch your family member die,” said Hanson. “Which is just absolutely horrible.”

After her Kickstarter campaign was a success, she started thinking about how she could give back to her community as a thank you for helping to fund he record. This past spring, she was driving home after recording violin on “Weapons” in the studio and she got this idea for a music video after re-listening to the track in the car.

“I just got this image of dancers battling it out to the song,” said Hanson.

Soon after, Hanson reached out to a high school friend majoring in dance at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and pitched her the idea. Hanson was hoping her friend could choreograph the project for her

“She was like ‘Oh, my mom’s a drug health counselor,'” said Hanson. “That just said to me that she got it and understood why this project was important.”

Hanson and her friend auditioned dancers at UMass for the project and choose two for the video.

“I basically left it up to them to do their thing,” said Hanson. “Obviously I sent over the song so they could hear it. When I saw what they had come up with at the end of the summer I was in tears.”

The video was shot in a dance studio at UMass by Hanson’s cousin in August, the same month Hanson’s record was officially released. The video was edited and ready for release the next day.

For Hanson, while the video itself was the major element of her gift back to the community, she said it was also important for her to give listeners and viewers a more concrete outlet.

“The point of this is so families know that they aren’t alone,” said Hanson. “It can be an isolating experience. There’s a stigma to addiction – no one wants to say out loud and be open about a loved one dying from an overdose. So, it’s easy to feel alone.”

Hanson started reaching out and researching addiction and counseling organizations. She met with representatives from Learning to Cope, a Massachusetts-based organization that provides addicts and family members group counseling and other resources. Hanson also took a trip to the Massachusetts State House to meet with her representative to learn more about what the state was doing to help families affected by addiction. That’s how she found out about the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR), a state-wide organization that works with addicts and their families to transition into life after addiction.

Both Learning to Cope and MOAR have supported Hanson’s work with addiction.

“I wanted to provide people with everyday resources for how they could get involved with the advocacy aspect, if they felt so moved to do so,” said Hanson.

Hanson will have until the end of the year to support the movement in her home state before she takes her career and music to the next level when she moves to Los Angeles in January.

“Everybody knows somebody affected by this epidemic,” said Hanson. “I want everyone to feel connected.”

Hanson’s video will officially premiere on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. The link for the video will be sent out through her Twitter feed at https://twitter.com/jessebhanson and through her website http://www.jessehanson.me/.

Amanda Beland can be contacted at 508-626-3957 or abeland@wickedlocal.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abelandMWDN

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