Tycho – Forbidden Fruit headliners on music, art and why they’re not playing the publicity game
In these troubled times, the weird, woozy music of Tycho is the perfect balm. The San Fransisco quartet specialise in blissed-out beats and evocative melodies. Ahead of their appearance at this weekend’s Forbidden Fruit festival in Dublin, frontman Scott Hansen talks about the influence of nostalgia on his writing and the surreal thrill of attending this year’s Grammys.
1: ‘Nostalgia' is a word often used to describe your music – do you regard yourself as an especially nostalgic person. Can you understand where this idea comes from?
I think everyone from my generation has a complex relationship with the past. The microcomputer revolution in the late '70s and then the dawn of the civilian internet resulted in massive shifts in the way the world works and how we experience our daily lives. Having lived on both sides of this fence compels you to memorialise the past I think and for me personally, I like to remember those times as perhaps a bit more human.
2: Tycho started as a solo project – why did you decide to upgrade it to a full-fledged band?
I've always wanted the show to be something more than the records, I want a more energetic, visceral live experience. Back around 2006 I started having Zac out to some shows to play guitar and then when I was wrapping up making Dive in 2010 he played on a few tracks and it just clicked. We soon added Rory on drums and started touring seriously to support Dive and we never looked back.
3: Epoch received a Grammy nomination – did you attend and if so, was it surreal, exciting etc? Does a Grammy carry weight in the alternative - electronica community?
I did attend and it was an incredible experience. Surreal is the right word, it just felt weird that we were even there. As someone who has worked on the fringes of the music industry for the better part of the past two decades, there's certainly a level of validation attached to it that I appreciate. I'm not sure it means a lot to people but I do think it maybe places an artist in a different space in people's minds that they may or may not be conscious of.
4: You also work in photography and design – to what extent does this influence your music? Are there shared aesthetics?
I don't think the music is influenced by the visual work or vice versa, they are just coming from the same place. I'm getting at the same ideas with both and so there is a lot of overlap there.
5: Is San Fransisco an inspiring place artistically? Or has it become a Silicon Valley playground?
San Francisco and the surrounding rural areas have always been very inspiring to me. I grew up in Sacramento and so I spent a lot of time coming out here when I was young and always dreamed of living here and In 1995 I finally had the opportunity to live in the city. Since that time it has changed quite a bit for sure. It felt like there was a good recovery after the dot com boom at the turn of the century and artists were still able to live and work here.
But the current situation somehow seems more final and all-encompassing. I really don't know any artists living and working here, I'm sure there must be some but I just don't see it like I used to. That could be a function of my lifestyle changing but somehow I don't think that's the case. So to answer the question, I don't really see it as a culturally inspiring place anymore, or at least not to the extent that it once was for me. But you can't help but be inspired by the aesthetics of this area.
6: Were you amused/appalled when people labelled your music “chillwave”
It seems like all popular or era-defining musical subgenres inevitably become dirty words. I remember when all of the music I was into was called "IDM" (intelligent dance music) and I was honoured if someone referred to my own music that way. Then it wasn't cool anymore and people started calling my music ambient.
Then around 2009 they started calling it chillwave. Meanwhile the music was exactly the same, literally, I only made on album and an EP during those years (2001-2009). But no, labels have never bothered me, they're just a shortcut for people so they can describe music that doesn't fit into typical genres. To have any of my work labelled as such is a positive thing.
7: You put out Epoch without any publicity etc – what was the motivation for that approach?
I had grown very tired of the traditional album release schedule and strategy. I wanted to share the music with people as soon as it was finished instead of waiting the 4-6 months that typically separated an album being finished and public release. It felt good and I think sharing something truly new with people improves the experience as the music is more closely connected to the time in which they first heard it.
8: You recorded the LP in Berkeley - did the location influence the process?
Yeah I rented a house up in the woods above town and set up a studio there, a process I had always dreamed of. I made Awake and Dive in my house here in San Francisco and while I find this place inspiring in a lot of ways, it was beginning to feel a bit cramped and stale, I really wanted to try something new.
Berkeley was a really inspiring place for a number of reasons and that particular house was something really special. It was a large house built in the 1930s with a converted attic upstairs that had a deck and a view of the entire San Francisco Bay. I built my studio up there and dug in for 14 months. I could walk 15 minutes down the hill into the village in North Berkeley or walk over the hill into Tilden Regional Park. It was absolutely idyllic in every way and I will always remember that time as one of the most enjoyable and productive years of my live.
9: The record went to number one in the electronica/dance charts… was it weird to be up there amongst EDM artists, ravers etc?
It's always weird to think that this type of music has found such a wide audience. I feel so fortunate to be able to make the kind of music that inspires me and have enough people interested in it to support what I do.
10: It has been reported that the 2010 Burning Man festival was a big moment for you artistically. Can you explain in what way it changed your perspectives on life and art.
Rock is what I had always listened to but what got me into making music was electronic music, going to raves and Drum n Bass shows in the '90s. But around 2003 I started drifting back to listening to rock and kind of lost track of electronic music, during these years I wasn't very productive on the music front.
But my first year at Burning Man I experienced electronic music in the way that I originally had and fell in love with it again. That week was when I had the realisation that I should quit my job and focus solely on music and I went home and spent the next year making Dive and have been recording and touring non-stop since then.
Tycho play the first day of Forbidden Fruit, this Saturday. forbiddenfruit.ie