Ambience, Vocalized: Instrumentalist Tycho Adds Saint Sinner's Vocals To 'Weather'

Jul 21, 2019
Originally published on August 1, 2019 4:56 pm

Over the past 16 years, the musician Tycho has emerged as a titan in the ambient electronic scene. Tycho, whose real name is Scott Hansen, is known for crafting dreamy, atmospheric instrumentals that are often described as "chill," "expansive" and even "transcendent."

But for his fifth full-length album, Weather, out now, Hansen did something no one ever thought he'd do — he added vocals. To be specific, he added the vocals of Hannah Cottrell, also known as Saint Sinner.

Cottrell contributes a perspective to Weather that is quite distinct from Hansen's. Whereas Hansen is well into his career, Cottrell is just getting started. There's also a 20-year age gap between the collaborators, who were introduced to each other by a mutual friend.

According to Hansen, the partnership has turned out better than he could have imagined. He describes Cottrell as "fresh" and "energetic," and says he was inspired by how new everything seemed to her.

"For me, this record in particular was all about reconnecting with the things that inspired me really early in my career," Hansen explains. "So, to see someone in that moment, I think, helped me kind of channel that version of myself in a lot of ways. And it just ended up being, I think, one of the most inspiring years of my life, just working on this record."

The artistic relationship was symbiotic — Cottrell felt the instant inspiration, too. She describes the synergy of their first session together, before which Hansen had sent her at least a dozen instrumentals and asked her to write tracks to some of them. Cottrell happened to pick two that were also Hansen's favorites. She says that they clicked right away: "It was, like, probably a four-hour session, and we finished two songs."

Hansen has received mixed responses to the addition of vocals to Tycho's music. But after 16 years of making purely instrumental music, he says, he expected those polarized reactions. But he's also confident that listeners will come to respect the choice and understand that it's not so far from what he's been doing all along. "I think you know there's still that DNA intact within these compositions," he says.

At this point in his life and his career, Hansen explains, the vocals in Weather felt like a necessary musical development for Tycho. "There needed to be a voice and there needed to be some literal human kind of emotion put into the music that wasn't up for interpretation as much as just these soundscapes," he says. "It was something that kind of grounded it more in reality and more into a personal space than before."

Web intern Rosalind Faulkner contributed to the digital version of this story. Listen to the full aired story at the audio link.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

If you've been listening to NPR for some time, then you most probably have heard Tycho's music.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "AWAKE")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've been playing Tycho's songs for years after our news stories. For the past 16 years, Tycho has been crafting dreamy, atmospheric instrumentals. His music is often described as expansive, even transcendent. And he's become one of the leading musicians in the ambient electronic scene. Tycho's real name is Scott Hansen. Earlier this month, he released his fifth full-length album called "Weather." And "Weather" surprised everyone.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO SONG, "SKATE")

SCOTT HANSEN: I felt like now is the perfect opportunity to do something just completely different.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tycho did something no one thought he'd ever do. He added vocals.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SKATE")

SAINT SINNER: (Singing) Dangerous - I like to keep it a little bit dangerous. Won't be too good...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's the voice of Hannah Cottrell, better known as Saint Sinner. She's a young vocalist, 20 years Tycho's junior.

(LAUGHTER)

HANSEN: Yeah. Yeah.

HANNAH COTTRELL: Yeah, like two decades. Sorry, Scott (laughter).

HANSEN: Yeah, 20 years, which is crazy because I was just like, OK. How's this going to work? Like, I'm not used to working with people that much to begin with but also people who are 20 years younger than me (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOR HOW LONG")

SAINT SINNER: (Singing) You don't like to share. I do. Oh, I love and care for a lot of you. Can't you see the way...

COTTRELL: The first session we had actually - it was really funny because we had a miscommunication on time. So I showed up like an hour early. And I was like, hello. He's like, hi. I'm having lunch. Can I come back?

HANSEN: Breakfast - I was cooking...

COTTRELL: Yeah.

HANSEN: I was cooking breakfast...

COTTRELL: Amazing (laughter).

HANSEN: ...In my pajamas. And I just, like - my wife answered the door. And I, like, looked out of the kitchen. And (laughter)...

COTTRELL: I was like, I'm here for Tycho (laughter). It's, like, someone's house. It was so funny.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOR HOW LONG")

SAINT SINNER: (Singing) That's cool - so long. Yeah. I been waiting for it so long, so long.

HANSEN: For me, this record, in particular, was all about reconnecting with the things that inspired me really early in my career. So to see someone in that moment, I think, helped me kind of channel that (laughter), that version of myself in a lot of ways. And it just ended up being, I think, one of the most inspiring years of my life, just, you know, working on this record.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO SONG, "JAPAN")

COTTRELL: So one of the first songs we worked on together was called "Japan."

HANSEN: That was one of the first instrumentals, I think, I made for this record. And I was kind of, like, going back to, like, the tempos and textures of the awake era, just trying to find like kind of that slow, disco vibe of the drumbeat.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO SONG, "JAPAN")

HANSEN: I had just come back from Japan literally (laughter). I had taken a trip to Hakone. And yeah. I was kind of trying to, like, channel the colors and the green forest there. And so, for me, that song is all about, like, greens and yellows.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JAPAN")

SAINT SINNER: (Singing) Came home from Japan - on your own when you landed - I don't know how it happened. You got me spinning 'round for you.

COTTRELL: Yeah. That was cool. I actually didn't know that you - I mean, I found out later. But when I was writing the lyrics, I didn't know that you'd come home from Japan at that point. I was writing about a muse of mine who had recently come home from Japan. And the lyrics are kind of just like...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JAPAN")

SAINT SINNER: (Singing) ...To tell you the truth, so you can say I didn't warn you. I'm bad, but I'm good. I'll be so good to you.

COTTRELL: And it's almost just like, when we're together, you know that I'm going to be so good to you, of course, because I don't want to be anything else to anybody. But I still am living my life. And I'm going to go do my thing. And I hope you go do your thing so...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JAPAN")

SAINT SINNER: (Singing) Came home from Japan - she don't mind - came home from Japan.

HANSEN: On social media and just, in general, there's definitely been some kind of polarized reactions to the vocals being added.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "INTO THE WOODS")

HANSEN: But, you know, it's understandable. And it's something that I definitely expected. It had been 16 years of instrumental music up until that point. I think, you know, it's totally understandable for people to be kind of thrown off by any new element. But I'm really confident that, over time, people will understand that it fits more than they were hearing at the beginning. I think, you know, there's still that DNA intact within these compositions.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "INTO THE WOODS")

HANSEN: To have a divergence and to have an evolution is really important at this point, at least for me. I took a much larger break after "Epoch," after the touring than I ever have in my career. And I had basically a year to just kind of sit in my studio and marinate on all these ideas that I've been building up and just create new ideas and think about what I wanted the future to be like and what I wanted the next 10 years to look like. And I just came to a lot of realizations. And one of them was that something needed to change. And something fresh and new and interesting needed to come into the picture. And luckily, Hannah showed up at my front door.

COTTRELL: (Laughter) An hour early.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO STRESS")

SAINT SINNER: (Singing) If it doesn't work the first time, don't stress. Don't stress.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tycho and Saint Sinner's latest album is "Weather."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO STRESS")

SAINT SINNER: (Singing) If it doesn't make you feel right, don't guess. Don't... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.