Music News & Reviews

Grammy-nominated electronic music act Tycho returns home to play Golden 1 Center

Scott Hansen, professionally known as Tycho, is an ambient music artist and producer with ties to Sacramento.
Scott Hansen, professionally known as Tycho, is an ambient music artist and producer with ties to Sacramento. Courtesy of the artist

Scott Hansen doesn’t remember exactly when he adopted the name “Tycho” for his electronic music project. He was in his 20s at the time, living near Sacramento State in an apartment with a small studio setup, producing mini-discs for friends of what would later evolve into his Grammy-nominated atmospheric sound.

He was also reading a lot about astronomy, and said there was something about the name of Tycho Brahe, a 16th century Dutch observer of the heavens, that resonated with him.

“I just wanted some name that was like a blank canvas,” Hansen said. “There was no meaning assigned to (Tycho). And it was very simple, five characters. To me, it was a box I could fill with ideas, without anyone having any preconceived notions about what those ideas should be.”

In a way, that resembles how Hansen approaches music. Tycho’s songs incorporate layers of synthesizers and instruments, techno beats and ambient melodies, even clips of real-world noise, into wavy soundscapes that are often soothing and sometimes dance-upbeat.

Hansen’s vision for his music project has remained consistent since Tycho’s first album in the early 2000s. But his audience has grown. Tycho’s fifth studio album, “Epoch,” debuted last fall and reached the top of the Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums chart. It also earned Tycho its first Grammy nomination, for best dance/electronica album.

On Sept. 26, Tycho will perform at the Golden 1 Center as a special guest of the British indie trio The xx. For Hansen, who now lives in San Francisco but grew up in Rancho Cordova and Fair Oaks, playing Sacramento’s biggest venue is “going to be awesome.”

“It’s a huge honor to be able to have, like, a homecoming and play in a frickin’ arena,” Hansen said by phone recently. “We’ve never done that before. It’s going to be crazy.”

Though now a noted electronic musician, Hansen, 40, spent half his life knowing little about the genre. He was introduced to drum and bass dance music at college in San Francisco and got his first instrument, a drum machine, around age 19. He moved back to Sacramento after college, “took the things I’d heard and mixed them with the environment of that (Sacramento) area and the river” to create his own individual sound.

Hansen joined with a few other local electronic acts including Dusty Brown and Chachi Jones to form a group called “Command Collective,” which performed at small venues like Marilyn’s on K Street and Espresso Metro. But he said shows were hard to come by. “We were all kind of making weirder, eclectic styles,” Hansen said. “Nobody wanted to hear that kind of music, I guess.” It’s part of the reason he returned to the Bay Area 11 years ago.

Ask Hansen to describe his musical style and he says there are so many elements that even he isn’t sure. Some of the guitar and bass work wouldn’t sound out of place on a progressive or post-rock track. “But then you have those ambient, washing textures that cement it into the electronic world,” he says.

He balks at the term “chill-out.” Hansen says he listened to a lot of heavy metal and rock music growing up. Those influences can be heard on “Epoch,” which features “more angular sounds and higher-energy things, and maybe darker themes” than previous Tycho albums.

Within electronica, Hansen counts among his main influences acts like DJ Shadow, Boards of Canada and Ulrich Schnauss. He says that when he first started making music he was “emulating a lot more.” But on “Epoch,” and even its previous album “Awake,” Hansen said he felt Tycho “kind of arrived at a very unique space.”

The album’s reception and Grammy nomination “maybe opened another level of visibility for us with a lot of people who may not have heard of us otherwise,” Hansen said. “And maybe we are the entryway for them to find other music. So I think that’s kind of cool.”

“Epoch” also reflects how Tycho has evolved from Hansen’s personal project into more of a band. For live performances, Hansen, who plays guitar and keyboards, is joined by guitar/bassist Zac Brown, drummer Rory O’Connor and multi-instrumentalist Billy Kim. Hansen still produces all of Tycho’s songs and writes most of them, but said Brown and O’Connor have also become more involved in the songwriting.

Part of the organic feeling of many Tycho songs, though, is the fact that in creating them Hansen says even he is often “along for the ride.”

“I don’t go into songs like, ‘This is what I’m about, and this is what this song is about,’” he said. “I’ve always felt like you design a process (and) the process is going to design the final product.

“This thing has kind of taken on a life of its own. When you’re using all this technology and you’re weaving it all together, it’s like you don’t necessarily have 100 percent control over the final product. It’s just going to come out of it. So that’s what I think is beautiful about it. (The music) its own thing, and I can just look and appreciate it for what it is.”

Tycho (appearing with The xx)

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26

Where: Golden 1 Center (500 David J Stern Walk, Sacramento)

Cost: Starting at $39.50 (plus service fees)