COVER STORY: TYCHO on His Home Studio & Creative Evolution on New LP

More than 15 years into his musical career leading the quasi-solo project Tycho, Scott Hansen is ready for another change. After completing the “trilogy” of records including 2011’s Dive, 2014’s Awake and 2016’s Grammy-nominated Epoch, Hansen parted ways with Ghostly International and signed with Mom and Pop Records this year. With the newest album Weather just released a few weeks back, Hansen has also overseen a complete overhaul of the band’s sound, teaming up with Hannah Cottrell aka Saint Sinner on vocals. 

Historically, Tycho’s music has leaned on lush, ambient electronic synths, muted guitar lines and driving drums and bass. While Tycho got its first taste of vocals when the band teamed up with fellow Ghostly labelmates Beacon in 2017, vocals on Tycho tracks have been sparse. On Weather, Hansen tells Performer that he and Cottrell worked together on five of the eight new songs. 

Weather feels like the culmination of Hansen’s past experiences — and the blissful sunset melodies of Dive, the crisp beats of Awake and the crystalline sounds of Epoch are all there. It makes sense because, according to Hansen, he’s been wanting to add vocals to the project’s music since the first record in 2004.

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“This is something I’d wanted to do for a long time,” Hansen explains. “Past in Prologue [2004] actually started off as a vocal project. I recorded all these tracks with a vocalist and it never clicked. I don’t think I had a clear vision for what I wanted that to be at the time, so I used the vocals as samples and filed it away as something I wanted to approach eventually.”

When it came time to return after the success of Epoch, Hansen says took those production skills, and decided to go forward with a new vision for how Weather could open up and be different. 

“I felt like I had chased down those sounds for the better part of 15 years by that time,” he says. “So, I felt like this was the moment where I should capitalize on it (by adding vocals). I haven’t really had that opportunity, that open space, to explore something different.”

In addition to thinking about new sounds and techniques, Hansen spent part of 2018 renovating his old San Francisco home studio. Serving as the homebase for Tycho’s formation, Hansen says he made use of his time off to turn the space into a proper studio with new equipment. 

“Before I would have to go to my engineer’s studio and bring my computer and all of my equipment, “ Hansen says. “I don’t like to stem stuff out. I usually work directly on my computer then save stuff in Reaper. Now it’s great, I don’t have to travel anywhere to record.” The renovation also made the process of creating Weather that much smoother, he adds. 

When it came time to think about the songs on Weather, Hansen says he thought back to the early days of Tycho. During the early 2000’s, when he was writing songs for the first record, bands like Zero 7, Massive Attack and Cinematic Orchestra were constantly a major inspiration. 

“Naturally some of those influences came back and found their way into some of the songs,” he says. “’For How Long’ feels very rooted in that time for me.” Additionally, Hansen says the production on Weather is the culmination of everything he’s learned over the years and he wanted to revisit some of the sounds and techniques that he had used earlier in his career. 

Dive, specifically, but revisiting them from a new perspective with a new set of skills and resources,” he says. “Back then I was kind of stumbling around in the dark. If it sounded cool I went with it. This time I wanted to be much more intentional…but also have that grain and texture kind of vibe the old stuff had.”

A great example is the new track “Japan,” a song Hansen wrote upon returning from some personal time in Hakone, Japan. 

“This was right around the time I was starting on this album and I was thinking a lot about the kinds of instruments and methods I had been using when I first started making music in the late ’90s,” he shared on Facebook. “With ‘Japan,’ I was trying to recapture a part of that sound and combine it with the imagery and experiences from my time in the green forests of Hakone. Once I felt comfortable with the instrumental I sent the song to Hannah Cottrell [Saint Sinner] with nothing more than the title of ‘Japan’ and she wrote all of the lyrics.”

“Weather” album art

According to Hansen, he’s not exactly “a lyrically or vocally oriented” person. So, when it came time to collaborate with Cottrell he wanted to take a hands-off approach. 

“I kept thinking that if it was something I interfered with too much it might [be detrimental],” he says. “I just wanted to let Hannah do what she does and express herself. There’s some beauty in writing the lyrics and expressing some of your own voice. There’s something special there that I wanted to capture for the track. Hannah wrote all the lyrics and even wrote a lot of the melodies.”

Hansen and his crew are just starting to ramp up production for the upcoming Weather tour and whereas the writing of the record provided a chance to revamp the music, the new tour has provided a chance to rethink the live show. 

“We’re rebuilding from the ground up on the tech and sonic level,” he said. “It’s been nice to have this big window, so we’re able to provide new foundation, new tech and new music, and vocals are a big part of that now.”

If you’ve ever been to a Tycho show, you know that visuals are an enormous part of the live performance as Hansen was [and still is] a professional designer prior to taking up music. Creating a live show with coordinated visuals is a job in itself. Luckily, Tycho’s studio engineer travels with the band on the road. 

“He takes whatever signal change I use to record the records,” he says. “As far as plug-ins goes, or hardware, we try to emulate. If there’s a piece of hardware we can bring, we do, but I try not to bring too much because it’s a liability. We emulate most of the analog front-end stuff with software/hardware integration program and then whatever plug-ins we do use, I try to use stripped-down, smaller versions of them [on tour].”

While Weather will have already been released by the time this article comes out, Hansen says an instrumental version of the record is already finished and set for release in the fall. 

“My work typically reaches its final form through an iterative process and with this record I wanted to further explore the multiple forks in that process. With the music I approached each song with the intention of making both vocal and instrumental versions,” he says. “The instrumentals aren’t simply versions with the vocals removed, they are totally new arrangements with different melodies and instrumentation.”

As for the reception of the record, Hansen said he’s hopeful that fans will enjoy the return to some of the sounds that got them interested in Tycho in the first place. 

“This record was about reconnecting with the positivity and beauty in my early music,” he says. “Epoch was kind of a dark, alien record, so I wanted to return to more of the warm, familiar, beautiful sounds I was shaping with the records before that.”

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