Who Is…Tycho

Michaelangelo Matos

By Michaelangelo Matos

on 11.08.11 in Who Is...?s

File under: Chillwave gone Balearic gone lambent-IDM gone synth-soundtrack gone indie-crossover gone to heaven

For fans of: NEU!, Boards Of Canada, and Walls

From: San Francisco

Personae: Scott Hansen



When Scott Hansen moved to San Francisco for college in 1995, he was a rock fan. “I was listening to Megadeth and the Doors and Led Zeppelin when I came out here,” he says. Soon, he met some school chums who played him some electronic/dance staples: LTJ Bukem and Roni Size and DJ Shadow. When he finished school, he moved to Sacramento, where he got involved with a local IDM scene with ties to the East Bay glitch scene that revolved around Tigerbeat6 Records. Eventually moving back to San Francisco in 2005, Tycho had already made a small name for himself in those circles, but as Hansen became more involved in the design business, he began leaving music behind.

That’s corrected triumphantly with the new Dive album on Ghostly International. Melding Boards of Canada-style breakbeat-driven sound-melt with lovely, insistent guitar parts that link Hansen’s future-forward, backward-hazy electronics with their spiritual root in German krautrockers like Neu!, it’s an album to reach for repeatedly.

eMusic’s Michaelangelo Matos quizzed Hansen on his past, his family, and his other business.

On describing his music to his mom:

You know, I don’t even try. [Laughs] My whole family [has] a very limited frame of reference for modern music, I’d say. My mom knows it’s kind of electronic-ish. I think my aunt has heard some of my music. I heard she did, but I’m not really sure if she actually heard it or just knew that I made music. But yeah, I don’t think they understand what I do, so we don’t really talk about it that much.

On being an up-and-coming electronic musician at age 34, during an era when most of the up-and-coming electronic musicians are in their early 20s:

I think the main thing is that I’ve already spent a whole career on another discipline: design. I gave about 10 years to that and really kept music as this backburner, limited hobby. Then I got design to the point where I could sustain myself off of just selling posters and shirts — things that I didn’t have to hesitate [to] wake up and work on. About a year ago, I decided it was probably good timing to actually focus on music, which I’ve always wanted to do. Now it’s time to shift gears.

On ISO50:

It’s evolved a lot over the years. It started out as my personal project for photography, and then design, and then slowly it slowly evolved into a way of looking at design in general. The blog was about opening up the process and influences and all that, sharing it with people, and building a community around that. But at this point, it’s a very focused visual project that’s deeply connected to the music. Basically, I see Tycho and ISO50 as one and the same at this point. I only do design for my own personal projects and nothing outside, so it’s always related to Tycho because that’s the driving force between creating any of these visuals.

I think the main thing that I am going for visually – you know, I don’t use red; I use an approximation of red. Everything is a little shifted for me. I think that comes off as being sort of retro, or faded or yellowed you know, over time. So there’s definitely that patina or whatever to it. But also I think over the years I have become much more of a minimalist, and I keep searching for ways to be more efficient with the design and get the same message across without just throwing everything at the camera like I used to. So at this point it’s like this restrained version of my former self. It’s about authenticity, something real jumping off the screen as if it was a real object that had been photographed or something like that. I want my pieces to feel like that.

Design can be a very, very trendy and fickle thing because it has to be. If you’re working for other people you have to be able to be very up on things. If skulls are cool, you have to make skulls. If triangles and pyramids are cool — apparently, they were really cool — you have to make triangles and pyramids. I didn’t want to be part of that. I never enjoyed that. I just want to stay in my own world and just keep working away at the thing that I’m trying to express and hopefully shut out all that other stuff.

On Dive‘s years-long gestation:

It’s 2011. You know, we have all these tools at our fingertips that can really take things to a new place and really allow us to do things we couldn’t do before, but at the same time, I feel like there’s something lost in that process of immediacy and that speed of concept to completion. I think there’s a craft; there’s something that gets built in when things takes time and you’re forced to rethink and find new ways to do things because there [are] limitations. That adds something. Most of [the equipment in] my studio is pre ’80s and earlier; it’s all analog, but then I use a computer to record so it’s like I try to do this balancing act so that I get the best of both worlds.

I spent very little time on music throughout the last 10 years; not as much as I would like to have. The other albums are just little ideas and things that one day I woke up and was like, “Oh, here’s 10 songs that sound finished. I might as well put an album out.” Whereas this album I wanted to be a very deliberate act. It’s not just going to be a collection of tracks that I happen to throw together. I made the decision to just drop everything and to just do this album. The beauty of it was that now I could move in a different direction, because I’ve finally made the album that I’ve always envisioned, but didn’t have the time or the skills to do.

On what being “Balearic” means to him:

I have no idea! I never had even heard that word in my life until I put this album out! All of the sudden everyone’s like, “Balearic! Balearic!” I still don’t understand it. I looked it up on YouTube and I heard something like “guitars and mellow house,” so I guess I could see it. But I talked to guys at the label trying to figure out what it is and they were like, “Oh, it’s a mellow dance music or chill dance music.” I guess I can see the comparison.

On Sacramento IDM in the early ’00s:

I think we had a really good scene around 2001-2003: Me and Dusty Brown and Tha Fruitbat and Chachi Jones and Park Avenue were the core. We formed this collective called Command Collective, and we put on shows, we did visuals and all that stuff. Nobody was doing electronic shows in Sacramento. Chachi Jones had a different slant, and I really liked his style: I would characterize [it] as the extreme end, as far as glitch or experimentalism. He even, to my ear, had a pretty organic sound compared to some of the stuff I heard coming out here. Me and Dusty Brown were the opposite end of the spectrum: Dusty maybe split the middle, ’cause he had a little harder beat. Our heroes were Boards of Canada and Ulrich Schnauss. We were definitely going for that organic pastoral sort of sound.