Published Jul 10, 2019Weather is the album Scott Hansen, aka Tycho, has been waiting to make his whole career.
In stark contrast to Tycho's first five LPs, Hansen's new album finds him departing from his usual instrumental soundscapes in favour of a bold, new direction. Known for his unique take on ambient music that explores the ongoing relationship between nature and the human experience, his latest venture is a journey inwards marked by the introduction of a choice new instrument: namely, the human voice.
"It's honestly something I've always wanted to do," Hansen says in an Exclaim! phone interview, noting he had originally thought to include them on 2006's Past Is Prologue. Since the early 2000s, the San Francisco-based musician has dreamt of producing an album that included vocals, "but it was just something that I didn't feel like I really had the skills or the access to resources to do." Although he remained heavily inspired by the use of vocals on Zero 7's seminal album Simple Things, Hansen's gravitational pull was delayed, in part, in order to find the right vocalist for the job.
Fast-forward nearly two decades — past the critically acclaimed trilogy of Dive, Awake and Epoch (the latter of which topped Billboard charts and was nominated for a Grammy in 2016) — to the present day. Hansen's initial doubts about finding a vocalist appear to have been answered in the form of 22-year-old Hannah Cottrell, aka Saint Sinner. Cottrell lends her voice to multiple tracks on Weather, including singles "Pink & Blue" and "Japan," and remains an integral part of Hansen's vision for the album.
"This whole record is about inviting people into a personal space — like inviting someone into your home," he says about his desire to make the album feel more intimate. "I wanted this to be a human record very much about personal, internal spaces; domestic scenes; and the emotions and the spaces that we deal with on a daily basis."
Given the thousands of hours Hansen spends alone in-studio, these are telling words that clearly reflect his desire to pull back the curtain on Tycho and build connections through his work. Aside from the music itself, Hansen is equally known for his design work, and talks evenly about his proclivity to hide behind graphics and abstract imagery. So in anticipation of Weather, Hansen encouraged fans and designers alike to upload photos using the hashtag #TychoEasyDIY as a way to establish a deeper, more intimate connection with listeners, and to see how people were interpreting and interacting with the new material.
"To evolve, I had to get back to square one," he says of the two-year creative process that allowed him to revisit the centre of what made him want to make music in the first place. "I went back to where I was 15 years ago in a room just playing around with guitars and keyboards to see what came out of it, with no expectations and no timelines." What resulted, in concert with Cottrell's vibrant vocals and thoughtful lyrics, is a much more organic record that tells a distinct story through the addition of the human voice.
Literally and figuratively, Weather delves into the very nature of transformational change. In writing many of the songs, Hansen made a conscious effort to work through his feelings of pessimism and ennui. Indeed, it required a leap of faith to stay true to his artistic vision, aided by the presence of Cottrell's youthful exuberance and artistry.
"It's easy to become jaded in the time that we're in," he says. "Seeing the world through her eyes has been so refreshing and reinvigorating. I wanted to create something beautiful that makes me feel good and inspired by music again; and everything Hannah was saying with her lyrics fit in perfectly with that."
Paramount to all of this was Hansen's ability to keep himself interested and passionate about the music he creates, regardless of how the outside world perceives it. He continues to innovate and challenge himself creatively in ways that do not overtly look to alienate or polarize, but rather enrich and engage. And though Hansen expects some fans to have strong reactions to Tycho's new direction, he goes on to explain that he spent a whole other part of the production process rethinking those songs as instrumentals to include upon Weather's release.
As Tycho readies to embark on a world tour with long-time collaborators Zac Brown and Rory O'Connor in tow — as well as Billy Kim and the addition of Cottrell — Hansen reflects on the growth of what was once a part-time solo project to a world touring live band.
"This is more than I could have imagined," he says earnestly. "To me, it's perfect."