The wait has finally come to an end: September 18th will see the release of How To Dress Well’s second album "Total Loss" – a fount of emotions shaped by strokes of fate and a brand new look at life. We meet singer Tom Krell on a mixed weather day in Berlin
How To Dress Well has been the pseudonym of Chicago-based singer, songwriter and producer Tom Krell since 2009. And when the wondrous sounds of Love Remains (2010) put him firmly on the map of all things pop, he silenced the last remaining references to sartorial guidelines triggered by his moniker. A great favourite among fellow musicians, Krell prefers a subtle and quiet touch, crafting gentle R&B with an experimental indie slant and a few generous slivers of pop. Just as diverse as Love Remains – and created between Brooklyn, Chicago, Nashville and London – the album’s current successor, Total Loss, continues this exciting emotional journey through the depth of musical history and the singer’s own heartfelt experiences. What began as a string of anonymous releases on a blog has now become something that turns heads and hearts around the globe, tweaked to fit the song format by this likeable singer-songwriter. Never scared to unveil his innermost feelings, How To Dress Well’s latest release takes us through Krell’s own, gradual learning process – and his grateful appreciation of all the things he has been through on the way.
Now splitting his time between his true love – music – and studies of philosophy, we catch Krell during a brief spell in Berlin where he takes time out from his dissertation to write new music, regroup a little and explore the city’s club scene.
How did you arrive at your name? Is there a particular story behind it?
Back then, I was living in Minneapolis and made some four track recordings. So, when I wanted to put them on my iTunes, I was looking at them and said to my friend Alex: What name should I put this under? Well, we had just gone to this used bookstore and bought these two coffee table books called How to photograph women beautifully and How to dress well. They had ridiculously stupid pictures in them. So, we decided on How to dress well because How to photograph women beautifully would make me seem like some sort of creepy weirdo.
Describe your sound in three words.
This is going to count as one word: super-emotional-pop-experimentation.
How do you write your songs?
I usually have some kind of intense emotional experience, e.g. triggered by an image or my own reflection or an experience or a film or another song – i.e. I feel some intense effect that I want to explore. I always start out by just singing some kind of melody and then, eventually, I start building things up. For example, I might add a beat or piano and then build it from there – it’s quite an act! I only make songs when I feel like there isn’t another song yet that does the same emotional work. I wouldn't make a song if another song could stand in its place just as easily.
If you had not become an artist, what would you be doing right now? You studied philosophy. Was that a career path you wanted to follow?
I still see myself becoming a teacher at some point in life. My uncle was a teacher, so that was a big motivation to study philosophy, I suppose. He passed away last year, and a big part of the album writing process was the way his death affected me and my family. I really like sharing ideas with people, sharing experiences. And that's basically what both music and teaching does.
You have been compared to The Weeknd and James Blake. Do such comparisons put you under pressure?
It is nice. I respect both of these guys, but I don’t actually do anything like either of them. The Weeknd is very much a straightforward R&B singer, pretty young and uncontroversial. He sings about stuff that I find a bit dubious, like sexual assault. … He is a beautiful singer, but he sings about living in a rich loft and I sing about the emotional complexity that comes with having disabled siblings and knowing that when your parents die you have to take care of them. And I just think that I deal with much more emotional complex stuff than he does. And sonically, we are just miles apart. That applies even more to James Blake. I think he is super talented, but it is just a totally different thing to what I do. I feel closer to the following: Fabulous Muscles, Choo Choo or Memoires of an Imperfect Angel, Mariah Carey or Perfume Genius or Lazarous.
So is that what you are listening to and where you get your inspiration from?
Definitely. And lately, also a lot of paintings. I am really moved by paintings. Actually, I have been completely obsessed with Gerhard Richter stuff – and everybody agrees it is amazing. It has totally ravished me and yes, I am quite moved by it.
Your new album Total Loss will be released shortly. How does it differ from your album Love Remains? Is there anything specific you would like to point out?
I wanted to make something that was a synthesis of the super experimental approach of Love Remains and the more conventional clarity of Just Once and what I wanted to make was a record that, in one piece of music, moves across all different kinds of dynamic ranges, from really quiet and sensitive moments to really loud moments, super strange textures, weird piano stuff, very clean piano, very affected weird distant vocals and up-close vocals. Really slow and sensitive stuff over strings coupled with heavy banging beats. Basically, I just wanted to create a more dynamic record just because I felt like that was where my writing was going. To me, the Just Once experience was quite a growth, an important station in my maturation as an artist, so Total Loss to me is like a sonic synthesis of these two different sounds.
Any tips on talents to watch or up-and-coming artists this year?
My friend David makes music as Holy Other. It is more electronic. He put out an EP last year that was excellent and he is going to release a record in August that is just as excellent.
Any favourite quotes?
My favourite quote – and one I more or less live by right now – is by Walter Benjamin discussing the French philosopher Malebranche. In it, he says: “Attention is the natural prayer of the soul.” And I think that is a very beautiful thing to say.
How To Dress Well’s upcoming album will be released on September 18th by Domino Records.
More information on the artist: www.howtodresswell.com
Music video Cold Nites by How To Dress Well