INTERVIEW: How To Dress Well: ‘There’s Beauty In Flaws’

How To Dress Well

Written for DIY

Making his presence known slowly and enigmatically – in much the same way as his music works – through songs released as free downloads through his blog, Tom Krell bided his time before making a splash with debut album ‘Love Remains’: fourteen tracks of fragile, gorgeous ethereal R&B, the equal-parts spooky-and-sexy production matched only by Krell’s staggering falsetto. With a (fantastic) new album, ‘Total Loss’, on the horizon, as well as a UK tour, Tom Baker spoke to How To Dress Well’s renaissance man – when he’s not making music, Krell’s putting in the hours as a graduate student of philosophy – about globe-trotting, playing live, the divide between “pop” and “alternative”, and maintaining mystique in the internet age.

Are you based in Berlin for the time being then? You seem to move around a lot.
I am living in Berlin for the summer, as it’s a beautiful place for many reasons, but I am based in Chicago. But ya, I’m pretty all over the place ha.

‘Total Loss’ was recorded in a few different places. Do you think this constant movement has an effect on your music?
Every city has a unique vibe – experiencing these places and people have allowed me to experience human interaction, perception, language, and emotion, all of which are fascinating, in different ways. All the places I’ve lived have provided more insight into the never-ending stream of diversity in this world. But I don’t think there’s any, like, geographical specificity in my songs.

Is your singing style just how you naturally sing, or was it a conscious decision to go for the higher register? And have you got more confident in your singing?
It’s really just what’s stuck with me – I’ve always been able to sing in a higher register. I gain more confidence in my voice every time I sing on stage. I recognize that my voice isn’t perfect, but I really like the imperfections. There’s beauty in flaws, you know? It’s humanizing.

Was there any difference in the technical side of recording ‘Total Loss’ compared to your other releases?
It was recorded in a proper studio. ‘Total Loss’ marks a different chapter of my life. The first album was noisy and suffocating – an attempt to express melancholy, sonically. The new album is about mourning so it’s the juxtaposition of blinding devastation and moments of clarity. It’s about developing a non-melancholic relationship with loss: facing total loss as an unassailable feature of human life, and finding hopefulness on the other side of loss, through loss, not denying loss.

How do you think ‘Total Loss’ fits in with the other records?
There’s definitely a theme that threads all of the records. ‘Love Remains’ was a plea for love while suffocating under weight of sadness. [Orchestral EP] ‘Just Once’ is about memorialization – transforming the darkness of loss into the light of the future. And ‘Total Loss’ is about finding the strength to swim up to the surface for a breath and plunge oneself back in with one’s eyes open, looking for a secret door to the future on the ocean floor.

Did the recording of the Just Once EP affect the way you write/arrange songs at all? The way you’ve incorporated the strings on ‘Total Loss’ works really well, especially on ‘World I Need You, Won’t Be Without You (Proem)’.
The goal is to sketch with some clarity certain affects in which we all take part: melancholy, wistfulness, hopefulness, mourning. I just try to find the most appropriate instrumentation to express those affects. So, the way I write doesn’t change – only the arrangements change.

Songs like ‘Running Back’ sound almost like hip-hop or R&B instrumentals. Is producing for other artists something you’d be interested in?
Absolutely! I would love to help other artists write music. That would be a dream.

What musical (or other) influences do you think are on show on ‘Total Loss’? The R&B seems more upfront than on ‘Love Remains’, but there are also elements reminiscent of eighties acts like Kate Bush or Talk Talk.
Kate Bush is definitely an influence. Massive influence. Embarrassingly, I’ve just received ‘Spirits of Eden’ from a friend who was like, “Dude, this is what ‘Total Loss’ sounds like to me” – first I’ve ever heard Talk Talk. Such an amazing record!

You’ve spoken elsewhere as to the reasons you listen to different kinds of music, using the example of Xiu Xiu vs Drake: on a Xiu Xiu record you’re looking for whatever new thing [Xiu Xiu band leader] Jamie Stewart’s doing, while as when you listen to Drake it’s for the hooks and choruses. Which do you think is the more “important” side of your music – or at least, what you look for in your music – since it straddles this pop/alternative “divide”?
I’m always honored, humbled, when a listener can use my voice, which I use as an affective conduit, to find there own relationship with a certain affect, to be emotionally open and honest with themselves. So, if that is a result of uniqueness, hooks, choruses or whatever, that’s all fine with me.

What bands are you currently excited about?
Always looking forward to new material from the-Dream. Loving Estasy, Team Rockit, oFF Love. New Arca is dope as hell.

Do you still consider your music as being very separate from your academic life?
Every body’s lives are an amalgam of their relationships, work, education, past, etc. So, they do inform each other. These things come from a common spiritual wellspring, though I do feel that they manifest quite differently.

What’s the live set-up going to be like?
The live set up is me singing and visuals projected upon me. I’ve added Cam on synths and drum machine then Aaron on guitar sampling, violin, and synths. It’s a very intense show – super plaintive and beautiful in one moment, super intense and heavy in another. I really love it.

Are you looking forward to touring? Are you going anywhere new?
I’m always looking forward to going new places. With the new live show, having Aaron and Cam with me on stage, there’s been a very good response. Very excited to tour more. So moved, personally, by shows and by the sweet, focused attention people pay. It means everything to me.

A lot of the identity of How To Dress Well is tied into online interaction. How have things changed for you as you’ve gained more exposure, through interviews and concerts and the like?
I really wanted people to develop their own relationships to and interpretations of my music early on so I stayed in the shadows. But, it’s tough to stay mysterious. I hope listeners can find their own connection to the music though. The online thing is all about spreading collective vibes, emotional honesty and spiritual openness, you know.

How To Dress Well’s new album ‘Total Loss’ will be released on 17th September via Weird World.

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