Q&A: How To Dress Well’s Tom Krell On His New Record, Tarot Cards, And Janet Jackson


Tom Krell’s eerie r-and-bedroom project How to Dress Well has quietly carved out its own niche over the past three years. Since last year’s orchestral EP Just Once followed 2010’s haunting full-length Love Remains, Krell has kept to himself, moving to Chicago from Brooklyn and taking a bit of time to figure out where to go next. Earlier this week at Club Mystique on the Lower East Side, Krell performed a private show with his new outfit—which now features a violin player—for the first time, a concert that Krell says was “extremely special.”

Chatting from a cafe in Toronto this morning, Krell talked to Sound of the City for a few minutes (his cell phone was dying) about his upcoming record Total Loss (out this fall), his optimistic outlook for 2012, and his love of Janet Jackson—or, at least, The Velvet Rope.

Earlier this year, your Twitter info was something like “2012 gon be special.” We’re at the halfway point. Still special?

Oh yeah, absolutely. That line not just came from my own work and progress, but a sense I have—and being confirmed around me—is that sincerity is making a comeback, whatever that might mean.

Yeah. What does that mean?

For me, it’s the whole guiding feeling to try and push in that direction. But a lot of people I meet at these shows on this tour are just like, “Hey, that was awesome. I was really moved by that.” People don’t feel inclined to come to the show because it’s cool. They’re coming out because they want to feel something. A lot of the music I’m listening to lately, there’s a resurgence of interest in what I would call a second naivety, rather than an empty, shitty naivety. But a willed one that’s used to combat cynicism and make feeling possible and make community possible. That’s the short story of what I meant by the “gon be special” thing. I also finished this record in late 2011 and got a really awesome and super supportive record deal, and you know, my life has been well on all fronts personally. I feel a lot of growth happening. It’s quite abundant. I just had my tarot read and had Queen of Cups all over the place, so I feel good. [Chuckles]

How does your upcoming record, Total Loss, fit into your previous work?

It’s continuous with the old projects. In some ways, I think of it as a synthesis of Love Remains and Just Once. Love Remains was quite brutally noisey, quite esoteric and really, really challenging. And Just Once was, for all intents and purposes, just straight forward. Classic arrangements. Classic mixing and presentation. Sort of two poles of emotional experience, one is a melancholic, enclosed, and insular experience—quite sad, and quite invested in the pain. Just Once was about being open and free. This record is somewhere in the middle sonically and emotionally. Sonically, the arrangements are, in my mind, in step with what I did with Love Remains, but vocally and melodically it’s quite a bit more defined. There’s a higher fidelity element to it. It’s not a hi-fi record, there’s just more range. For instance, some songs might have some really gnarly, nasty noise in the track. Like an awesome, super-rich and tortured piano loop or something. But then the vocal sits open on it. A certain song might move from loud noise to really, really sensitive and still vocal, and then back to loud noise. I became really obsessed with the way dynamic shifts in music affect emotional experiences. I had a hunch about this with Love Remains, where I was like noise can somehow tap on, switch on emotional light in a way that if I just present it straight forward or over acoustic guitar or something, it’s not going to have the same impact. This record, I realized, it’s not just about noise; it’s about manipulating highs and lows and one song having crystal moments of clarity, and another moment of the same song have a quite sweltering, in your face, burst of noise.

What does your live lineup allow you to accomplish sonically?

Exactly in the way I was just describing—it allows for much more intense dynamics and a broader dynamic range. For instance, the first song we played, which was a really, really plaintive and beautiful stripped-down version of “Suicide Dream 1.” And then, later in the set, we played some new songs with live power electronics—really heavy live synthesizer. It allows me to focus on singing, which is what I wanted to do always. That’s what it’s always been about for me. Now, we just have so much control over it.

Honestly, I’m obsessed with creating something beautiful. That’s why this feels right to me.

On the mixtape you just released, you messed “Call Me Maybe” up. What’s your song of the summer?

Lately, I have the tendency to pull out little bits of songs that I fall in love with and right now, it’s the 2 Chainz verse on “Mercy.” That’s my jam. And also, “Adorn” by Miguel. And as always, I try to make sure I listen to The Velvet Rope at least, I’d say, three times every two days. Gotta have a diet of that.

How to Dress Well plays Public Assembly on Saturday.