Tycho's Scott Hansen on His Next Album and People Sleeping to His Music
Tycho, the blissful electronic brainchild of Scott Hansen that's mutated into a live trio with guitar, bass, and real drums, made 2011's best easy listening disc. Dive accrued slow, deserved notice for its happier-Boards of Canada pop-scapes as on the unwinding pick hit "Hours." Ahead of his show at the Fox Oakland tonight, the S.F.-based Hansen spoke to All Shook Down about becoming a band and how to take it when fans tell you they sleep to your sounds.
Your publicist just told me you're working on a new album. What can you tell me about that so far?
We kicked around ideas; I had some stuff, and Zac [Brown], bassist, was working on guitars and bass, we got some ideas together and went up to Tahoe last week -- we have a studio up there -- did a writing session and we just got back from that yesterday. We're in a really good spot, we're going to Santa Cruz for the next couple months to do recording and arranging, and hoping to get it in the next four months.
What does a writing session for you consist of, is that like a jam?
We had some jam session material that came out of soundchecks, but we hadn't gotten a chance to sit down in the studio. Up there we're mainly working with pre-existing stuff, but we did knock off some jammed stuff that sounded pretty good. So it's pretty half-and-half.
So you have a pre-existing riff and then you work out how to build it up and break it down?
By and large we use a synth or a guitar melody, then stir in some rhythmic element, try to flush it out and figure out what it would sound like in an arranged form. But mostly it's just a solid melody and then filling in the blanks after that.
And is this the first record you've written as a full band?
Yeah, definitely. The last one was more like, people coming in at the end, Zac coming in and laying stuff over it. This is more of a cooperative experience. Definitely more of a producer/band situation now.
There's a really elegant uniformity to Dive where the drums are mostly almost metronomic, and the melodies kind of morph over them. Will the new album stick with that or be more all-over-the-place?
If you've ever been to a show you know that Rory, drummer, is pretty good at turning Dive in on its side. Yeah, the way I see drums is kind of that metronomic thing, like that's what I appreciate in other people's music. He definitely echoes that, but it's going to have a more human vibe because it is a human playing it at the end of the day. It's not gonna be a giant departure but it'll definitely be an evolution from the stuff that we've been doing lately.
Does melody interest you more than rhythm?
No, I'm just saying the rhythm parts seem to come second. Melody's what I'm always messing with, playing with. I think they're both very important, I just personally gravitate towards melody in the writing scenario. But by the end of the album I've spent more time with the rhythm actually, in the production process.
I've always regarded ambient music as a private kind of listening, but Dive is one of the most "social" sounding ambient albums I've ever heard. Did you intend for it to sound a certain way or did it just evolve until all the pieces fit that way naturally?
Nothing I've done with any electronic stuff is very intentional at all, it's always evolved by itself. But what do you mean by social? Like something you could enjoy at a party or something?
Well, when I listen to Eno or Aphex Twin, they feel like very private experiences for headphones, but when I've put on your stuff in cars and such, it gets a good response from people who wouldn't normally listen to ambient music.
Yeah, I think, I've always appreciated ambient music on my own and yeah, found it hard to try to transfer that over to people who don't necessarily appreciate that. If I ever wanted to make an ambient record, I think I'd have appropriated themes and ideas from the world, but at the same time, I didn't set out to make an ambient record by any means. It was definitely supposed to have a rhythm section and be more rhythmic than anything.
I know you just said you don't do anything intentional, but are there any functions you make music for? Have you thought "I want to make a great driving record"?
I hear people saying, "Oh, it's great for driving," or whatever, but for me it's more trying to sound out --¬†I have this ideal of a sound in my head and I'm trying to get to the point where I can express that sound fully or even half. If anything I think it's a headphone record that's supposed to transport you out of your current surroundings and take you somewhere else, hopefully.
What's the weirdest thing someone's told you they use your music as their soundtrack for?
[Laughs] "Me and my girlfriend have sex to this record!"
I don't know if that's weird but it's always funny. A little bit of an awkward experience. I'm like, "Yes... that sounds like a good plan."
That's a crazy concept to think that you're making music that enhances someone's sex life.
Honestly, I've heard that since the beginning that people describe it as really sensual music, but I really don't see that. I never built that into it. It's not the furthest thing in the world from what I'm trying to express, but it's definitely more of an intellectual-emotional standpoint I guess. All of it's pretty detached from humanity or any specific emotions or actions. It's really pretty broad and otherworldly. At least that's what it means to me -- but obviously everyone takes it and interprets it their own way.
Do you sleep to music at all?
No, I used to have really bad insomnia and tried different stuff, but these days I just use white noise.
See, I can't sleep without music...
Yeah, usually something repetitive that I can drift off to, so those records will go into heavy rotation for me because I can use them a lot. That must be a weird compliment, like, "Oh, I sleep to your music all the time!"
I get that more than anything. At first I was like, what does that mean? Is it boring? But eh, if it relaxes you and puts you in a spot where you're not thinking about everything going on in your life -- which is usually what happens to me -- then it's a good thing.
Do you feel any special connection to the popularity of dubstep or Skrillex or "Harlem Shake"?
I've been making electronic music for about 13 years now, and I've seen the arc of popularity and all that, and I have wondered if that's paved the way for more obscure, experimental forms to come to the forefront. But I think it's really just an evolved, natural progression how electronic music has found its way into all forms of music over the last 40 years. And at this point there's no real discernable difference between styles in its use in pop or hip-hop or whatever. I think people's ears have been trained to these sounds, and plus, people are just right now branching out searching for different things. This kind of standard has been shoved down our throat for so long that they're looking for more interesting stuff. I think everyone's benefitting from that. And yeah, I do think live shows have maybe benefitted from that world, just because that brought to the forefront the idea of the DJ as worthwhile to pay $30 to go see.
Right, the DJ as a rock star.
It seems like now the electronic producer with a band is the standard, that's becoming a thing.
Do you think you'll ever make a record without any electronic instruments?
I love synths too much, but rock is what got me into music so I'd love to make a rock record. It wouldn't be called Tycho obviously, but it would be nice to free myself from the idea that I have to use specific instruments. But with this next album, I'm hoping people notice there's a lot more guitar. Me saying that doesn't mean much... the last record I thought was this way heavier thing and people said it sounds like the old stuff. And in my head there was this huge difference, so I don't know what that means for the next record. But it's in another space for energy and aggressiveness.