While the music industry continues to chase its own tail, Scott Hansen is happily taking care of his own business -- serving America's current love affair with electronica, as Tycho.
Speaking with Scott Hansen -- he that is Tycho -- as bad as the international phone line is between Britain and Canada, where Hansen’s three-piece live band are on tour, I’d have to be deaf not to hear his reticence upon hearing the c-word. Fair dues, not everyone likes the term chillwave.
“I might seem like somebody that can speak to that,” he crackles and wavers, back and forth, as I ask about possible origins for the scene. “But when it was all happening, I had my head down working on my music,” spirited away in his San Francisco abode for what became a 12-month tenure, writing and recording, Dive, Tycho’s second –- and it has to be said, really rather fabulous -- longplayer. Hansen concedes, yes, he was aware of the rising swell of interest in acts “like Toro Y Moi and Washed Out", but the unassuming (bordering on self effacing) 35-year-old refuses, albeit politely, to be drawn any further. Merely claiming he can’t speak for “other people’s influences. I just think that’s where electronic music was moving towards, that chilled out sound.”
To be honest, I would have been more surprised if Hansen had been happy at my namedropping chillwave, given how the simple act of defining and labeling any cultural shift generally threatens obsolescence. But being British (let alone on the other side of the Atlantic) I was curious as to how such an epic sound -- all paradoxical '70s synths, with hints of indie shoegaze buffed to a lysergic sparkle -- came about. And there are aspects of these which Tycho certainly shares. Hansen merely suggests it may simply have been a “natural coalescence", before shifting to agree with my observation that “it does seem to be a uniquely American thing. Which is great,” he warms, “because it does seem like you guys have been ahead of us on everything else.”
As a former student of computer science, Hansen admits he was on the wrong road until he “slowly started messing around at night with graphic design and exploring music” in his early 20s. From whence “the two disciplines grew out of each other". Work as a graphic designer (and for Adobe) ensuing, until “about five or six years ago", the day-job and night projects flipped. Hansen preference for the design jobs-as-favours he was doing for friends: for the freedom they granted him to express himself.
Cut forward to now, and Hansen’s Iso50 website, “originally just somewhere to put my portfolio", has expanded into what maintains as a well thought out, intelligent but accessible, graphic design blog. which by virtue of its concentric editorial policies also features music and video, “all of the things that inspire me". An endeavor which Hansen (and co-curators) has managed to create as an alternative equivalent to the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royale magazine. “An extra layer,” he hopes. One that offers a broad access point, through which people can arrive at Tycho’s music as part of what is effectively a much larger “audio visual project. Because it’s about the graphics as much as it is the music,” Hansen admits. “Because I don’t think about music without the visual.”
Following through, in taking to the road Hansen accepts electronic music doesn’t automatically make for an experiential live event. (If God had intended laptops for use as stage instruments, He’d have created them with longer flex.) Thus, Tycho onstage is a trio, with keyboards, live drums and guitars. Over which -- Hansen admits he favours his chosen genre’s tendency towards anonymity -- video director Charles Bergquist’s specially commissioned high-speed-slo-mo footage is projection synched.
Hansen: The man in black.
As mentioned earlier, this writer came to Tycho via Hansen’s graphic design. After which, I stuck around, fascinated that his music somehow manages to sound like his design work -- just as his visuals seem to refract like his music. “It’s not like people sit looking at a record sleeve while they’re listening [to music] anymore,” he registers, pointing towards the responsibility of websites now that music’s ephemeral wrap has been atomised by binary downloading. “But it is up to the artist: to be more creative and aware when they present the visual side of their work.”
Likewise, I’ve been impressed by how, through funds generated from sales of prints and t-shirts -- all of which further expand upon the world of Tycho’s music (“you can appreciate one or the other, but together they paint the whole picture. There’s always a dialogue going on”) -- Hansen has self-financed Tycho, even down to the year he needed away to make Dive.
Efforts, I wager which position Hansen as one to watch. Now, but also for the future; certainly as Tycho, and especially for Dive. But equally because, by striving to self-launch and produce and maintain such an impressively immersive world in -- and through -- which his music can thrive; where sound interacts so seamlessly with visuals and products and publishing-grade editorial content, Hansen has concocted his own solution to the music industry's ongoing torpor.
But most importantly, beyond talk of business models and industry solutions -- transaction -- at the heart of Tycho’s tale lies Scott Hansen’s desire for us all to lose ourselves briefly to something positive. And in a cynical world like ours right now, what’s not to like about that.
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Tycho will be on tour across the United States throughout September 2012. Check website for details.