How To Dress Well's Tom Krell Explains The Philosophy of His Music.
In September, Tom Krell of How To Dress Well released his second album, Total Loss. The release continues along the same path that brought Krell acclaim with his 2010 debut, Love Remains, which is basically to say that the new album's chock full of emotional tracks that carry tragic weights, and that it too features heavy R&B influences underneath his haunting falsetto.
This is an aesthetic that suits Krell, to be sure. And. as such, in the two short years since his first release, Colorado native Krell has developed quite the reputation for capably pulling off this sound in intimate live performance settings across the nation and in Europe.
Tonight, Dallas fans will have the chance to see this firsthand as Krell performs a set at The Loft. In advance of this performance, we caught up with Krell, who was kind enough to tell us about his most recent European tour, the growth of his How to Dress Well project and his secret life as a philosophy student working toward his Ph.D.
You just wrapped up a tour in Europe that included a set at the Pitchfork Festival in Paris. How was that?
Oh, it was amazing. So sick. It's just so exciting to watch the project build. I've been out several times and I've always had a great response and just have some really dedicated fans and the rooms are getting bigger but the vibes are staying the same. People are really attentive and loving. It's complete inspiration.
Your shows are known for their intimacy, is it hard to maintain that in bigger settings?
Well, y'know, we have to re-calibrate the show for a larger space like the set we did in Paris. But the Pitchfork show in Paris is nothing like the set we'll do at a small club in Switzerland or Texas. The thing that's most interesting is that I've found it sometimes impossible to get into a vibe when there's 15 people in a crowd, and it's super easy in some cases, like in Roskilde when there was like 3,000 people and it was such a strong vibe. It's so contingent on the people in the space and what they're willing to give. It's so different, every single show.
What was the highlight of Europe?
It's really hard to say. We played the most crazy venue in Hamburg, Germany. It was an old, like, war bunker from the second World War. But then we played this gorgeous gallery space for 600 people in Stockholm, then a tiny little club in Manchester that was just fucking packed and sweaty. That was so exciting. It was one of the best shows of the whole tour. The whole experience was really dope.
What's your reaction to how quickly the project has grown?
I couldn't be much happier about it because it was risky to not tour and focus on school and stuff when Love Remains came out because that's when people were first hearing How to Dress Well. Then, y'know, logically, it was the best time to hit the road and build the project. But I didn't do that, so instead it got built by its own natural rhythm, and with the second record doing well, that natural rhythm has just kinda amplified. It's cool. It feels like people aren't coming out to the shows because they saw a bunch of posters all over town. It's building through word of mouth and more intimate connections. It feels amazing to me. It feels like it's growing quite substantially — not because of promotion, but on it's own. The thing about organic growth is that it's all autopoietic.
You mentioned school there. I understand you're studying philosophy?
Yeah, I'm getting my Ph.D in philosophy.
Has studying philosophy affected your music and writing?
I mean, it's influenced my life dramatically. Music and philosophy are two such radically different approaches to the world. I am at the center of all of this, so things I learn from music and that approach to living, they influence the things I think philosophically. And things I learn philosophically influence my life and change things I do musically. But I don't have anything like a philosophical approach to music. They're really nice and important counterbalances in my life. I don't seek to synthesize them because it's important to me that I have two different ways of being creative and being spiritually engaged.
With your music career doing so well and with you also on your way to completing your Ph.D, where do you see yourself going with both?
I don't know. It depends on a lot of things. I just want to keep going in all directions. I want to push the music project in some ways into a more popular sphere, but also more into a fine art sphere. I wanna push my philosophical work both in an academic direction and also a popular direction. Maybe do a music project that comes with a short written piece as well. I haven't really planned it yet because they're both sort of going on their own tracks. Sort of parallel.
Your music has a devastatingly tragic quality, but you seem like a very optimistic person, especially on Twitter. How do you balance those emotions?
I think I'm pretty dark on Twitter sometimes as well! The whole thing for me with life as a project is trying to find joy, pleasure and happiness, but being honest about it. I'm not denying the darkness and the pain. Life is grueling and it's sad and it's beautiful and embarrassing. And it's joyous and blissful and happy. I like saying happy things on Twitter, but it's all under the tagline Total Loss. It has been for a year. It's important for me that these juxtapositions are what life is at its most extreme. I think that loss and happiness are a coordinated thing. We are in a unique situation as human beings where we're able to have pleasure. But if we weren't exposed to the threat of loss we wouldn't be able to have pleasure.
If you're feeling particularly joyful on a certain day, is it ever difficult to transition into the emotional, intimate setting before a show?
No, because the balance of music just changes on that day. We played this show in Dublin and it took on this really fun vibe. There was this collective laughter, really big guffawing laughter between songs. Just kinda talking shit and having fun. And then, returning into the songs, it just felt easier to shed off, like we were really setting things aside. I don't find the transitions challenging because the music is open in my mind. One night, I might be singing a song and it might push me nearly to tears. The other night, it might flood me with images of my friend's new baby and the promise of that child. There's a lot in the songs that I can tap into different aspects on different nights.
How To Dress Well performs tonight, November 28, at The Loft.