Tycho's Scott Hansen on sound & vision

Sjimon Gompers

With the release of Tycho's 7 years in the making album Dive we had been trying for the better part of a year to talk with Scott Hansen about his process, being an audio artist who also works with visuals, and his Sacramento beginnings. We finally got a chance before a sold-out performance.

Tycho Scott Hansen

What were your early days of Sac town like in the '90s?

I came here in ‘95 and then went to school and came back so I spent about 8 years from ‘99 to 2006, I think. Somewhere around there. And then, before that, I grew up in Fair Oaks in the foothills, a nice bucolic place, a rural area. It's kind of nic,e and I think it informed how I look at both music and art from the backdrop out there, anyway.

Tell me about your first show. You were playing in a bunch of bands, you met up with friends at at diner, and hurt yourself?

My first show was supposed to happen with Chachi Jones, I was supposed to open up for him at some record store and I was all excited, and I went out to lunch with some friends. I get light-headed sometimes, just like if I haven’t been eating or if I’m stressing, and I was stessing at work and with this show. And man, I just stood up in a restaurant, and all I remember was everything going black and waking up to hearing my head hit the floor. The fall just shattered my jaw and stuff, and I got all this reconstructive metal and had it wired shut for a long time.

Holy cow.

So I got like 2 months off from work and it me made stay home and I could really focus and have a good time.

And that was the invention of ISO50?

ISO50 definitely started before that, with photography, and I just started doing photography stuff and limited design stuff. I was more just doing web design at the time. I was doing interface architecture for an enterprise customer relationship management software thing, just a really esoteric thing. So I was getting into all this stuff, and I knew I wanted to get moving into more illustrative design. I think that was around ’99 to 2001.

How do the graphic arts connect to the musical elements of your craft?

I mean, I see them really at this point as inseparable. The problem with design is that it’s limited on some level because you can only do so much with a 2-D image and it’s this static thing. And obviously a body of work can speak as much as a song or an album, but I think there’s so much more you can do emotionally with music, at least for me. But at the same time there is this visual element to all of my music that I am imagining while I am creating it, or things that I am trying to recreate sonically that are actually more visual types of ideas, so I feel that they kind of complete each other, complete each other’s sentences or complete the ideas.

How do you go about finding yourself playing guitar for electronic compositions?

At the end of the day I’m a producer, you know? I‘m all about just finding different sounds and using a lot of effects to achieve and to anchor things in familiarity, so I want to use these instruments that you have heard before. I want to use these kinds of textures that may remind you of something, but at the same time I want it to sound like outer space things or something going on with some crazy reverb that you would never encounter in a natural surrounding you know.

How has that road been, from 7 years ago with Sunrise Projector?

Then they later re-released as Past is Proglogue with a few extra songs on it.

How has that road been to Dive?

It was actually difficult in a lot of ways. I think Dive is not the record that it should have been or anything. I feel like I didn’t have the skills or the time to make the record I wanted at that time. It was more like I had these songs together and it felt cohesive, but at the same time it wasn’t like I sat down to make that record. I didn’t have time, and all the years in-between were really me trying to move from Sacramento to [San Francisco]. It took forever to get to that end process, get here, get settled and to really feel like I had the time and space in my head to kind of sit down and make this record. So it was more like learning and getting the studio in the right place and getting my life in the right order to focus 100% on music.

How did you feel about that Teen Daze redoing of “Hours” into a club ready jam?

Oh man, I loved it!

I mean your music doesn’t exist within the conventional club music ethics, but then “Hours”, which is of such a density, all of a sudden can be played at AsiaSF or 1015

It’s funny because the way I perceive it is that I got into music via dance music, via drum and bass and via house and all that kind of stuff in the ‘90s, so in my head I do make dance music. But I know in reality it’s not. I know that people don’t perceive it that way, but in my head when I first heard “Hours” I was almost like, 'Oh no, this is a little too much for, like, the club, people are going to be like what the hell is this guy trying to do?’ And then I heard Teen Daze’s [remix] and I was like okay, there is a step beyond that. But I love it, dance is the soul of a electronic at a certain point, so yeah, I love what he did with it.

We’ve described at Impose your work as “soundtracking daily experiences of minutiae.” How are you expanding on the ambient conventions, like the Eno ambient stuff from the '70s and those sorts of things, into atmospheric soundtracking? if that is accurate.

Yeah, I think it’s really hard to have enough perspective on my own stuff to see it for what it is a lot of the time, but at least where Dive differentiates itself from that stuff is that it has maybe a little more of a song structure. Even if it doesn’t have a traditional pop song structure, it definitely has these movements, and I think the melodic components kind of anchor it in to something that’s more familiar to some people, people who aren’t familiar to ambient. You turn on Music for Airports for some people and they’re like, ‘What the hell?’ but I try to include enough elements where you go okay, this is something I recognize as music.

So, how is it working in San Francisco where we are known for our indie and garage scenes, and so forth, creating art in electronic mediums? But without the same trappings of say techno, or drum and bass, etc.

I can attest to the fact that I don’t really have a network of people that I work with. I know Christopher Willits, that’s about it, because he’s from [Ghostly International] and I met him through that, and he makes similar type of music. But other than that, I think there was a much stronger network in Sacramento. I expected to come here and get plugged into some kind of awesome scene. I’m sure that exists – maybe I just keep my head down too much. But yeah, I feel like I’m not in the DJ world, I’m not in that techno world. So that’s not happening, and it’s not like, an indie band. So it’s kind of like it lives in some sort of middle ground. I don’t know, maybe there is a scene for it here. I wish I knew more people doing this kind of stuff. I know Broker/Dealer is from here – they’re huge influences on me – but other than that, I don’t feel that there is a big group of people doing this kind of music in the city.

How is the scene different in Sacramento for electronic music and experimentation versus San Francisco?

I wouldn’t know as much. A couple of my good friends – like Zack the bassist, he still lives there – and Dusty Brown, a guy who I have collaborated a bunch in the past, a good friend of mine, he’s there. So, I hear about it through them, what it's like, and they say that it has definitely died off. But in 2001, 2002, through 03, we were doing a lot of really cool shows, we were doing projections, and there was a lot of artists doing the same things at the same time. It was just really lucky that we were all try to do that right then. It was a great experience. It was called Command Collective, and we just did these group shows all the time. But from what I've heard, that’s fallen off over the years. But again, maybe there are some kids doing stuff that’s just under our radar right now.

I remember there would always be some kind of strange warehouse happening that would be the hush-hush focus of anything happening in the Sacramento outskirts.

Yep. In Rancho Cordova or something.

Something always off of Auburn Blvd.

Yep, Sac late nights is out there, all that stuff.

How did you evolve then from laptop symphonies to a full band ensemble?

That’s pretty recent. The laptop thing never really worked for me. I really enjoy instrumentation I enjoy playing keyboard and guitar that’s what I always wanted to do if I was ever to really do the show properly on stage that’s was what I had in my head as the full vision of everything. I think I played shows here and there, but I think with this album I really wanted to be serious about the live side of things. So Zack and I had been working together for a while – he actually played some tracks on the album – and then I met Matt through him and we started practicing and stuff and it just kind of worked. It’s actually been great. It frees me up on there, I feel a lot of more comfortable with other people up there and I feel like we connect more with the audience. Because it’s not just representing the album exactly how it is as a studio version, but also they can actually see parts of it being made, which is key for me when I go to a show. I kind of want to feel that. Although at the end of the day the music is very dense, and so we would need 10 people up there to recreate every second of it, but we try to pick the take-away parts and play all of those.

Which is super unusual, because even some of the Warp Records greats resort to using laptops on stage. Not that there’s anything wrong with it at all.

I think to each their own and I have been to great laptop shows. I saw Com Truise at 103 Harriet or whatever and it was unbelievable, and I saw Gold Panda, and they both just blew my mind. But that is because they are very good at what they do, and I’m just not good at that. It’s not that I don’t think that’s a viable option or that it doesn’t have its own merits. I just can’t do it!

Do you just like the task of getting a bunch of people on the same trip and onto the same page?

Yeah, and I think there is some part of me that realized at a certain point that no one knew what the hell I was doing, because when I was doing the live visuals too and stuff I would start to think ‘I don’t think these people are connecting, do they know what’s happening up here?’ So I realized they know what a keyboard is, they know what a guitar is, so they’re going to get that, they know what drums are, what bass is, let’s just represent it. And those are the instruments we used on the album; as spacey as a lot of it sounds it’s basically traditional instruments with a bunch of synthesizers.

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