Tom Krell, better known to the world as enigmatic crooner How To Dress Well, is a wandering spirit in many senses. Having lived in distinct places like Iowa, Chicago, New York City, Paris, Berlin and Cologne, Krell is obviously not your average recording artist. This unrestness also resides in his music which can be seen as a melancholic reflection of his emotional state. It requires dedication and focus in order to be fully grasped. His style can be somewhat described as an experimental approach to the R&B genre, as featured by his first two releases Love Remains and Just Once, earning him tremendous critical acclaim over the past four years which has even led to comparisons to the likes of The xx, James Blake, The Weeknd and Frank Ocean. With his forthcoming third project, Total Loss, ready to conquer the masses, Krell intends to encounter adequate ways to deal with misfortunes in life. Speaking to him, we wanted to know more about the method and purpose of his music. Read below and also be on the lookout for our in-depth conversation with Tom Krell in the upcoming second edition of the HYPEBEAST Magazine.
You are currently moving from Berlin, Germany back to Chicago. What made you move back to the U.S. and what will you miss about Germany?
I lived in Germany for about a year in '09/'10 and wanted to return just to be inspired again. Berlin is a beautiful city for many reasons but what I find the most beautiful is that it wears its wounds with pride, you know? Like you can just see that this city has dealt with chance – only the Sony Center reads like this 21st century vacuous 'planned' city. And that mentality brews the culture there – embrace chance, have no shame, no regrets, glance back but always move forward with openness.
You are readying your new album Total Loss, the followup to Love Remains and Just Once. How does it differ from your previous releases and how do you feel about this record?
It's precisely the record I wanted to make at this time in my life. It's an intentional step up, production-wise, but certainly doesn't stray from the distorted perspectives on love that were strewn throughout Love Remains. I mean, I wanted the record to show not just sadness and depression like on Love Remains; that record sounds noisy and suffocating and self-enclosed in the way it does because I was trying to present the feeling of melancholy sonically. With Total Loss, I wanted to present not melancholy, but mourning; so I needed to develop a product that had these grinding sad moments side-by-side with, like, 'head above water' moments, moments of clarity. So, ya, mourning is a more dynamic affective situation that melancholy, which is pretty Total Loss needed that dynamism. It's about developing a balance of form and content, which I strive for in all my work. Plus, it's a bit more hopeful than the first album, I'd say. But ya, continuing the project of mourning loss is a thread between Just Once and Total Loss. There's even some string arrangements that run that thread too. But above all, the new record is 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.
Have any particular events in life influenced this record?
The loss of my friend Ryan hasn't left my mind and plays a major part in the theme of the album. I don't believe I'll find closure, per sé, because I'm not looking to forget about him – but I do hope to find some sort of therapy in the songs I've written about him. I also lost an uncle who was very important to me very suddenly this year, and this ravaged my whole family. So much sadness. But ya, I'm looking to find a way to sustain loss, to hold those who have gone before us in my mind, to hold my lost loves in my heart, to grow in my life rather than just move from moment to moment. My friends and family have also influenced the album, as well as certain affects pertaining to distance and disconnection. When I started writing the record, right after Ryan and my uncle passed, I entered into a long distance relationship, which was totally spiritually rending.
If you could describe all three releases (Total Loss, Love Remains & Just Once) in three sentences (one for each), what would they be?
Love Remains – Pleas for love suffocating under weight of sadness in the self-enclosed sphere of depression.
Just Once – Memorialization as a way of transforming the darkness of loss into the light of the future.
Total Loss – Not afraid of drowning in sadness, 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.
Your music seems to be an emotional journey. Where do you want to take your listener?
I just strive to sketch with some clarity, certain affects in which we all take part: melancholy, wistfulness, hopefulness, mourning. I'm always honored, humbled, when a listener can use my voice, which I use as an affective conduit to find their own relationship with a certain affect, to be emotionally open and honest with themselves.
You've put out Live Yourself mixtape back in June. It features remixes of A$AP Rocky, Future, The-Dream and Carly Rae Jepsen. Your appreciation for R&B is widely known, so the addition of Ms. Jepsen must have been surprising to some. Where did you see the connection between her and the other remixed artists on the piece? And what does a mixtape in general mean to you?
Live Yourself was an attempt to give listeners an aural framework of Total Loss, but it's kind of just an intro. I'm gonna put out a new one soon which is like the real key to my record. There's some pure pop on the album and Carly Rae is just that. I do feel that a mixtape should have some sort of theme, whether it's a taste of things to come, a current emotion, a diary of a certain period of time, etc. I think music for me is connected with cinematic metaphors, so I try to make everything I make feel like a voyage, like a film, you know?
Definitely. How would you evaluate the current state of the R&B genre and where do you see it heading?
R&B is eternal and I don't really see it being much different from any other period of its existence. It will always be around and will always be sensual, heartbreaking, uplifting...
You have lived in diverse places, like Iowa, Chicago, New York City, Paris, Berlin, Cologne. How does this wandering spirit become represented in your life and music?
It's allowed me to experience many different facets of the human condition. Human interaction, perception, language, and emotion are fascinating and all the places I've lived have provided more insight into the never-ending stream of diversity in this world. I'd say that insight has allowed me to better understand my emotions, which in turn, facilitates my ability to take my own emotions and express them in an affecting, musical way.
Speaking of wandering spirit, where and when can we expect to see you on tour?
East Coast U.S. at the beginning of October, Europe from mid-October to mid-November, than West Coast U.S. after that. Asia/Australia after that. Visit howtodresswell.com for all current dates and come to a show!
Any final words?
I cannot wait for people to come to my shows and engulf themselves in the experience. I want us to share an evening of collective mourning together. Come alone, come with friends, but come in earnest: come with spirit. It's difficult for me to be so vulnerable on stage but if people come and savor the moment, giving their attention and letting themselves go, it's one of the most rewarding experiences I have in my life. It's all about attention. The ability to pay attention is the greatest gift we have. I believe that attention is the natural prayer of the soul, apart from, prior to, and after any and all gods and religious prayer – attention is all we need, none of that other shit. Just us, humans here, paying each other attention, focusing our love and spirit for just that moment, that time. And thank you for those who have come to past shows. Your support means the world to me.
Photography: Denise van Deesen for HYPETRAK