Scott Hansen is a man of many talents who has worked tirelessly to develop his personal aesthetic across several different mediums. He records beautifully detailed electronic music as Tycho for Ghostly International. He co-curates the well-respected ISO50 blog which covers his interest in music, design, branding and photography as well as housing his own visual art and photography work.
Although Hansen’s taste in both art and music is unapologetically nostalgic, his modern perspective always brings the work up to date. A California native, Hansen’s work is often described as “sun drenched” and does evoke a more contemplative dawn-to-dusk feeling that sets him apart from the pulsing, club-focused, late-night atmosphere typically associated with electronic music. He is a perfectionist who works to harmonize every aspect of his output as Tycho from recording and producing the music itself to the art and design behind the gorgeous gatefold LP of his latest release Dive. He created a visual accompaniment for his live show by editing, rendering and triggering effects on clips of archival footage depicting aerial, nautical and adventure scenes that synchronize seamlessly with his rich sonic backdrop. Always looking to move forward, he is currently working with director Charles Bergquist to create a completely original film piece that he hopes will serve as an even better mode of expressing the story his music is trying to tell.
How has your approach to making and playing music changed over the years? It seems like you’ve retained a similar sound but with a slow evolution in terms of song structure.
I think in one way that was a concerted effort and in other ways it was just kind of an organic evolution. Obviously as you learn and practice it’s going to start to affect the output. One thing I wanted to do between the last album and this one, which is why there was such a long break, was to hone my skills as a producer but also become more of a songwriter and musician. So I learned guitar and really focused on using that as my primary writing tool to try and get me away from some of the dogma and patterns I’d fallen into with the keyboard based stuff. So if the last album was kind of a prototype for this sound, Dive was the full realization of it and from here maybe I’ll make a more deliberate turn in some other direction.
Do you enjoy playing live or has it just become a necessary part of being a professional musician?
I would have said the latter as recently as a year ago but since then my perspective’s changed. I didn’t enjoy playing alone. I didn’t feel like I was able to translate the sound and also wasn’t able to bring anything more to the table in the live context past just playing the songs verbatim with visuals. But as I started working with this band, I found being up there with other people and being able to work off of them and play off what they were doing really made it a whole different experience. And as I got over the fears and anxiety associated with being up there in front of people and felt more comfortable to where I could enjoy it for what it was, it’s become something now that I really and truly love doing almost as much as creating music.
What are some of your favorite places that you visited on tour?
I’ve always loved Chicago. New York of course. Portland always ends up being a great place. But those are still just American cities and I’ve been to all of them independently of music. But the first few times I went to Europe were pretty profound experiences and this most recent trip was the longest I’ve ever been there at one time. We were there for about a month and being immersed for that amount of time in another culture was a whole different thing altogether. There was always a feeling of, ‘How the hell do these people even know who we are?’ Before going over there I didn’t really know what to expect or whether or not anyone was going to show up so the response was pretty overwhelming. Also trying to take a moment to realize I’m in this city on the other side of the world to play a show… It’s incredible to come full circle as an artist and see people enjoying your music in a place that you’ve never even been before.
I know you are a big fan of vintage photography and cameras but it seems like you’re embracing some of the new technology and formats too – like Instagram (follow Scott there @ISO50).
Photography is kind of a sore subject for me right now. I felt like it was such a big part of what I do and considered myself someone who was really into photography at one point and now I don’t even bring the camera with me. It’s partly not having the time and not wanting to lug it around with me on tour but then you also have this incredibly powerful camera in your pocket and all these image editing tools at your fingertips so that’s what’s been happening by default I guess. With Instagram, I like the idea of it as a social platform. I don’t use the image editing features very much. I just think it’s cool more as an image-based Twitter kind of thing. At the end of the day every time I take a picture that I feel good about on there it brings up mixed emotions because I think, ‘Man, if I had taken that with a real camera I could print this and it would look great.’ Or like when I’m out at night and the iPhone is useless I always wish I had my real camera there you know?
But like you said, some of the pictures that you’ve taken with the iPhone, like the one at the beach in Barcelona, could be posters.
Yeah that was such a cool day and it’s weird because the beach didn’t really look like that. But that’s the beauty of photography too, you can idealize these scenes that never looked like that at all but maybe in your head it did or you perceived it that way. That’s what’s kind of cool about photography is that you know it was once this real thing but now it’s being seen through the filter of your eye and the way that you saw it.
Do you ever take time, other than sleep, to completely unplug? No input, no output, nothing.
I spent a couple of years prior to the year preceding this album where I really lost focus and direction in my life in general, like I didn’t know if I wanted to make music any more and I wasn’t enjoying design for what it was. So when I got back into it I was so happy to find my love of those things again that ever since then I’ve basically been full steam ahead because I felt like I found my vision again and I saw what I was trying to express clearly and that can be really exciting. So I haven’t taken a lot of time to rest, but I think that’s just my natural mode. I don’t feel comfortable unless something is either being created or digested. When I’m recording it’s almost like I create this vacuum in my head which makes it so that I’m almost creating for my own enjoyment. That’s always been my favorite way of creating because I’m literally making the song that I want to hear.
You publish a lot of old advertising posters on the ISO50 blog. What draws you to those images and what do you think brands are missing today in terms of aesthetics?
You know I’ve thought about that a lot and I don’t think I’ve ever cornered it. The thing I keep coming back to is the proliferation of publishing software where now anybody for any amount of money can sit down and knock out terrible branding and graphics. Whereas the mom and pop coffee shop around the corner used to have to pay an actual artist, an artisan who’s worked with his hands his whole life making signs and painting them. They’d pay him a fair amount of money to create this thing and they would keep that forever. Whereas now it’s kind of like, ‘Oh we need a new logo this year,’ and then it’s the same thing the next year. So they go to the sign shop and they design it too for dirt cheap so it’s become one-stop shopping. I think the whole disposable nature of design has come into play but I also think advertisers aren’t really trying to sell orange juice to designers or artists they’re trying to sell it to everyone on earth and they realized it doesn’t really have to look that great it just has to hit the right buttons. So I think they’ve just become more astute observers of human nature in the ways that people are manipulated. For us as artists we look at that and think, ‘Well, that looks like shit,’ but the reality is selling orange juice is all that really matters to the people doing the advertising you know?