Interview: Tycho

San Francisco musician and designer Scott Hansen comes to Shanghai

As San Francisco musician and designer Scott Hansen brings his live ambient electronic project - with a sound somewhere between Tortoise and Four Tet - to Shanghai, he tells Time Out about the stylistic shifts on his new record Awake and forming a full band

Can you talk us through the transition from Tycho as your own solo project into what it is now? 
I started working with Zac - who I knew from my time living in Sacramento - at the very end of the process of making Dive. After that we started touring as a live band with Rory who we met via Ghostly and Com Truise. I was really interested in creating a record that captured the more enrgetic, visceral sound of the live show. For Awake that’s what we set out to do.

Do you consider Tycho to be a band now? 
I think it’s a band now yes. Things haven’t changed much for me really. Before I saw myself as a producer and a musician, I would take the music I wrote and treat it the way a producer would. Now I just have more ideas and inspiration to work with; if anything I enjoy this mode of operation much more.

How has this move impacted upon Tycho’s sound?
At the core of Tycho is a pretty distinct sound that is the sum total of the production, instrumentation, and song writing. That sound remains, it is the context and I think it always will be. But now with more voices I think that context is able to be more fully expressed. There are things we can do as a group now that I never could have accomplished as a solo artist.

Was adding other musicians something you’d always wanted for Tycho? 
It was a very slow shift into this way of thinking about the project. I never considered myself to be predisposed to collaboration with others. Perhaps that was a function of my inexperience but I think what ended up being the turning point was just meeting and working with people I felt comfortable with and who shared a common vision.

What does the shift mean for the live show? 
The live show was the impetus for the formation of the band so I think it’s sort of the other way around. We became a band as a result of the live show. So in that sense, the live show is the truest expression of the vision.

Did you consider adding a vocalist at any point? Is it something you think you might add in the future? 
I’ve used vocals in a very limited capacity in the past but never in a very literal way. I’ve never ruled out using them in the future, but until this point it just hasn’t felt like they fit within the context of Tycho. I’ve really enjoyed working with vocals for remixes though so it’s definitely something I think about.

Some of your early music featured vocal samples. What led you to move away from that?
That was something I felt like I explored and enjoyed for a time. But it didn’t fit the vision I had for Awake and there just wasn’t a time where I felt like I heard a space for vocals on the record.

Roughly how much of your time is dedicated to making music and how much to graphic design currently?
It’s a pretty good balance I’d say. I definitely spend a lot more time on design when we’re touring as I have to do all the posters and that sort of thing. I’m pretty happy with how things sit now, I feel like I can explore each side and bounce back and forth before I get bored with one or the other.

Is the division between graphic design and music something of a false dichotomy for you? Do you ever have a sort of creative synesthesia, where the two fields blend together?
I don’t really see a big divide between the two in my own work. I employ very similar processes for both and both are getting at the same concepts and ideas. I definitely associate imagery with the music but not so much the other way around. That is to say, the music always comes first. 

How does space, in every sense of the word, inform your music?
I don’t tend to get very inspired by anything outside our own world; I’m very grounded in the sense that I draw all of my inspiration from terrestrial concepts. But space, as in a field, or a forest, that is everything. That is what I am trying to create with all of my work; to conjure up the intersection of physical space and emotion.

Do you feel that you operate outside of the traditional music industry model to some extent? 
I don’t think there really is a traditional model left to speak of. If there is, I don’t know anyone operating within it. I don’t see any real disadvantages to my situation; I am free to create how I want without constraint or obligation. I don’t think any artist could want much more than that. I think any indie artist will always feel a bit constrained by monetary resources, but that’s the nature of the game I suppose, you do the best with what you have available to you at the time.

Is touring something you enjoy?
Touring can be very fulfilling and I enjoy performing and travelling. It’s tough at times to be away from loved ones and your home so much but the rewards make it worthwhile. We try to keep our gear to a minimum for the live show so the production isn’t a huge logistical problem. It’s mostly just making sure everything is right on a technical level.

Are there any artists who you think pull off the audiovisual live show especially well?
Atoms for Peace, Com Truise and Caribou to name a few.

Ideally, what do you want people to take away from a Tycho show?
I hope to create as immersive an experience as possible. I guess I just want people to feel the way you might when leaving a movie theatre after viewing a particularly engrossing film; kind of like your were transported into a different place for a couple hours, that feeling that sticks with you for a little while after.

Tycho play Qianshuiwan Creative Arts Centre on Saturday 17 January. See full event details