Tycho: Music By A Visual Imagineer

Mar 16, 2014
Originally published on October 18, 2017 1:08 pm

Let's say you're driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in California — top down, of course. What's the soundtrack you want to hear? The music of Tycho often seems engineered to fill that very role.

The group is the brainchild of producer Scott Hansen, who describes his three-piece band as an audio-visual project. On the new album Awake, the San Francisco-based artist has taken his passion for design and merged it with his interest in ambient music; click the audio link to hear his conversation with NPR's Rachel Martin.

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Let's say you're driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in California, top down, off course. What's the soundtrack you want to hear? Maybe a little of this.


MARTIN: This is the group Tycho and it's the brainchild of Scott Hansen who describes his three-piece band as an audio-visual project. The San Francisco-based artist has taken his passion for design and merged it with his interest in ambient music. Tycho's latest album is called "Awake."

Scott Hansen joins us now from the studios of member station KQED in San Francisco. Welcome to the program, Scott.

SCOTT HANSEN: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So let's start out with the name of the group, if we could. I understand it's inspired by a Danish astronomer, someone named Tycho Brahe. Are you big into astronomy, or Danish astronomy in particular?


HANSEN: I don't have any preference. But yeah, I was at one time. I definitely read a lot about all of that stuff back in school; but these days, I kind of focus most of my attention on music.

MARTIN: And what drew you to this kind of music in the first place?

HANSEN: I came to music really late in my life so, you know, around 21 or so - I mean not really late, but...


HANSEN: ...you know, it's not like I studied it my whole life. I have been listening to just traditional, mostly kind of rock stuff. And then, in the '90s I heard drum and bass for the first time, and that made me question how is this music made. And it made me think about using technology to make music, which is something that came a little bit more naturally to me than sitting down with a guitar or piano or something. And it wasn't until later that those instruments -I came to those, but I had to go through the technology route to begin with.

MARTIN: So, will you forgive some really basic questions that I'm sure you get all the time? But I still have to ask them. Are you working solely with computers? I mean it's got a lot of texture and it sounds really digital. But are you working with any instruments?

HANSEN: I'd say this album in particular is definitely weighted towards real drums, real guitars, real electric bass - string bass. And then even the effects and the synthesizers are mostly '80s and pre '80s analog equipment. But then, the end of the day, yeah, I do record everything with a computer and use that to composite and edit, and do all of the sequencing and things like that.


MARTIN: So when you say you're an audio-visual artist, what does that mean in relationship to your music?

HANSEN: Well, I mean I think the music, to begin with, is pretty visual - for me at least. And from what I've heard from a lot of people, they say the same thing. But then also, during the live show we have video that I've created that's synced to the music - and that's a big part of the live show. And then, also justly overall aesthetic of the album covers and all the imagery associated with the project.

Whether it's online or physical or otherwise, it's very kind of tightly curated. And I think because it's all coming from the same source, it makes for a more cohesive kind of statement, I think.

MARTIN: So, that track "Montana," if I were to go to a Tycho show and there was a video of alongside the performance of that piece, what would it show? What are the images that come along with that sound?

HANSEN: That particular one, I'm actually pretty close to done with the video for that. The visuals for the last show are very cinematic and there's live-action mostly with a lot of effects. And this time around, I wanted to go a little further to bring my graphic design work into the video. So it's kind of these animations and very, very stark figures and shapes and simple colors, and things like that.


MARTIN: I want to ask you about another cut on this album. The title cut, "Awake," begins rather simply by the end things have changed. Everyone essentially awake by the end of that piece. Can you tell us how that came together?

HANSEN: Yes. So Zack Brown, he's a guitarist and we sat down to write this record together. And that little guitar riff at the beginning was actually, I think, just during a break he was just messing around and I had left the tape on. And two months later, I was just working on some edits and I found that little clip of him playing that and looped it.


HANSEN: It was like one night and I think I was up till about 7 a.m., just fleshing that song out with just synths and all of the bass and everything in it.


HANSEN: I think that was the most inspired song, as far as like start to finish. It all came together really quick. It was really fun.

MARTIN: Does that happen to you very often, where you just kind of seized by something and you're working furiously all night?

HANSEN: Yeah, I think in general that's mostly what happens. But the outcome is usually not a finished product.


HANSEN: It's usually like there's this moment of inspiration and then you reflect on it for months or even sometimes years, and come back to it and revisit over and over again. And that song is not much different than it was at 7 a.m...


HANSEN: ...that morning, you know.


MARTIN: Your last cut on this CD is called "Plains." So that naturally evokes landscape to me. But I'm guessing you may be conjure up different images. What do you see with this track?

HANSEN: I've been working on that song for a few years actually. It's kind of an end piece and an almost like a putting something to rest, or paying respect to something.


HANSEN: And the name "Plains," I wanted to be evocative of the idea of the middle states of America. We spend a lot of time crisscrossing the United States during the last tour cycle and got back in touch with exploring the spaces and kind of being present and like wide-open spaces like that.


MARTIN: Scott Hansen, from the band Tycho. Their New album is called "Awake." He joined us from the studios of KQED in San Francisco.

Scott, thanks so much for talking with us.

HANSEN: Thanks for having me.


MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.