Tycho Takes to the Road
One of the biggest names in electronica brings his new full-band sound to the Crystal on Thursday.
Catching Scott Hansen, the graphic-artist-turned-electronic-music-producer who has made a national name for himself as the ambient project Tycho, on a brief rest between tour dates for his new album, Awake, he's quick to say how much being home in San Francisco means to him.
"The first Awake tour was over six weeks, and that was the first time I'd ever experienced that," says Hansen. "I was like 'I'm never doing that again.' I have a life at home that I'd like to experience at least once every month..."
His voice trails off, and I imagine him glancing toward his wife in the other room.
"It would be nice."
That fits, for someone whose music is the sonic definition of "chill." Tycho broke into national consciousness with 2011's Dive, but listening to any of Hansen's four albums feels like a dip in warm, ambient nostalgia. The instrumental melodies are simple and sharp, yet interwoven masterfully, giving the simultaneous sensation of comfort and challenge, of depth and immediacy. Builds in tension and drum instensity hint at the "drops" of the electronic artists that Tycho has shared stages (and coffee) with in the past, while an ear for composition and musicianship draw comparisons to the more pop-oriented acts of today.
A lot of buzz surrounded the release of Awake on March 18, owing to one of the biggest names in electronic music switching his emphasis from a solo laptop and keyboard project to a live band. The songs off Awake are largely based around the guitar and bass trading riffs, while keys sprinkle lead melodies throughout.
The switch to live instrumentation isn't a new idea for Hansen, who's been collaborating with performers almost since Tycho's first album, Sunrise Projector, in 2004. After a steady uptick in the amount of keyboards Hansen used onstage, he decided to occasionally bring in Zac Brown (cousin of Hansen's longtime friend and fellow electronic artist, Dusty Brown) for live shows around 2005. The decision to make a dedicated shift to "being a band" came when Hansen recorded with Brown for the first time on "Hours," off 2011's Dive.
The introduction of a band dynamic could have threatened the relaxed nature of Hansen's writing style (and general persona), but Hansen feels like it has only helped further his vision for Tycho. Hansen and Brown hammered out the rough sketches of songs and melodies for Awake over a few weeks in a cabin in Tahoe. Back in SF, Hansen sifted through tapes of their daily jam sessions and picked out keepers to build full songs around.
"I found this little riff [improvised by Brown] at the end of a whole other song, and I was like 'oh man, that's cool!'" says Hansen of one example. "I took that little riff—and it was literally one night, like eight to ten hours—and I built all the other stuff around it. We didn't spend all this time going back and forth deliberating on things, it was just a really inspirational moment." And now it's the title track.
That's not to say that the change hasn't come with its share of challenges. Tycho's live shows are famous for their extravagant visual aspect (Hansen was a visual artist long before Tycho became popular). Add to that extra musicians (in addition to Brown, Hansen brought on drummer Rory O'Conner and bassist/guitarist Joseph Davancens), and suddenly vans and trucks are needed to haul around all the instruments and stage production equipment. Not only does the gear come with the typical tour hassles (unload, set up, tear down, load back in, repeat), but it makes the band a moving target for police officers, who think that searching the belongings of electronic artists will yield some fruitful results.
"We got shook down by the cops in Iowa," the usually mild-mannered Hansen says, flaring up, if only slightly. "You know, when they pull you over and dump everything you own on the side of the f***ing road for no apparent reason."
With a venue in Minneapolis awaiting their arrival, the band had to watch from the side of the road as the police officers and drug dogs tore through their belongings for hours—finding nothing.
"They let us go just in time for us to basically, if we hauled ass, get to Minneapolis on time," Hansen recalls. "With literally a minute to go we set up the last thing. I pull my guitar on, I look over at Zac, and then we just go 'okay,' and the curtains open. It was like the craziest Blues Brothers shit."
Dealing with overzealous cops in the middle of nowhere isn't as comfortable as chilling at home and taking in domestic life, but audiences across the world have been thankful that Hansen and the rest of Tycho put up with the madness to bring their show on the road.
"I want people, when they listen to the music at home, to define it for themselves," Hansen says. "But when you go to the show, I want it to be this super immersive thing where everything is revealed."