Tom Krell has released over 50 songs as How To Dress Well in under three years, across one album (‘Love Remains’) and a bunch of small-scale releases. I hadn’t really taken stock of this overabundance of product until a few days before meeting him, when I dutifully revisited the tracks I’d heard before and listened for the first time to the others, including his new record ‘Total Loss’, which represents a subtle but resolute shift in sensibilities for an artist who is far more sincere and cerebral than that unfortunate ‘hipster R&B’ label would suggest.
Meeting Krell on the morning of his impossibly sold out show in Dalston, he talks at length about the elements that drive his creativity: musical, personal and philosophical. That hazy patina on the surface of How To Dress Well’s abstract lo-fi soul music isn’t just an Instagram of a passing trend. In contrast to the copycats who’ve emerged in the wake of his innovation, Krell is lucid and assured in putting across his artistic intentions. In the end, the 40-odd minutes of recorded conversation was so densely packed with ideas that it wasn’t worth tainting them with my own feeble edit, so here follows an abridged transcript for your consumption.
Chal Ravens: So tell me where you’re at right now. You seem to have been touring and not recording as much?
Tom Krell: “I had the intuition two and a half years ago that in order to get to where I wanted to be as an artist I just needed to release a lot of stuff and make my sounds available to as many people as possible, as often as possible. Over the course of seven months I think I’ve put out about 35 songs. But I’ve reached a point in my dissertation research where I’m taking a pretty heavy break and just doing the music full time. It just felt progressively more important for me to pursue it in a more full-blown fashion.”
CR: Each How To Dress Well record seems to deal with a different subject or event, like the death of a friend, which you dealt with on the ‘Just Once’ EP. What has influenced your songwriting on ‘Total Loss’?
TK: “It was quite a dark writing period. The recording of ‘Just Once’ marks a really important break in the writing process, because September 2010 was really affectively charged for me. On the one hand, ‘Love Remains’ came out and it was super exciting and exhilarating, and I was selling out shows. But I’d just lost my best friend and gone into a long-distance relationship, which was very painful, and then my uncle passed away, who was very much a sort of symbolic figurehead for me and for my mother. It was just a quite spiritually rending time.
“A lot of ‘Love Remains’ is about my experience with my friend who passed away and his progressive breakdown. So he passed away and I was singing these songs, and I started to realise that it was a nice testament to him, and that’s when ‘Just Once’ came about.
“One song I recorded in that dark period was ‘Ocean Floor For Everything’ and I decided I wanted to build more towards that sound. So I spent the rest of the spring and summer really trying to sit down in the affect that song represents to me, and that affect to me is about overcoming loss – not in the sense of putting it away, but kind of going through it, learning through it. So rather than disavowing loss, it’s trying to find a way to metabolise the loss in a productive way that doesn’t end either in depression or in denial.”