Tycho on longevity & new realms of expression
TYCHO, the Grammy nominated project of Californian Scott Hansen, is one act barely requiring an introduction. Releasing his first studio album back in 2006, Hansen has gone on to have a career of which many music producers could only dream, bouncing from strength to strength traversing international landscapes with his entrancing, electronic soundscapes.
It’s only until now, however, with the release of fifth studio album, Weather, that Hansen has been able to fulfil his long time vision of including vocals in his music, an element one might think would come along far earlier in the scheme of music making. Collaborating with the vocalist formally known as Saint Sinner, aka Hannah Cottrell, Hansen has achieved his dream of “incorporating the most organic instrument of all” into his work and boy, does it sound good.
Weather, out today (YAS), is the long anticipated release following Grammy Award nominated album Epoch, a zingy body of work that came out back in 2016. In the lead up to today’s due date we’ve been treated to singles ‘Japan’ and ‘Pink & Blue’, the latter a track all about exploring one’s sexuality and accepting love in whichever form it may present itself. Of course, this is expressed through Saint Sinner’s powdery vocals, punctured with the undeniably tight composition Tycho is renowned for.
To celebrate the new album, Hansen is set to bring Tycho on a world tour starting next month, and like all PROPER and JUST tours of the world, that includes dates down here in Australia (cc: all international artists that have forgotten our chonky island nation). Before the craziness begins, Purple Sneakers has been lucky enough to grab a moment with the Tycho Tycoon himself to talk about, well, everything.
Hey! How’s it going?
I’m great! So stoked to be speaking with you today! I’ve been a Tycho fan for over a decade so this is a pretty huge deal right now.
Hahaha awh. Hey thank you!
No worries! So, let’s get right into it. First up, you’re coming to Australia pretty soon, you’ve got this new album Weather coming out, you’ve got a bunch of things going on right now and everything seems to be moving at a pretty fast pace at the moment. How do you maintain the stamina to keep doing all this music stuff for as long as you’ve been doing it?
Ha! You know what, that’s a really good question and I ask myself that a lot. You know, I did hit a wall after the release of Epoch and during the touring of Epoch. I just hadn’t been doing it all in a sustainable way for me, both mentally and physically, and so after that I decided to step back and reevaluate why I was doing it and the way that I wanted to do it. I decided the most important thing for me was just to become as physically and mentally healthy and strong as I possibly could, so I took a little bit of time off and just sort of started working on music the way that I used to. Like, alone in a room with no time constraints or expectations. Just doing what came naturally and creating the music that came easily to me and that’s what this new record has really been about. I got into a really good, healthy space and I felt really inspired for the first time in a long time. I felt really and truly inspired by the music and felt ready to you know, do this for another twenty years or whatever [laughs]. I figured if I didn’t do that now I might run into trouble down the road, so that’s kinda how this all started off.
Absolutely, I mean your longevity is really impressive. What you were talking about in regards to getting back to your roots with how you first began making music, are there any particular influences that have really remained constant for you since you released your earliest bodies of work?
You mean musically? With the band?
I mean creatively with all of your concepts.
Oh yeah. Well for me, my whole goal for music has been to translate the feeling that I get when I’m in nature or outdoor spaces. These kind of out-of-body connections you have between yourself and the world around you and that feeling that it’s all larger than life. There’s something powerful about that and that’s what I’m trying to translate and communicate with the music.
That’s always been the core of what I’m doing but I mean, that’s what’s interesting about this new record coming. I wanted it to be new in every possible way and something exciting because I have to keep myself inspired and excited and be taking myself seriously, or else what you’re going to hear come out in the music is me starting to get bored. So, I wanted to change it all up a little bit and I think, this record, I wanted to be inspired by human experience and the internal, domestic, intimate moments that you have with yourself at home. I wanted this whole record to be almost like inviting people into my house and almost like inviting them into my personal space so that they can maybe be shown a different side to the music and a different side of where all this came from.
Is that one of the reasons why you’ve decided to include vocals on this album for the first time?
Certainly. I mean that stuff came very organically and it felt like a very natural process getting to that point. I definitely always wanted to make a vocal record, I have tried multiple times throughout my career but it’s just never really clicked. I’ve always been looking for the right opportunity and it finally just felt like it was time to just get everything sounding really clean and also to recalibrate what people expect and what they think Tycho is. ‘Cause you can paint yourself into a corner as an artist by doing the same thing over and over again and I definitely have been taking very similar approaches and shaping this specific sound. So I thought this would be a good opportunity to open that up and open up what people expect for this thing, so that I have more room to move as an artist. When I met Hannah [Saint Sinner], it just all clicked and felt like a really natural, organic thing and that lent this really intimate vibe. This human thing where you feel like you’re connected to real people and music, instead of me hiding behind the imagery and cryptic graphics and not showing my face that much. I wanted this new project to be a very clearly human thing where you can see the people and hear the people and know those people.
So with this new single ‘Pink & Blue’ with Saint Sinner, how did you know that this was the right vocalist for you? Was there a specific moment when you heard them sing or was it more gradual?
You know, I don’t think you ever really know at the time. As an artist you just have to, like, go with whatever makes you believe and feel inspired or whatever perks my ear up and makes me want to know more. I just follow those paths and see where they lead and you have to just trust that you’ll end up in a place where you’re happy with it.
With Hannah, we met through some mutual friends and she happened to be in San Fransisco for a bandmate’s show, so I invited her to the studio and showed her a bunch of instrumental songs and she really connected with one of them. She came over, just me and her in the studio, and started singing and I was like “Woahhh I never expected that to work,” but it just does. It somehow feels like she’s always been there, you know? Like, she’s kinda just a part of the music for me now. And so the next four months were just sort of like working on songs and I think she’s ended up being on something like five different songs for this record, so the core of this record is really her voice.
That’s incredible. And apart from being so heavily entrenched in the musical side of artistic expression, you’re also a very skilled visual designer and visuals have played a very important role in your performances over the years. How do you balance the dynamic of these forms of expression, particularly with the addition of other creatives?
Well for me, the visual side of things has always come really naturally. I’ve always been a visual artist, whereas I didn’t really start making music until I was about twenty years old. I never even played an instrument, so I still always feel like music is kind of my second thing and is a new thing for me. And like, I’m always learning. I think visual art has always come really naturally to me but I think that the visuals and the music are both coming from the same place.
When I go back and look at the whole thing, it feels like they’re both trying to put out the same cool concepts and communicate the same ideas to people. They both just flow from the same space and work with each other but one thing thats beautiful about the artwork is that it allows me to almost recontextualise the music and especially when you have instrumental music, where there’s not much literal meaning in the form of lyrics, the visuals become a way for me to nudge people in the right direction. Then they can take that and interpret it the way that they want. That’s a really cool thing now with this whole new vocal element in the music is that it allows me to try completely new things with the visuals as well. You can see that in the photograph of the bodies [for ‘Pink & Blue’]. I wanted the photograph to be of something real and tangible and connected, like the cover art to just be really intimate and affectionate and feel like you’re connected to this person. That’s really what I want this whole record to be about.
So essentially you’re adding an entire new dimension to your art with these vocals and they’ve allowed you to reposition your art to speak about itself?
Yeah. I think it just opens up that whole other realm of expression. For me, as a producer and a songwriter, working with Hannah and integrating vocals is something that has just completely opened up a whole new space that I never thought I’d ever have access to. It’s taken songs in directions I would never have expected, but it’s also cool because I’ve gotten to release each song on the record as an instrumental as well. It’s been a really cool process to explore the song and follow it all the way to the end with the vocal composition and then back up to the original song, which is instrumental, and then follow that alternative path to see what happens. It’s kind of like a choose you own adventure or two different universes, just seeing what your song would end up like in a universe where I had never tried vocals and a universe with vocals. It’s been a really good experiment in that regard as well.
So, when you play these songs live, how is that all going to work?
Well that was one thing that I wanted, to keep it to one vocalist for the record. So it feels like a band and then we can peel the vocals back. I didn’t want it to be this thing where there are all these random vocalists that are only there sometimes, or there’s somebody else singing the part of the vocalist that’s not the usual or whatever. That stuff is all fine, but for me personally, I wanted to be able to represent the music in the most faithful way possible every night. So Hannah’s going to be there for all the shows and she’s going to sing the songs that she wrote and sang on the record. And I guess she’s adding another element too. You know, I used to just play with a keyboard and a laptop and then I met Zac and he started playing guitar and then Rory started playing drums and Billy playing bass and keyboards and now we have Hannah singing. It’s kind of like, finally the realised vision of the band is coming together.
So it’s sort of an ‘accidental band’ situation you’ve gotten yourself into there Scott?
[laughs] It’s not so much accidental as it’s been incremental. I think it’s happened in a very deliberate and incremental pace over the years.
And how do you find the dynamic of your band? I mean you’ve been working with most of them for a long time now, but how do they contribute towards the creation and delivery of these songs when they’re finally put onto the stage?
Oh yeah! So we’re actually coming up to the beginning of live development and rehearsals. But basically, I take the songs and break them down to their elements and we all learn our parts, decide who’s going to play what. Then we get into this practice space and spend a couple of weeks playing through the songs until they all fit together. I think by this point you have a pretty good idea of what everybody’s role is going to be in the song though, because you all kind of have a specialty in the live format. With the new element of the vocals, we really don’t know what it’s going to be like with Hannah yet. Like, I’ve worked a lot with her in the studio obviously to make the record, but we still haven’t gotten into live rehearsals yet. So I’m actually really excited to see how that’s all going to work out.
For sure! And so, with you touring Australia, are there things you’ve particularly enjoyed from previous experiences or things you might wanna do this time around?
I love Australia. It really reminds me of California and of home. I’m always amazed by how familiar the landscape and the feel and the people and the culture… it’s uncanny almost how familiar it is. Like, with Melbourne I’m always like ‘Is this San Fransisco?’ and Sydney feels like this weird mix of like LA and New York. There’s all these things that I recognise from home so it’s really cool. It’s one of the furthest places from the world and yet somehow I can feel right at home every time I’m there. And of course, we’ve always heard about Splendour In The Grass and I’ve always wanted to play there so it’s just being able to play there at all is an honour.
It’s definitely gonna be a good time. You’re gonna have fun. So, with Weather coming out, obviously you’ve got this first single ‘Pink & Blue’ which speaks for itself but can we expect similar upbeat tones in the rest of the album? Or can we expect something a little darker or more laid back?
Well, this record for me definitely reflects where I was at in my head at that time when I was in a really inspired and happy place that I hadn’t been in for a long time. So I think for the most part, it’s just beaty. I wanted to create something beaty and something beautiful and something that calmed me. It felt like a huge release from all the pressures that had built up over the past ten years for me. So yeah, the idea is just like beauty. Trying to create something beautiful and trying to translate the way I was feeling at the time. There are still some ups and downs but for the most part I would characterise it as a pretty laid back record in comparison to something like Epoch, which is kind of a lot more glassy and driven and had this kind of synthetic edge to it. This definitely feels a lot more organic and relaxed.
Talking about getting back into this happy headspace and letting go of all the stresses of doing music and everything thats going on, what would you say has been your biggest help in getting back into that positive mindset, for any artist out there who may be experiencing similar issues?
Physical health. For me, that’s always been what I’ve come back to and is really easy to let slip. Living in the tour bus and on air planes with all the stresses and all the environmental hazards of living in venues and being in and out of all these places… Yeah. It’s just about recentering and reconnecting with myself in a physical space and becoming as strong as I could physically. What I’ve always got out of that as a result is mental stability and mental strength. Get healthy and everything flows from there.
What’s your physical strengthening exercises of choice?
Usually yoga and isometric body weight exercises because that’s what I have available to me when I’m travelling so much. In and out of all these tight situations like hotel rooms and busses I usually just do whatever on a mat.
You’ll be pleased to know that there is morning yoga at Splendour In The Grass.
[laughs] I heard that! Hopefully we’ll be there in time to do some yoga.
TYCHO AUSTRALIA DATES
JULY 21 – Byron Bay, NSW
Splendour In The Grass (Festival Performance)
JULY 23 – Melbourne, VIC
JULY 24 – Sydney, NSW
Sydney Opera House
Interview by CLARE NEAL.