Sacramento post-rocker Scott Hansen, who records under the name Tycho, doesn’t consider himself an ambient musician—at least not anymore. Sure, his just-released fourth album, Awake, shares qualities with music that could be deemed ambient—for instance, stretches of introspective, synth-driven textures that evoke lonely desert highways.
But Hansen isn’t deliberately aiming to become the 21st-century Tangerine Dream. Instead, he strives to create engaging music for the listener, channeling guitar and keyboard riffs until a song develops, as he did with standout track “Montana,” an anthemic, drum kit-bashing pop tune that serves as the album’s centerpiece.
“For me, the songwriting process is organic, the way the end result emerges,” says Hansen, who will perform on the second day of Life Is Beautiful, joined by Zac Brown on bass and guitar, and Rory O’Conner on drums. “For a song like ‘Montana,’ the initial guitar melody was at a pretty fast tempo—for Tycho, at least—and then the rest of the song followed suit in terms of energy.”
Hansen’s background—and full-time job until recently—was in graphic design. He certainly brings an artist’s palette and sense of design to song construction, and says there are unique aspects to keyboards and guitars that shape the process. He also employs a vintage 1970s-era analog synthesizer, which he uses to striking motifs. “I used the Minimoog [a “classic-rock” keyboard a la Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”] a lot on Awake,” he says. “That synth has a lot of guitar-like qualities in its tonal attack, so it becomes indistinguishable from a guitar in a lot of instances.”
Hansen has been a classic-rock fan since he was a kid, and his two biggest contemporary influences are Scottish IDM duo Boards of Canada and German indietronica artist Ulrich Schnauss. But the ambient tag sticks to Tycho mainly because, well, at one point Hansen often used the term to describe his own music. He doesn’t see it as living in that space, however. He spends time on the textures, no doubt a big part of what makes it all work. “At the end of the day, what I find fulfillment in is the melody and structure. The texture is a jumping-off point, an inspirational color with which to paint pictures.”
He also admits to frequently driving across the desert, to Las Vegas and back, for inspiration. “My experiences out there were the basis for a lot of what you hear on Awake.”
Tycho performs at 5:45 p.m. Saturday on the Ambassador Stage.