Tycho is a creative musician who undoubtedly has established himself and his unique sound. His musical growth and past experiences set him apart in the realm of relaxing music. Formally known as Scott Hansen, the sound sculptor is originally from San Francisco. He now works with several other musicians in part of a bigger live band. Tycho recently travelled across Canada on the Full Flex Express tour. In Montreal, I had the opportunity to talk more about his music, magically methods, and artistic mentality.
EARMILK: I want to start this interview off talking about the structure of your music. Describe your mentality when you feel the most comfortable making music, so when you’re really in your own element...
Tycho: That's usually during the phase when I've laid down an idea that inspires or excites me. There is a process of shifting that composition into a real arrangement of sounds to make a song.The ideas I like the most come from that process of just trial and error. The production process is after the writing and when you become more technical.
EM: So would you say then you like to experiment making music?
T: Yeah definitely, although I wouldn't call it experimental music, but the method of making music is experimental. I like to explore every possible angle, you always find things you would have never thought of before.
EM: Do you create your music first through analog production and then electronically or is it all done digitally?
T: It's mostly analog, but it really depends on the song. "Dive" for instance started with a software synth, but then a lot of what was added ended up being analog elements, like a bass guitar and drums. I use all my software synths as external synths, so I'll load those onto a separate machine that goes into the console and then into the computer.
EM: Once you've recorded a sound, you actually take quite a bit of time to fine tune it then?
T: Well I end up turning a lot of sounds into samples by cutting them up into individual notes or phrases. I want my music to sound like I've sample it, but that I also have full control over it. It's basically just chopping things up and rearranging them. I like to work on a timeline moving around my music graphically.
EM: So you pretty much create all your own samples?
T: Indeed, that's basically how I treat my records, I always go back and remix my own sounds. Once I have an idea, I'll come back to it as if it weren't mine and I'm just a remixer. I'll do as much to change it as I can and during that process it becomes completely different. I often run my music through old 12-bit converters to make it sound warm, crispy, and 80s-style.
EM: What gave you the idea to push beyond the limits of what had already been produced and to find your sound?
T: When I first started I was trying to emulate DJ Bukan doing drum and bass stuff in the late 90s. Then I got into Boards of Canada and used them as a jumping off point. I slowly started to take some ideas from the way they were approaching their sound design. As you work longer though you start to create your own style.
EM: Exactly!You’ve been described as making your own style of music that seems refreshingly original. Yet who are you most interested in now and who do you often listen to?
T: Interpol is probably my biggest modern influence since I've always listened to rock and not really electronic music. I've always wanted to find a way for that side to make it into my music and that's kind of what Awake was about.
T: I started learning to play guitar about 8 years ago and it has become more in my music. Then I started working with Zach and Rory, so that brought in more rock influences. They are the two other members in my live band, both Zach and Rory helped with the production of Awake as well.
EM: Do you have prior musical training with any instruments? You mention playing guitar for the past 8 years, but was that self taught or through lessons?
T: I actually studied totally different stuff and used to do graphic design a lot. I just got into guitar over the years because I've been making music for so long. In my spare time I tried to learn as much as I could.
EM: What do your grandparents or family members say about your music?
T: I don't think my grandparents really knew what I was doing before they passed away. My parents have heard the records and appreciate them for what they are. As much as 70 year old people can appreciate electronic music.
EM: I want to talk about your musical growth from the albums Dive to Awake since I feel you really developed your sound in that three-year period. How do you see yourself changing over that time between both projects?
T: Once I finished Dive I realized it was a pretty organic record. It has string bass and guitar that are warm and worldly elements. I wanted to make the live show reflect that because I couldn't just keep going out solo with a keyboard and synth. I got Zach and Rory to tour with me and slowly it became really driven. The songs started sounding really different and it made me realize this is the sound I've been looking for. We needed to get into a studio and capture it in a record.
T: Awake is the first step in that direction. It opens up a whole new palette of sound to work with and draw from for the actual song composition. The band brings new perspectives instead of being a solo producer who can get stuck easily. Sometimes there is just not enough time by myself so working with people can make it go faster.
EM: Would you say then that you prefer to work in the studio with other artists?
T: I prefer to work alone for most of the process, but definitely during the inspirational stages it's a lot easier to jam with people in the studio. You start playing something, they catch on and all of sudden a song can come together quickly.
T: When you're alone you play a part, loop it, and tweak everything accordingly, but it's much slower. Especially with drums, having a live drummer changes everything. Programming drums is so time consuming, but having Rory there who gets your ideas instantly is key.
EM: How long did each album take you to make?
T: It took me six years to make Dive, while I made Awake in eight months. It's hard to find time to make records now, since we're on tour so much. I was just screwing around making Dive at first since I had another job so I wasn't as committed. I spent a year at the end really dedicated to putting it all together. "Adrift" is probably the oldest track while "Elegy" is the last song I wrote.
EM: How has your fan base helped your personal growth and musical experimentation?
T: It makes you a lot more confident. Yet the bottom line is resources, if we can go play these shows and sell the records then you have enough money to not have to work a day job. Then you can spend all your time focusing on music. The biggest part is really going to shows, interacting with people, and feeling their energy. It really makes you want to try harder! Now you know someone is going to enjoy it and that's huge, it makes the work worthwhile.
EM: What is next music release for Tycho that you can informs your fans about?
T: We've already been working in the studio in Tahoe where we recorded the early parts of Awake. So we have the first phase done and I've been messing with it digitally. We have some more studio time planned with Rory so I'm aiming for next year late summer.
T: I'm starting to gravitate to the idea of making a tight and coherent 40 minute album. In the past I've always felt an album needs to be a sprawling thing with different songs. At this point I want to focus on one idea and take it as far as I can. I'll definitely have a few remixes as well because I love to give my music to other artists and see how they interpret it.
EM: Next up is a series of quick questions. The biggest life lesson you’ve learned from touring?
T: To try and live a sustainable life, it's difficult because the first time around you think it's just a big party. You have to realize this is your life now and think of living in a sustainable way.
EM: The last live band you watched from the audience?
T: Yesterday I watched Hundred Waters open for the festival in Quebec City.
EM: What is the longest set you’ve ever played?
T: I played about an hour and forty minutes somewhere with the band. We played pretty much everything we had and I realized that's how much music I've made.
EM: The most surprising turn out you’ve seen at a festival for your show?
T: Coachella was huge, but the crowd's size at Outside Lands in San Francisco was just ridiculous. Part of isn't as surprising since it's our hometown, but the amount of people was just absurd.
EM: What is the best remix you’ve heard of your own music?
T: My personal favourite is the Christopher Willits remix of "Montana".
EM: What is your most favourite remix you’ve made of some else?
T: My remix of "Little Man" for Little Dragon. They're one of my favourite bands so that was quite an honour.
EM: Who is an artist in any media that you would want to work with?
T: Yukimi Nagano, the lead singer of Little Dragon. I love her voice and have worked with it a couple times. They sent me a few more tracks to remix that never came out.
EM: Where is the strangest spot you’ve been recognized?
T: When you're on tour and you're near the venue it's never that surprising. I guess in my own hometown at the grocery store, yeah that was weird.
EM: Your weapon of choice in a post-apocalypse?
T: Hmmm, I guess a bow and arrow. You can fix it whenever you want to and make your own arrows.
EM: What is your favourite summer drink?
T: Just a nice IPA beer.
EM: What type of milk do you usually drink?
T: I love almond milk, it's really good.
EM: Awesome! Thanks Tycho for speaking with me today. It was a real pleasure.