We all know that 2020 gave us many moments of frustration but also ones of joy even though they might look a bit different than in the years before. Experiencing a Tycho show in February as one of the few actual concerts of the year definitely belonged to one of my more precious experiences this year. It was not only a final celebration of carelessness before the pandemic hit Europe but it also completed the personal reignition of my love for the music of Scott Hansen’s project following a few years where I didn’t know if his music can still have the same effect on me like in the time when I hopelessly fell in love with Dive around ten years ago. 2019’s Weather album was a challenge; me and Scott discussed it in a lengthy exchange last year already. Fans got used to the idea of having a vocalist on a Tycho album, especially since singer Saint Sinner did such a great job on the album and also during the just mentioned live show. And those who didn’t enjoy it got a pure instrumental twin album called Simulcast earlier this year. Hansen and his Grammy-nominated project were in a happy place at the beginning of the pandemic and apparently they still are at the end of this year as I notice after video calling Hansen on a Friday morning.
We meet again on quite an important day in his personal life. It’s moving day for the musician who is leaving his house in San Francisco after 15 years to move to Oakland, just across the bay. There’s more space there for him, his family and his own studio which he built five years ago. It’s a plan long time in the making but without Covid-19 it might not have happened so quickly as he acknowledges. “Being a touring musician this lockdown might be one of my few opportunities to finally move,” he realizes with a smile. As the furniture gets loaded on the trucks, Hansen sits in his car (he wasn’t driving, don’t worry), not only facing a new chapter in his life but also ending the Weather cycle with a remix album that’s going to be released shortly before Christmas. This year actually marked the 20th anniversary of Tycho as we realize during our conversation (Scott found out after researching the date he first registered the domain of his website) but “we’re past a possible birthday, I think” as he says with a smile. He’s moving forward and 2020 was a good year for all of us to try out new things and he’s no exception to the rule.
We all dealt different with Corona. Some of us you got creative and you even started your own video/podcast series called “The Tycho Friendship Hour”. How did you come up with that?
It was just some kind of a joke. (laughs) I just wanted an excuse to talk with my friends as we can’t really see each other these days. I thought it would be fun to have some of my closest friends in there. After the first episodes we realized that the remix album would be out and I thought it would be great to have a new episode every week since we also released a new mix every week as well. You kind of miss the nervous energy you get before a live concert and I’m getting a bit of this every week with the friendship hour.
It looks like you guys are having fun …
Yeah, it was not planned at all. That idea literally came to me two days before the first show.
Is the Weather Remixes album also a direct result of the Covid-situation or were you going to release it all along?
We planned that before Corona since I really like the Awake remix album I put out in early 2016. For the Epoch album we had a few remixes but they never felt like a true package so I wanted to another one again.
How does that usually work? Do you approach the artists you like?
It’s mostly people I know personally and the people I don’t know personally are the ones we played shows with, like Mild Minds. I love the music of Harvey Sutherland, I played his music a lot in my DJ-sets. The rest is just good friends like Com Truise or Nitemoves which is Rory from my band. We tried to keep it in the family.
To me the music of Tycho has always been connected to remixes. Your own ones are a bit rarer but I remember great reworks of your music over the years. How do you as an producer approach that art form when you get asked to do one?
I typically chose songs that have vocals in them since I love working with vocals and I don’t get many opportunities to do that as Tycho. I always approach it like I was working directly with the vocalist, so usually I put all the music away. I might retain a few percussive instruments or an interesting synth part. But most of the time I try to write a song that fits to the lyrics. I tend to stay true to the song and the structure. I don’t know what people expect from me when they ask for a Tycho remix…
They want that Fender Rhodes sound …
Haha, indeed. I mean there’s been a couple of remixes that got rejected because they didn’t sound enough like Tycho. I have such a specific sound, maybe I backed myself into a corner. (laughs)
Any remixes of yours that you never finished or where hit a dead end when producing the remix?
If it’s a professional request where there is money or a label involved I usually manage to finish it. There’s been a few where I started remixes on my own, just for fun and was able to get the stems from the artist. There’s a few I did in 2016 that aren’t out yet. And there’s this one remix… it’s my favourite song I’ve ever been involved with and one of my favourite artists [editors note: I’m a gentleman, I didn’t ask for the name here]. And I don’t know if they didn’t like the remix or the idea of remixes. That artist never lets anybody remix his music but his manager accidentally gave me the stems. That might have been a mistake on their side but I produced the remix anyway. I love listening to it but nobody else ever will probably.
Nothing we can do here?
Nah. I mean, I know the guy, I’ve been to his shows, talked to him and he’s been a really lovely guy. He just doesn’t believe in remixes. (laughs)
Anything you tried out musically during the lockdown year that you never tried out before?
I have the concepts and frameworks for a couple of albums in my head now. One of them was an idea before the lockdown, later I filled in the blanks and made another one. But I spend most of the timing refining my process and carefully choosing my tools, getting my computer and everything set up perfectly. One of the biggest weaknesses of my career has been that I was taking ideas and shepherding them through to the finished product. There’s a breakdown in my process happening there so I tried to fix these issues. I need to find a way to bring the purity and creativity of the original concept back to the Tycho cosmos. The vision needs to shine though and although I love my releases I didn’t do a good job on this specific part on my last albums; I overthought them. Past Is Prologue and Dive were perfect examples of following my instinct and do what comes naturally. I’m trying to set the stage to get back to this point.
Even after two decades of music making Scott Hansen is still searching for the human element in electronic music, the emotional core of it and there aren’t many artists that are able to do that as wonderful as he can. There is not much instrumental electronic music that touched me as much as the sound of Tycho has over the past years so it felt like a natural fit to have him compile music for our Electronic Empathy Playlist. Of course, when Tycho picks music for an electronic music playlist it’s a different affair, just like with every other artist. Instead of dark and pumping club bangers he heads for more mellow and gentle territory, mixing downbeat electronica, with warm and soulful sounds and also a bit 90s nostalgia. “It was a pleasure doing this,” he tells me and I think this is a great opportunity to discover some of the music that inspired Hansen and if you like to know more about it I strongly suggest to continue reading.
Somehow, I didn’t even expect any heavy club bangers in this selection but I was still wondering whether there’s a rave side of Scott Hansen we haven’t discovered yet?
I started out making drum’n’bass in the 90s and some house music but that was really early in my career and remains unreleased. I really appreciate dance music and club culture. I love consuming that stuff but also feel like it doesn’t come naturally to me as a songwriter. I’m too impatient for this slow meditative way of building songs in the day dance tracks are made. That’s a special skill, working towards that climax that I don’t possess. I’m definitely referencing those things in my music but slow them down in my own music.
You might need a weird alias for such tracks.
I wish I had time for an alias. (laughs) Not right now.
What’s your earliest memory when it comes to electronic music?
That has to be Erasure. I got Abba-esque and Chorus when I was a kid. At the time I didn’t understand what I was listening to but in the end it’s dance music. And for me it was simply amazing music because I was pretty young and everything I heard until then was basically rock music. I think it planted the seat and trained my palette of electronic sounds a little more. I was born in the 70s so I grew up with disco music and heard synthesizers a lot in my youth.
Erasure is a good way of getting started. Think for me it was Pet Shop Boys which heads for the same territory.
Yeah, the first time I heard electronic instrumental music was the 1993 sampler ESP: The Techno Trance Compilation. It’s full of all the trippy earls 90s trance. And I remember listening to it on a beach in Santa Cruz after smoking a joint. And it literally was like a religious experience. That was the moment I finally got electronic music.
Okay, this sounds like the perfect scenery to fall in love with it.
Haha, I know. Almost like a cliché, right?
A few of the songs of the playlist by DJ Shadow, U.N.K.L.E. and Photek take you right back to the 90s. I was wondering whether this connection between electronic music and organic sounds worked as a gateway drug into electronic music for you.
Yeah, a bit. DJ Shadow and U.N.K.L.E were really important for me and that song I put in the playlist comes from the time when DJ Shadow was pretty much the driving force behind U.N.K.L.E. and James Lavelle might just be hanging around in the studio back then. (laughs) When I first heard his album Endtroducing I was really into hip hop and heavy metal. The sample side of hip hop really fascinated me back then and triggered something in me. Beastie Boys also did it a bit on their albums but when DJ Shadow did it pure and in instrumental form it really blew my mind. The organic sound is one aspect but the timing was also quite electronic and I just loved that juxtaposition. And when I heard Photek that really clicked. It was very sparse, very tight but had an organic texture.
Still, there’s not much sampling happening in your music, right?
A lot of my drums have sampled hits in there although it’s not really about loops. But I could never make it work on the instrumental level. I tried sampling early on in my career but maybe that was a lack of patience again. I knew that I had to make sounds by myself. And then I heard Boards Of Canada and thought “Wow, all these sounds are sampled but they also play them live.” And that’s when I realized I can make my own music and make it sound like samples. But like I said I still sample a lot of drums but mostly it’s our drummer Rory and I record him in the studio and cut it into loops. Radiohead inspired me to do that.
While listening to the DJ Shadow track You Can’t Go Home Again in your playlist I suddenly realized that he sampled Simon & Garfunkel in there …
Haha, Jesus, how does he clear all those samples?
Probably a good lawyer, I assume.
You know what’s funny? The cover of Endtroducing is a guy looking through records in a record shop and that was in downtown Sacramento. I lived three blocks away from that. And they had a secret room for all the rarities and only if you knew the owner you were able to get down to that special room. He’s from Davis, close to Sacramento and just seeing him having success inspired me to do my thing, thinking ‘Oh, even if I’m from that place small place I can still make it.’ It felt like I wasn’t limited to my space.
Any mix is just as good as its opening song and I think starting your selection with Ulrich Schnauss and In All The Wrong Places is a great way of starting it. Any relationship to the song?
Ulrich’s songwriting and song structure and his melodies really had a huge impact on me. I get compared a lot to Boards Of Canada, maybe because they are more known in the United States. But in the end Ulrich Schnauss is my real core influence and if you listen to his music you’ll understand. Boards Of Canada are more dark and psychedelic and also quite repetitive in a trance/meditative way. But Ulrich Schnauss got these giant, explosive crescendos, these flows, his arcs and this special way of drumming. I just love his work so much. To me, In All The Wrong Places is the essential song by him.
I should definitely get more into his music, I only know a bit of his work and a few really good remixes …
Yeah, on his later stuff he gets a bit “proggy” but some of the earlier work are still my favourite. He’s in Tangerine Dream now.
Are there any specific elements in electronic music that excite again and again and constantly inspire you? For me, late 80s Balearic house music always triggers euphoria in me. Do you have something similar?
I started making music in the late 90s so anything from the period surely had an effect on me. It was the time when it got a bit easier to make high quality recordings at home. Artists like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher were pioneers here. You hear the patina of that time, that special flavour. There’s something about 16-bit samplers from the 90s or the sound of an EMU keyboard or the Ensoniq ASR-10 because that’s the tools I started working with. I’m a sucker for those. (laughs)
What music inspires you these days?
… and quite raw and unfiltered as well.
Yes, exactly. I’m inspired by these and I’m thriving for a pure expression that comes straight from you and is not filtered in any way. I’m also a lifelong Interpol fan and their last album Marauder also hat such raw power which I really loved. And I always try to take away something from these bands even if they don’t make electronic music.
You released one new single in the past months, Run Away, another one with vocals. What’s next on the horizon for Tycho in 2021?
Run Away was a one-off idea and I got about two more that head for the same direction that might just come out as singles. But the focus now are these long-form instrumental albums. I might put out an EP first but for most of the part I want to get back to the core of music making. I’m going to work closer with my bandmates Zach and Rory on these records. Me and Zach are about to hit the studio next month to work on new material.
On the brink of a new year and chapter in his life, I’m leaving Scott to his moving duties. Weather Remixes is out now via Mom+Pop / Ninja Tune and until then you are kindly invited to dive into Tycho‘s musical influences. The first 22 tracks of NBHAP’s Electronic Empathy Playlist are compiled by the artist, starting with Ulrich Schnauss and ending with a gentle one from Poolside. The rest of the playlist features new electronic favourites, compiled by yours truly and I surely hope you’ll enjoy these as well.
Please note: Tycho‘s selection will be only available for a limited amount of time before it will merge with the picks of the next update. So make sure to save your favourites as quickly as possible and discover the music of these tremendous artists.