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Tycho’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Transformation

Learning guitar, trading graphic design for video, and cruising for coffee with Deadmau5.

Photograph courtesy of Reuben Wu

On Tycho's newest album Awake, Scott Hansen shifted his soft-focus ambient electronic sound further towards a post-rock shoegazer feel. Layers of processed guitar, electric bass and acoustic drums have taken the place of the synths and drum machines that once dominated his tracks. He's also turned his live show into something much closer to a conventional band with three other live musicians backing him up on stage.

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We met up with Scott for coffee the morning after his Toronto gig at The Hoxton to talk about learning guitar, trading graphic design for life on a tour bus, and why Deadmau5 is posting video of them going out for coffee in the much-publicized Purrari.

THUMP: Now that Tycho is touring as a live band and guitars are so much more in the foreground, does it still make sense to call this electronic music?
Scott: I listen to a lot of indie rock, and I don't really see a big difference between that and what we're doing, other than the lack of vocals. We do lean heavily into the world of synths, but if you listen to the songs, the backbone of a lot of them is electric bass, guitar and acoustic drums.

But on the other hand, Deadmau5 showed up at your gig last night.
Yeah, we've been talking for a while. I think I'm heading over to his place after this actually.

Do you see yourself making music with him at some point?
We've talked about it before. I'm always up for collaboration and it's always fun to find new perspectives. We've actually already worked together in a limited capacity on some stuff that isn't really out. I worked on a remix for him a while ago, but it never saw the light of day.

What led you to push your sound into a less electronic direction?
I came to music late in life through electronics, synths and computers, and only later learned guitar. I've always been pushing toward this direction, though. For me the technology side was just my gateway into it. I always wanted to bring all this stuff together, but it just took meeting the right people and getting the right team together to make the record that I envisioned.

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Was there a reason you didn't start with guitar when you began making music?
Music used to be a very foreign and inaccessible thing to me. I knew some people that played guitar, but it seemed like this thing that you'd need to buy all this equipment for and I didn't think I'd be able to pick it up. I studied computer science in college though, so technology has always come pretty easy for me. That was a more natural doorway into making music for me. Hearing drum and bass in the '90s was actually what first made me interested in drum machines and synthesizers.

Now that you've had a taste of playing in a band, could you see yourself ever being able to go back to being a solo electronic act?
I definitely prefer this mode of operation; it's a lot better. I'm still working on my solo electronic side though, and I might do an EP of that sometime between the next few albums.

Is there much room for improv in the live show, or are you trying to duplicate the album as closely as you can?
The older the song, the more we go off the grid and do more improvising. I tend to like to reproduce the newer songs as faithfully as possible for the first few tours. The visuals are also a pretty big part of the show, so there is a certain amount of structure that we have to loosely follow. But there are points where we can take it further.

Are you responsible for those visuals?
I worked with a cinematographer who shot a lot of the base footage for the live action stuff, which I've then taken and effected and mixed it with graphic design elements.

How different is it working with moving images compared to your former career in graphic design?
Video has become my favourite medium on the visual side now. I did graphic design for so long and I feel like I learned a lot, but when I started working with video, something about it felt so much more native to me. It just felt like that's what I was supposed to be doing. It's a nice balance between music and design, where you have this movement and you have these arcs that you can tell a story with. For me it's a more expressive medium, at least at the moment.

Follow Benjamin Boles on Twitter: @benjaminboles