Scott Hansen is Tycho – an American former visual artist and graphic designer who made the huge leap into creating music a few years ago. Hansen’s music is, on a simple level, ambient – but there’s so much more to the soundscapes that he creates than a simple relaxing ambience.
Hansen’s music has matured a lot in his years active as a producer and musician and after spending time working with Zac Brown he released his latest record Epoch this year. Although Epoch still undoubtedly features sonic landscapes above all else, it’s also infused with an added instrumental aspect that was largely absent from his early work.
Now, Tycho is gearing up to bring his most instrument-friendly album on the road, and he’ll be in Australia for Laneway Festival in 2017. We had a chat with Hansen about the importance of the visual aspect to his music, how he bridged the gap between graphic design and making music, and how hard it is to end the songs he writes when most of them feel like they could go on forever.
MF: Your music as Tycho; even when you were a solo act – seems to have been based around the creation of soundscapes. Has it always been a goal of yours to explore sonic landscapes in your music?
SH: Yeah, I think the textural component of the actual timbre and the instruments played, I always thought that was more important in music than the actual melodic content. I do think the melodic content is important, but maybe just that there’s a balance that should be struck there. You can send a message through the sound that you might not necessarily be able to achieve through the notes you are playing, so I think that those two things combined can tell a much richer narrative than you could with just simply the notes.
MF: What led you to start Tycho as a musical project, having spent time as a graphic artist beforehand?
SH: Well I’ve always been a visual artist, and then I did graphic design for most of my adult life and that was my career until about 2011. If you think about painting and you think about a house, you can draw the lines and make the house – but until you put that paint and the shading and those textures it doesn’t really mean much or tell much of a story. So that was something that was immediately apparent to me that it was something that I wanted to transfer that into music. From learning how to design on a computer, that opened up the idea that maybe I could design music to do some other things. I’d never been musical before that, I’d never played an instrument or anything so that was a gateway for me; the computer – and then I started doing it in my spare time and it slowly became my full-time thing.
MF: What has expanding the project into more of a band format allowed you to do that you weren’t able to as a solo artist?
SH: Absolutely. We started touring extensively after Dive came out, and then I started working with other people like Zac Brown, who became the touring bassist and guitarist. I guess just when we were doing sound checks and just messing around I heard some things that I’d never heard before start to happen, and realised I wanted to take the live show and the energy with which we were playing all these songs. Playing these songs that I had created alone in a live setting opened up parts of them that I’d never seen, and figured I wanted to capture that on a record.
At a certain point you realise that if you want to write music and be a producer that there’s going to be certain limitations. I definitely felt like I had made enough Tycho records on my own that it was time to open up the palette – so that’s been huge working with Rory (O’Connor) and Zac, bouncing ideas around and stuff.
MF: When you then went to write the third album Epoch were you consciously trying to inject more energy into the music or did you find that came more organically after working with Zac and Rory?
SH: Well Zac comes from a hard rock background, he’s been in some pretty heavy bands and his own project is pretty heavy. We have the same taste in music as well, I’ve always listened to rock and metal but I just happen to make the kind of music that I make. So it’s interesting that we share all these bands in common, and so trying to bring that into the context of whatever Tycho is – a lot of the elements of which are really light and mellow, so it’s been really cool to inject that energy and inject some more heavy elements into it.
MF: The sonic exploration on Epoch still has some gorgeous light textures, but as you’ve said yourself there’s also some darker timbres and tones in there. Why do you think that is?
SH: I wanted this to be a grouping of three albums, from Dive to Awake to Epoch – so I guess for me it was more about fleshing out the space of that concept. Dive explored one corner of that space, and Awake explored the centre space. And the new record explores an area that I think hadn’t quite been touched by either of those. I think that was naturally just a progressions towards a darker, night-time energy – is what ended up being the over-arching theme of this record.
MF: Your music generally has a fairly explorative structure to it. As someone who doesn’t write in, I guess, the traditional, conventional way, how do you determine when something is finished? When you get started with a soundscape is it ever tempting to just keep going and going and see where it takes you?
SH: Yeah (chuckles) absolutely, I think that’s always the hardest part. All these songs you hear on the record; a lot of them were eight minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes long – not like twenty minutes of good content but just these open-ended jams that went nowhere. Then you’ve got to say “okay, where’s the heart of this thing. How can I tie this to the rest of it?” So that’s the big puzzle at the end is tying it all together, how to distill the idea and say “what am I trying to do with this song.” That was the thing with all my old stuff, just these open-ended explorations that when the content ran out that was the end of the song. I had to step back and work out what I’m trying to say and ask whether someone is going to get bored of this content, because all the concepts become that much more defined by taking a step back at the end of the record and thinking about the songs in that way.
MF: Your album artwork and visual element have always been pretty awesome. How important is the graphic design and visual aspect of art that accompanies the music for you?
SH: The way that I experienced music growing up was that there was a very strong visual and physical element to it, because you had physical media and you have these large album covers. That was just a bigger part of the experience of music, so for me that’s something I’ve always seen as important for making the music real. Music is an idea, it’s soundwaves and it’s not really something you can touch or hold – but the second you have an album cover, even if you don’t own it, just seeing it online you associate the imagery with the music and I think that’s important. That’s always been important to me at least, so I wanted to bring that into the project. More importantly, for the live experience, I’ve always wanted it to feel very cinematic – and that’s what the live visuals are about, hoping to draw the line between performance and imagery and music so it all just comes together in this singular thing. You hope that people get drawn in a little bit more.
MF: You’ll be in Australia with your band next year for Laneway Festival. For anyone who hasn’t seen you live before, what can they expect from Tycho?
SH: That’s what I’m always going for; immersion. I want the whole thing live to feel almost like you’re putting on headphones and you’re being pulled into the experience. For festivals it can be a little different, you’re trying to make it a bit more visceral and put a bit more energy into it because it’s an open space and a different vibe. The goal with all of this is to take what you hear on the record and open it up a little bit more, make it feel different and wrap it up nicely with the visuals.
‘Epoch’ is out now, grab a copy or stream here. You can catch Tycho playing at Laneway Festival in 2017 or at his official Laneway sideshows.
Tycho ‘Laneway Festival 2016’ Side Shows:
Wednesday, 25th January
170 Russell, Melbourne
Tickets: Laneway Festival
Thursday, 2nd February
Metro Theatre, Sydney
Tickets: Laneway Festival