For many, San Francisco-based electronic, post-rock outfit Tycho makes “spiritual” music. Not the kind of spirit you find in a church (or maybe exactly that kind), but the kind you find wandering through an open field at dawn as the sun’s light cresting over the horizon hits you in the face for the first time.
When the band’s chief architect, Scott Hansen, pays us a visit on Sunday, March 4, Houstonians will be in store for something a little different, as he will be bringing one of his much acclaimed DJ sets to town.
This past Valentine’s Day, FPH had the chance to speak with Hansen, founder of the project (typically a four-piece band when performing live) and sole envoy behind the tour of five exclusive DJ sets recently announced that will pass through Stereo Live as a feature of their Private Label DJ series.
While Tycho has visited Houston a handful times over the past several years, including last April’s stint at White Oak Music Hall and a set shortly after the release of their most recent record Epoch at Day for Night the year before that, this will be the first time he has ever brought one of these rare sets to the space city.
“I’m just playing the things that influence me and stuff that I think I’d like to hear on a loud sound system as opposed to the stuff I hear normally when I go to a club setting or something like that,” he remarks on what fans should expect the set to entail.
“For these, I wanted them to be a little more curated and produced. I’m working on more edits and unique stuff and beat stuff. People associate Tycho with chill-out, but I don’t know that a club with a bunch of people is the best place to listen to chill-out music,” he furthers. “So it’s just a tough balance. I think for this one it’s going to have a little more of a cinematic vibe but also have enough energy that if you want to dance, you could.”
This is not the first time Hansen has embarked on a tour like this: He did a 10-stop DJ tour in 2016 while on break from working on the band’s most recent record, Epoch. He’s also performed one-off versions of the set a handful of times, from EDC to Coachella’s famed Do-Lab to a New Year’s Eve set in his hometown of San Francisco.
The concept’s roots go even further than that, though, having began largely after his experiences performing sets at the legendary Burning Man festival that were coordinated to be temporally sequenced with the rising of the sun, or “Sunrise Sets.” It’s a tradition he still maintains.
“I started to realize that I see a lot of parallels between my own music and the stuff I want to hear in those spaces,” he says referring the origins of his DJ set philosophy in club-like environments, “but some people I don’t think are really catching those parallels. I think people tuned in and really started realizing that during things like the Burning Man sets.”
Highly regarded for his robust and cinematic visual accompaniments when performing traditional Tycho shows, of which he designs entirely himself in addition to most, if not all, album artwork, tour promo material, and merchandise, he had previously regarded his DJ sets as something less of a “production” and little more off the cuff.
“I actually typically don’t have visuals at all for the DJ sets because I want them to be a very stripped down thing,” he explains. “This time though I decided that I’m going to do visuals. I’m going to have some sort of visual element, but it’s definitely not gonna be like the Tycho ‘live shows’ where it’s literally like you’re watching a time-synced movie where all these things are hitting at all these points and there’s narrative development. It’s going to be more of a gauzy kind of atmosphere, disconnected things where it’s just setting a vibe or like a backdrop. It’s definitely going to be the inaugural run of the new form of the DJ set so I’m interested to see what people think.”
The re-tooled DJ set is not the only new Tycho project on the horizon. While Hansen “fully expects to have something of substance out this year, whether that’s an EP or something else,” he declares, at the very least “something would have to go very wrong for there not to be an album out by early 2019.”
“I think I was looking at the folder last night and its, like, 50 concept little demos,” he reveals to me, “and probably, I would say, 20 of those are really well defined to the point where I’d have a hard time deciding what to cut.”
“Are they a continuation on the stylistic evolution you experienced with Epoch?” I ask about the recent veer towards a sound reminiscent of something more progressive or experimental rock on that record when held aside his earlier chill-wave, downtempo electronica.
“You know, I was really focused for a while on like ‘Glider,‘” he says, referencing Epoch’s opening track. “The intro to ‘Glider’ was always an interesting kind of thing that never went. Glider’s, like, a 15-minute song, and I just never really finished it in the direction it could have gone. I love that stuff, but it comes from a time in my life when I think I almost got tired of my vision, like the thing that I used to really go to as the center, or the place where I’d go for inspiration. So I kept going on like really long, super atmospheric, kind of darker journeys like that. It’s not like this thesis statement, it’s more just like this weird outer space-landscape thing, which I think is cool, and that’s what Epoch was really about at the end of it.”
“But I really have gotten back in touch with that original voice, more like a Dive space, like this really melodic, pretty thing that I almost thought I had lost or had at least lost my love of it,” he says, discussing the influence of the sound honed on his major label debut. “The stuff that’s taking shape, I think it draws from a lot of the things that I learned during the process of Epoch and some of the elements from Awake (the groups third LP), but it really re-centers the thing back into that that really melodic, kind of nostalgic sound. I think I turned away from that stuff in one way just because I felt like I didn’t want to be one note, or I didn’t want to focus too much on this like ‘lo-fi/old school’ thing. I think it was kind of a throwing out the baby with the bathwater situation. It’s like, you can use those elements, you just have to re-contextualize them and reframe them in a new light. That’s what the new stuff does.”
In the meantime, there’s still plenty to satiate the eager Tycho fan looking to get their fix. Last Friday, Hansen released two remixes of Portugal, The Man’s single, “Live in the Moment,” a circumstance brought about somewhat by accident.
“So they came to me they asked me to do a remix,” he recalls. “I did two comps and I sent them one, and then I sent the other one to my manager and he ended up sending it to them [too]. That wasn’t really the plan, but they’re like ‘oh this is like two different songs, but we really like both of them’. So then they ended up saying ‘why don’t we just do two and make it into a single like a small release or whatever?’ It’s like two completely different remixes, in two completely different kinds of spaces. One is half time and one is full time so one is super chill and one’s pretty energetic.”
“I usually never send anybody things until it’s totally done but this time I sent them really early version because we had so little time,” he furthers on the experience working with the band. “I wanted to make sure that I was on the right track before we got too far, it ended up because of that initial moment when they heard the other version and they liked it, it kind of opened up the thing and I just realized ‘oh this is actually pretty cool like to be bouncing back and forth ideas.’ They’d be like ‘what if this happened,’ or ‘we like this part of this one but what if you combine it with this,’ so in that respect it was somewhat collaborative, but there was an existing song that existed before I came around, so it’s not like we worked on a song together or something.”
Another remix is on the way in the next few weeks, but given the uncertainty of its release date, FPH cannot reveal any specific information about the particular song.
“It’s a similar artist [to Portugal] but much larger I guess,” he slyly hints. “The music occupies kind of a similar space but they’re a big act. It’s more like, I wouldn’t call it EDM, but its like mega, you know like epic music [laughing].”
While usually I avoid leaning too far into my own personal tastes when it comes to the artists, events, and such that I write about, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the poetic sensibility of having interviewed Hansen on such a day. Having seen the band itself live a total of seven times, you might call me a “Tychonaut.” (Please don’t).
I felt behooved by that circumstance to ask Hansen a question I had myself long-wondered: Had Tycho ever written what he might consider a love song?
“Yeah I think so, it depends,” he laughs. “A lot of the music is so open-ended .I don’t really think of it as being in reference to any one thing.”
“I’ve been together with my wife for 10 years,” he ultimately reminisces to me, a surprise given his notorious reluctance to ground his music in anything tangible in his life. “When I finished Dive, it was such a stressful process and it was so long, and I was young and an idiot, and she left me. We weren’t married at the time, but she broke up with me and I was completely heartbroken.”
“At the same time that Little Dragon remix came in. I don’t know, something about the mood or the lyrics really resonated with me, so I’ve always just thought of that. I wrote that [remix] in literally, like, 2 hours just sitting there feeling sorry for myself,” he says. “Whenever I hear that, I can hear some pretty raw emotion. It feels like a really nice space for me.”
When our interview began, he was just on his way back from the florist, picking her up some flowers.
You don’t want to miss Tycho’s set when he touches down on the 1’s and 2’s on Sunday, March 4 at Stereo Live. Tickets are still on sale and start at $20. Doors are at 6pm.