Scott Hansen produces electronic music and graphic design in San Francisco as Tycho and ISO50, respectively. His organic and atmospheric compositions provide a colorful, warm, and emotional interpretation of electronic music sure to appeal to a wide audience. See him live Thursday at The Independent.
During yesterday’s gorgeous afternoon, I met up with Scott at Dolores Park Cafe to ask about his motivations and inspirations behind his art.
What is your ideal creative environment? How has your residence in San Francisco fared for you in that regard?
It actually hasn’t fared well because I sacrifice a lot. I came from Sacramento where I lived for about 8 years downtown. I had a garage/warehouse space so I could do anything I wanted; I could make as much noise as I wanted. It was acoustically treated, you know, it was like a real proper studio. Here, I’m working out of the basement in my house and there’s no light. And it works, but it’s just not the same. So I miss that, but then, I like it here a lot more.
What have been the biggest inspirations for your creativity throughout your life?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think at one point I would have said nature, and I really like photography and trying to capture that whole thing in my work. I guess I’m still building on that. I guess I’d say nature and just all the music I was raised listening to.
What type of music did you listen to?
70s prog rock and pop like Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin. All that kind of stuff.
Would you say there are connections between the graphic design work and the music you produce in terms of the ideas you are trying to convey? What are they?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely trying to push forward; it’s supposed to be psychedelic and outside the realm of daily experience, and that’s kind of what I’m fishing for.
Your design shows a lot of influence from modern art and, at times, minimalism. What do you feel is important about these concepts?
If you look at my older design work, it’s really maximalist; I guess I would call it. But I’ve always appreciated the minimal stuff. At the time I was working as a designer, so I felt like you had to make these images that grabbed people — really bright colors and a lot of busy stuff going on. But once I stopped doing freelance work and working for other people, then that’s when I went back to minimalism, which is really what I’ve always appreciated most. But I’ve always tried to strike a balance between that whole Fillmore West illustrative poster art style and then also minimalism and trying to find the space between them.
The organic qualities and bright tones in your music make it rich and warm, as if it were as colorful as your designs often appear. What do you try to portray through color?
That’s a big part of it. Sometimes I feel like you can do more with color than anything. The lines are really important, and at a certain point, the forms. You can just put a few colors down on a piece of paper and people are going to react the same way: It’s going to bring up some sort of emotion. I think I spent most of my time working with color and then kind of filling in the blanks with forms and stuff like that.
How did you first become interested in electronic music? Who would you say are your top influences, both from when you started to now?
I got into it because of drum and bass. I was going to school here and some friends of mine were really into drum and bass and I had really only listened to rock, you know, that mentality. It just really struck me — LTJ Buckem, Roni Size and all those guys, and Goldie, that was the scene going on at the time.
I guess the music just amazed me, because with rock music, I knew how they made it and it was more of a curiosity: “How did they do this?” A friend of mine gave me some equipment and I ended up getting a drum machine and just started digging around. Once I got into electronic music, I heard Boards of Canada, and DJ Shadow before them, but I was mostly moved by Boards of Canada, Schnauss and that kind of group.
Your re-release of Sunrise Projector is renamed after your song “Past is Prologue.” Why did this emerge as your title track?
It’s a quote from Shakespeare. To me, I take it to mean that everything that’s happened in life or everything that happens after a certain point can be looked at as the prologue to that moment. I wanted to use that idea for that album.
What are the main sources for the vocal samples you pick out for your songs? What sort of imagery are you trying to create with these, such as the children’s vocals?
That’s some of the earlier stuff, and it was all based on these tapes that my mom made of me and my brothers when we were little kids. I just picked little snippets out of there, and there are a few others things interspersed that come from nature films from the 70s.
The atmospheric qualities of your music make it seem very personal and human compared to other types of electronic music produced. How are you trying to appeal to people through your music, and what moods or reactions do you hope to illicit?
I definitely work hard to not have it sound so electronic, because it’s easy when you’re producing things — when you’re using computers and machines to make everything — to sound kind of cold and digital. I try to use old, 70s/80s technology only, until the last stage. I record with a computer but before that I use all older tape and analog equipment. I write most of the songs on guitar, so sometimes the guitar ends of being in the song. Just taking that and translating it over to synthesizers helps a little bit because you play guitar differently than you play a keyboard.
I guess I’m just hoping to kind of blur the lines between what you would call electronic music, especially with the new album. I think that’s happening in general in music right now. Rock bands are using electronic techniques, and vice versa. I’m just trying to expand my sonic palette by using different instrumentations.
Where do you love to perform, and why? Have you had any particularly memorable shows here in SF or elsewhere?
Some of my favorite shows have been in New York, but that’s just because I don’t play here that much. I played at Mezzanine last year a couple times and they were really fun shows. The Independent’s my favorite venue, so I assume I’ll have fun playing there
When did you become acquainted with Ghostly International and how have Ghostly artists impacted your design and music?
They contacted me when I was in Sacramento about a year before I moved here. I used to be on this Label called Merck — that’s who put out Past is Prologue — and Ghostly was talking with them about buying their catalogue. I started talking to them, and they re-released Past is Prologue but then I kind of got side-tracked over the last couple of years.
I was supposed to have this album out within a couple years ago. Now it’s almost done, but their aesthetic is really tightly curated. It’s really got that, I don’t know what I’d call it — austere. I wouldn’t say it’s cold, but I think at times it can err more on the electronic side, and I really like that. It’s more fashionable whereas my stuff is more organic,, so it’s really actually influenced me a lot just seeing the way they represent everything digitally. I think that has kind of bled over into my own design. I think it’s made me refine things a lot more.
What is in store for your future music productions? Are there any particular elements you’ve been experimenting with?
Well, this album is almost done. That’s definitely what’s in store for late summer. It is going to come out and I think people will definitely see an evolution in it as far as what’s going to be different or what’s new. Now, I focus a lot more on songwriting and arrangement. It used to be more about “here’s a cool sound, let’s build on that layer by layer.”
Moving forward, I’ve got probably another album’s worth of sketches that I’ve been working on with a friend of mine, Zack, who plays bass for the live shows. He’s a much better guitarist than me, and a way better bassist so he’s been kind of translating some of my ideas and he’s been writing some stuff. I think the album after this one will be even more of a departure, probably.
Tycho performs at The Independent on April 7th. Tickets are $18-$20 and the show starts at 8pm.