Published Nov 16, 2011Scott Hansen divides his time between graphic design (under the moniker ISO50) and making electronic music as Tycho, which is maybe why Dive, his second album, arrives seven years after his debut, Sunrise Projector. Heavily influenced by Boards of Canada and the ambient shoegaze of Ulrich Schnauss, Hansen shares the hazy sense of nostalgia and sun-drenched melancholy of the aforementioned artists, but he uses a brighter palette and more forward motion, especially on tracks such as "Hours." Tycho's sophomore album features mostly new material, but contains some previously released tracks, such as "Costal Brake," which will be familiar to followers of Tycho or Ghostly. Despite this, Dive hangs together very nicely as an album, creating fluid, cinematic retro-futurism that wouldn't have been out of place on Cliff Martinez's Drive soundtrack. There's a welcome post-punk influence to the guitar work, most notably on the title track, which is also one of a few tracks to include subtle female vocals, in a hazy, Liz Fraser-esque style. While his design work is crisply minimal, Hansen's music is about layers of warmth and washes of sound that strongly evoke the sun and surf in a way that only the music of a Californian could.
Your music has a strong influence of Boards of Canada and Ulrich Schnauss, but you first got into electronic music listening to drum & bass, correct?
Yeah, they were huge influences, Boards of Canada primarily. I think it showed me there was another way of looking at electronic music. Up until then I'd been listening to Photek, LTJ Bukem, Roni Size and DJ Shadow, like breaks- and samplist-type stuff, so it took me in a different direction and I made an album before this that was really influenced by them and now I think I took that and pushed it in a new direction. I'd heard rock music my whole life and I didn't think about how it was made, but when I heard drum & bass, I was like, "how does this thing even come into existence?" It was the impetus for me to go and learn production, although I don't think it necessarily informs my style, at this point, although the logical progression stuff showed me that there could be an organic side to electronic music.
Your music does have an organic side ― with the guitars, bass and live show you are a lot closer to a rock band format with live instruments. Is that an easy transition to make from a mostly solo studio project to a three-piece band?
I learned guitar about six years ago and have just been getting it to the point where I'm comfortable using it as my primary writing tool. I've always pretty much listened to folk and rock, and still that's all I listen to, but I had a period where I really got into electronic, as I wanted to study it, but now if I look at my process, it's pretty similar to a normal band. On this new album, there are a few songs that are pretty much electronic-based, especially some of the older ones that I created earlier on in the process, but by-and-large, it's mostly electric bass, acoustic and electric guitars, and a bunch of synthesizers, and I record some live drum stuff. That's interspersed in there with some drum machine, so it's a nice kind of hybrid; it's a good mix, I think.
You also are known for your professional graphic design work as ISO50, with some notable clients and a well-respected blog. How do you split your time between design and music?
Lately it hasn't been working too good [laughs]. I spent so long on design and that's kind of why I'm really late to the game of music. I never touched a musical instrument until, like, 21 or something. I always felt like I was behind the curve on that, but I was also so focused on design for all those years that I was doing music in the background as a hobby. I always let it be on the back burner and never the focus, but then about a year ago, I just decided that this is the time. I might never get the chance again to really focus on music where that is all I do. I pretty much dropped everything on the design side for that year to finish the album. I like the idea of "here are three months on this and here are two months on that," instead of, "today I'm going to work half the day on design and half the day on music." But at the end of the day, necessity dictates. In a perfect world, I'd like to spend more time on each.
It seems like designing your album covers, posters and all the visual aspects of Tycho is a good opportunity to bring the two disciplines together.
That's the thing about the design and the music: they couldn't exist without each other, for me. They both sprang out of each other. The next thing is going to be motion graphics; we're working on a whole new visual set that we do during the live show. We've got a big screen and all these choreographed visuals incorporating my design work, motion footage and stuff, and the bigger picture I'm currently working on is this kind of confluence, or unification, of those two things into this single idea to be, like, this cinematic thing. I've always felt like my music is this backdrop to a film that doesn't exist or something.
Your work does have a cinematic quality, with some very '70s motifs and warmth that lend it elements of retro-futurism. Is that what you're aiming for?
When you create things with computers you have the ability to basically have perfection and I'm not chasing down perfection. I want it to feel tangible. The methods I use to create music and design, the kind of techniques I employ to get those effects and to make things feel like they've come out of the digital domain, have something real about them. I'm not implying that digital things aren't real, but, you know, like it came from something organic. The process of creating design and music is so similar now in a lot of ways that it kind of blurs the lines between them and in my music that's exactly what I'm trying to do to. I love synthesizers, I love being able to make these otherworldly sounds, but at the same time, I'm aware of the danger of it drifting too far into this really cold digital domain. There's nothing wrong with that ― to some people, that's their thing ― but, for me, I want to hear this kind of organic element to ground it. That's why I use analogue synthesizers, like old '70s synths, and I use all outboard stuff like pre-amps and compressors to colour the sound and give it that warmth. (Ghostly International)