How to Dress Well - Tom Krell interview
Tom Krell, aka How to Dress Well, is one of a number of musicians whose work is reinventing solo songwriting
This is getting to be a trend. Where young men with an indie sensibility used to express themselves by picking up an acoustic guitar and letting it all out, a new generation disguise their fragile falsettos with a wash of reverberating electronic rhythms and fractured, slowed-down hip hop beats. These young men (this sound largely belongs to men for some reason) taking to stages around the world with a laptop and a microphone have all emerged at the same time and in isolation – or as isolated as it gets, considering they’re all reading the same blogs.
Into this milieu comes Tom Krell, aka How to Dress Well, a 26-year-old from Colorado who’s lived in Chicago for the past year. ‘I started making music in my teens and I suppose it was an emotional outlet in certain ways,’ he tells The List. ‘But it’s also just fun to play. I couldn’t really say why I make music, it’s just who I am.’ Despite the stark and often heartbreaking undertones of his songs, there’s a sometimes hard to place sense of fun to what Krell does.
Listen to the track ‘Can’t See My Own Face’, for example, which sees him appropriate lyrics from Beyonce’s ‘Crazy in Love’, or ‘Ecstasy With JoJo’, which uses Michael Jackson’s ‘Baby Be Mine’ as the backdrop to an ethereal trip through the neon-streaked night. This balance of joy and sadness is ever-present in his work.
‘There’s certainly suffering evident in the core of the album,’ Krell says, referring to his rich debut Love Remains, released last year. ‘It has scars throughout, just because of the frame of mind I was in at the time I was writing those songs. Distant, possibly lovelorn, vulnerable…’ Although the record’s themes bear no specific significance, his new EP ‘Just Once’ stands as a hugely affecting epitaph. ‘It’s a memorial to a very close friend that passed away recently,’ he says. ‘It’s very dear to my heart, as he was.’ It’s really quite special: you can hear the full orchestral treatment of four of Krell’s songs in honour of his late friend Ryan Hitchon below.
Krell’s work is also informed by a wandering spirit that has taken him to live on a farm in Iowa when he was 20 (‘it was incredibly quiet, I really fell in love with listening there’), Berlin, where he knew no-one and learned to open up to strangers, and his beloved New York. His artistic influences are many – ‘I’m super hyped on Prurient, on Harry Clarke’s sketches, on Musil’s short stories, on Janet Jackson’s ballads, on Joseph Beuys, on Michael Nyman and Peter Greenaway, on (Robert Bresson’s film) Au Hasard Balthazar. So much stuff, man …’ – and he’s a philosophy graduate who once called Kanye West’s blog ‘one of the great living works of art’.
Named after one of two books a friend picked up in a second-hand store (the other potential moniker was How to Photograph Women Beautifully), Krell is more than just a distillation of all these influences. He’s one of the forerunners of a style that is reinventing solo songwriting for the next decade.
How to Dress Well plays the Arches, Glasgow, Mon 8 Aug, with support from Grimes and Falconry.