Musician/designer Scott Hansen has been a familiar name here at OneSmallWindow for many years now. Elvis was a fan of his graphic design work as ISO50 and I’ve really enjoyed listening to his music project Tycho.
Hansen is in Mumbai to perform at the music and arts festival Johnnie Walker – The Journey. We interviewed him the day before to talk about his audio-visual live set, moving from design to music, inspiration and the outdoors.
What can we expect at the show tomorrow night?
For the shows I’m always trying to create an immersive experience so I want it to be cinematic. We have the visuals as the backdrop and we have the band, the full band, there’s only four people playing live so it’ll be the Awake production from the Awake tour cycle.
How do you translate what’s on the record to how it works live?
I always try to be really faithful to the record with the live show. Basically I just strip the whole thing down and build it back up and try to make it work in the live context. Luckily a lot of the processes that I use in the studio translate pretty well to live so it’s not that difficult to make it sound pretty much like the record. I used to just play [live] alone and play off a laptop and mostly I was controlling the visuals before and now it’s definitely turned around. Even just bringing the band together to create the live show was what inspired me to start making music as a band on the albums and now I think definitely the way people react to the music in the live context and the way it feels to play the songs is informing the kind of music we write in the studio.
Your music is very nuanced and headphones really do it justice – how do you make sure it sounds great even off crappy laptop speakers?
[Laughs] Yeah that’s the challenge of any engineer is how to make music translate through all sound systems which is really difficult. I think the headphone thing makes sense because I write and do most of my work on headphones… I’m in a basement in San Francisco and you know, people are sleeping a wall away and all that kind of stuff [laughs] but trying to make it translate to car stereos and laptop speakers… that’s kind of the hardest part. That’s what makes it the most stressful at the end. You get it sounding really good in your studio, then you go to the place where you mix it and it sounds different, you go to the place where you master it and it sounds different, then you put it in your car and… finding that balance is a really subtle, nuanced art form and I work with a couple of engineers who help me with that process. It takes huge amounts of time, sometimes more time than even making the songs [laughs].
Coming from the design world into music – what has the experience of music as a career been like?
It’s been a good transition. I think it was always…it’s not something I expected but it was something that I hoped for maybe at the back of my head [smiles], so to see it come true has been incredible, it’s been kind of surreal really. The only downside is that I really did enjoy working as a designer in a lot of respects but now I basically am the designer for this project so there’s plenty of design work to be done. But you know, at times, especially when we’re on the road or when we’re working on an album, there’s just not enough time in the day to work on visual stuff so it’s nice. But it’s a good balance, so when I get tired of music I just jump over to visual stuff. I really see the whole thing as one piece. I do still kind of consider myself a professional designer I guess.
When did you go from making music to deciding to make it a career?
It was 2011 with Dive–or 2010 when I began the process of finishing it–because I had been working on it for five years just messing around with ideas, ever since Past Is Prologue came out actually so in 2010 was when I was like “I should just give it a shot and see if I can do this as a living”. I spent about a year finishing that album and then we started touring.
I read a great quote that described the creative process as being about bridging the gap between your ability and your ambition. How is that going for you?
That’s the beauty of it, it’s all about getting there and I think for me, I’m still in a very nascent phase of my ability as an engineer. As a musician, who knows…maybe I’ve made my best work as a musician [laughs], you can never say that for sure, but as an engineer the beauty of that is that there’s always something to learn and there’s always room to improve. It’s a very quantifiable process and you can always keep incrementally getting better at it whereas I always feel like the musical parts of it are what you can’t quite nail down. It’s like ‘Well maybe I just won’t be good at it next year’. Who knows? [Laughs] For me that’s the cool thing is my ambition is always just to keep getting better. Your ambition is always one step ahead of where you get to, you get to the thing that was your ambition last year and then you have a new goal. So I’m always working towards that.
What would you consider the highlight of your career so far?
I think finishing Awake. Just because I feel Awake was the first time I proved to myself that I could sit down, set out to create this work of art and do it, at least in the music space. In design, I’d learned to do that for years. That was one of the most difficult things in my life, you know… I [used to draw] and I really enjoyed that and turning that into [something where] someone’s like ‘Here’s money, here’s an amount of time, here’s the spec, do it’. It was really difficult to get to the point where you can do that comfortably and it wasn’t this really stressful thing. So with music it was exactly the same. I’d just been doing it for fun for so long that with Awake it was like ‘You have this much time to do it and then you have to go back on the road and…’ that whole process, getting out on to the road and getting happy with the end product was a very freeing and kind of liberating process for me I guess.
We’re out of time so last question – you’re very outdoorsy. How does that impact the music?
I wouldn’t say that I’m sitting there trying to be like ‘This is the song about the ocean’ or whatever [laughs] but I live in Northern California and I grew up there, and there’s a lot of natural beauty around there so that kind of stuff has always inspired me. There’s no separating that from the work because that’s what I come from and the environment is always going to find its way into the work you know.
BONUS VIDEO: What is your position on the current need for visual elements with all music?
Tycho performs at Johnnie Walker – The Journey in Mumbai on December 12, 2015. Find out more and buy tickets here.
Photo: Elvis D’Silva