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How To Dress Well On Finding Momentary Joy In A Desperate World

Written By Sam Murphy on 09/28/2016

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How To Dress Well‘s fourth record Care introduces us to a different Tom Krell on the surface. It’s sunny, joyous and even positive in place, far removed from the weight What Is This Heart?, but at the core of his music is still an analytical and exploratory songwriter who is trying to make sense of the world.

Care is Krell finding those momentary moments of joy, amongst the chaos of the world and translating them into songs that traverse genres, from funk to pop and everything in between.

Where What Is This Heart? shed that every-annoying ‘internet R&B’ title for Krell, Care is Krell operating within his own genre – a genre where he’s more about a feeling than a sound.

We spoke with an LA-based Krell for an in-depth chat about Care‘s personal and artistic influences as well as his own deeply analytical thoughts on making music and finding the enjoyment in it.

You obviously get excited about releasing every record but you’ve been quite joyous about the prospect of releasing Care. What’s the different feeling surrounding this one?
You know, I don’t know exactly. One thing is there is a daylit quality to…I don’t know why but I used to think that self-exploration, it was intimidating at first. I remember when I first started going to therapy I though, “fuck, I can’t believe I have to do this,” and then you start to develop a relationship with that self exploration that you really cherish. That’s a big part of what happened on this record. I learned to cherish the act of music making and the self exploration it allowed me in a very different way. Salt Song tells that story of learning that through music I cared for myself and I honour what I think is true and dignified in a very important way through the music.

Before I had attached a lot of serious trappings to that self exploration. Even if you write a serious, serious song, when you sit down at the piano and start singing, you’re just playing. I started to dig more into that playing. Usually, you cut the playing part out at the end, you’re like, “I was never playing, this is a serious song”. I started to love incorporating that play right on the surface and that’s part of why it’s fun to play live. The play is on the surface and then watching us play it is such a beautiful thing.

Was there a certain emotional weight that came from performing the songs from the last album live?
Maybe. I think maybe it’s the opposite way. I made these super serious songs and everytime I play live I put the play on the surface. The play is right there, it’s unmistakeable and I started to fall in love with the play a little bit more through the live performance.

In terms of coming to write an album that’s more joyous that the others, is it a shift that happens in your life or is it a different way of looking at what’s happening around you?
I think probably both and it’s also something that I won through making the album. The record didn’t start out this bright. That’s part of the process of the making. Even the songs of the record that are darker, more about disillusionment or the breakdown of society, even they have a daylit quality. Even though, it’s heavy as fuck and super apocalyptic, it’s still got a directness to it and a daylit quality that’s really important to me.

It’s interesting to hear you speak about these in-depth topics because at the beginning of your career people wanted to box you in to this ‘internet R&B’ genre that didn’t really fit you right. Was there a conscious decision on your part to move away from that?
I think in part I just ignored it but I have a real…I don’t know how to say it, maybe reactionary mind. Everyone was making what I thought was lame ass indie music so I started making Love Remains and then by the end of my touring of Total Loss I basically felt like everybody was making my music, that kind of music. It was such a wave and I was like, “well, I need to make a new wave” so I made the last record. I’m always onto a new wave, that’s just how I always live with my own personal style, my music, the whole way that I do my life is kind of, always trying to find the next dialectical step. Not just a random stage but a push. What’s the next logical extreme. One thing that I was conscious of making this record was, I’ve always been moved by full blown, Kiis FM template, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, in addition to the male R&B touchstones that have always been in my music. People forget that Michael Jackson went from dark to pure, utterly touching ballads. It wasn’t all Quincy Jones productions. There’s such a crazy range and that’s something I’ve always been attracted to musically is that range across genres and sounds. I wanted to flex that a little bit more.

In terms of finding the sound you want to go with, do you sit down and look at your influences or is it something that happens naturally?
It’s much dumber than that. It’s blind and naive like a little kid makes songs. I make songs every single day and everytime I sit down to do it I just try to make the best song. So when I sing in a different way I’m like, “oh man, hilarious, I sound just like that.” And I’m like, “I haven’t listened to that song in a long time.” Yeah, it’s much more naive than conscious or anything like that.

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Artists often fall into a trap of pulling inspiration from artists surrounding them but with you it’s like you take inspiration from things that are in a completely different world and reappropriate them. Am I right in saying that?
Not quite. I’m definitely not inspired by a lot of the stuff in the present. Let me rephrase that. I’m not inspired by a lot of the shit that people are like, “this is so good, oh my God.” I’m not moved by a lot of the stuff that people are calling the finest. A lot of stuff that people say is their favourite record of the year, I’m like really, “have you listened to the Porches record?” I tend to not fit in. It’s always funny when my album comes out. I see how critics fit me into different things that are happening. They always find two to three artists they can fit together so they see who is on the album cycle and it’s always funny to see who they fit me in with. I’m like, “oh shit, I think their music is super fucking whack.”

A really big inspiration for me was the movie Mummy by Xavier Dolan. There’s a scene where his Mum and their neighbour are drinking wine and he comes out and he sings Celine Dion Ne Change Pas. Autobiographically that movie smashed me because it’s quite a bit like my family. It’s a really intense experience watching that boy and being like, “I know him”. Then seeing how the purity of the pop was so connected to the desperation in the world of those people and how it isn’t a sad scene, it’s an utterly joyous scene even though, it’s an utterly desperate scene. Something about how he twins the pure positivity of the pop and the pure desperation of the reality. That’s my art. There it is. Thanks Xavier, you’ve fucking cracked it. I was pretty shaken by that experience, it was pretty formative.

The mode of pop has always been sunny melodies that take over the radio but the stories behind some of them can be quite heartbreaking. Was that something you explored, in terms of the juxtaposition between the music and the lyrics?
Yeah for sure. And I also started to value the positive moment. That’s what I think Dolan does that’s special that other people don’t do. He doesn’t just do it to show the desperation. He does it to give you the full three and a half moments of pleasure. It’s such a fun thing that you almost forget everything’s that happening. You see them inhabiting pure joy for a sustained period. It shows what love of pop is in a specific and very different way. I was like, “this is how I love it.”

In that way with Care, what’s the response you’re expecting from the listener? Do you want them to forget what’s going on around them or forget what’s going on around them?
Not every listener is like that scene. I still write very introspective music and one of my big things from the start was being like, “I’m an intelligent person and I don’t just listen to music to forget I also like to think and I feel thoughts that are deep and thoughts which feel really resonate through the music.” It’s definitely very poetical and philosophical both lyrically and sonically I think but I also respect the intelligence of my listener enough to know that my business isn’t dictating the experience, my business is something that produces real physical pleasure and then I sing things which are stirring and moving and vexing and powerful.

To take on subjects as complex as you do, it carries a weight on the artist’s mind. Is it cathartic for you or is it draining at the end of the process?
No, it’s very exploratory for me. Even when my music is fun, which it is at time and especially on this record, it’s so serious. It’s not frivolous. For me, because I take the process seriously and I learn so much of myself through making it. It’s not about finding something within me that I have to get out. It’s about self-exploration and if anything, the experience of the record should be one of self discovery, thinking about what kind of relationship you really have with yourself. What would it mean to treat myself like a sweet child? What would it mean to respond to my neediness as if I was a child needing care?

Is there where the album title comes from?
Weirdly the album title comes from the fact that I was saying that word all the time. I do it from a really dumb place, like super playful, and then I look at it and think, “who am I? If I don’t know myself and I read all these words, what is my orienting value?” Using this word as a noun, as a verb, to refer to a relationship with other people, a relationship with myself, a relationship with the world, a relationship with political and economic structures and what they teach us about how we should interact with eachother? I was like, damn, I’m using this word to describe what it means to live as a moral subject, a human being with concerns and cares. And I really wanted to have a title…when I started listening back to the music I was like, “this is a one word album title”. Care. Not like To Be Is To Care by How To Dress Well. That was where I was when I wrote What Is This Heart? That’s a mouthful, I’m less interested about that on this record. I’m more interested about touching another person, literally, sexually. But also not literally, in terms of the tenderness of care.

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How To Dress Well‘s fourth record Care introduces us to a different Tom Krell on the surface. It’s sunny, joyous and even positive in place, far removed from the weight What Is This Heart?, but at the core of his music is still an analytical and exploratory songwriter who is trying to make sense of the world.

Care is Krell finding those momentary moments of joy, amongst the chaos of the world and translating them into songs that traverse genres, from funk to pop and everything in between.

Where What Is This Heart? shed that every-annoying ‘internet R&B’ title for Krell, Care is Krell operating within his own genre – a genre where he’s more about a feeling than a sound.

We spoke with an LA-based Krell for an in-depth chat about Care‘s personal and artistic influences as well as his own deeply analytical thoughts on making music and finding the enjoyment in it.

You obviously get excited about releasing every record but you’ve been quite joyous about the prospect of releasing Care. What’s the different feeling surrounding this one?
You know, I don’t know exactly. One thing is there is a daylit quality to…I don’t know why but I used to think that self-exploration, it was intimidating at first. I remember when I first started going to therapy I though, “fuck, I can’t believe I have to do this,” and then you start to develop a relationship with that self exploration that you really cherish. That’s a big part of what happened on this record. I learned to cherish the act of music making and the self exploration it allowed me in a very different way. Salt Song tells that story of learning that through music I cared for myself and I honour what I think is true and dignified in a very important way through the music.

Before I had attached a lot of serious trappings to that self exploration. Even if you write a serious, serious song, when you sit down at the piano and start singing, you’re just playing. I started to dig more into that playing. Usually, you cut the playing part out at the end, you’re like, “I was never playing, this is a serious song”. I started to love incorporating that play right on the surface and that’s part of why it’s fun to play live. The play is on the surface and then watching us play it is such a beautiful thing.

Was there a certain emotional weight that came from performing the songs from the last album live?
Maybe. I think maybe it’s the opposite way. I made these super serious songs and everytime I play live I put the play on the surface. The play is right there, it’s unmistakeable and I started to fall in love with the play a little bit more through the live performance.

In terms of coming to write an album that’s more joyous that the others, is it a shift that happens in your life or is it a different way of looking at what’s happening around you?
I think probably both and it’s also something that I won through making the album. The record didn’t start out this bright. That’s part of the process of the making. Even the songs of the record that are darker, more about disillusionment or the breakdown of society, even they have a daylit quality. Even though, it’s heavy as fuck and super apocalyptic, it’s still got a directness to it and a daylit quality that’s really important to me.

It’s interesting to hear you speak about these in-depth topics because at the beginning of your career people wanted to box you in to this ‘internet R&B’ genre that didn’t really fit you right. Was there a conscious decision on your part to move away from that?
I think in part I just ignored it but I have a real…I don’t know how to say it, maybe reactionary mind. Everyone was making what I thought was lame ass indie music so I started making Love Remains and then by the end of my touring of Total Loss I basically felt like everybody was making my music, that kind of music. It was such a wave and I was like, “well, I need to make a new wave” so I made the last record. I’m always onto a new wave, that’s just how I always live with my own personal style, my music, the whole way that I do my life is kind of, always trying to find the next dialectical step. Not just a random stage but a push. What’s the next logical extreme. One thing that I was conscious of making this record was, I’ve always been moved by full blown, Kiis FM template, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, in addition to the male R&B touchstones that have always been in my music. People forget that Michael Jackson went from dark to pure, utterly touching ballads. It wasn’t all Quincy Jones productions. There’s such a crazy range and that’s something I’ve always been attracted to musically is that range across genres and sounds. I wanted to flex that a little bit more.

In terms of finding the sound you want to go with, do you sit down and look at your influences or is it something that happens naturally?
It’s much dumber than that. It’s blind and naive like a little kid makes songs. I make songs every single day and everytime I sit down to do it I just try to make the best song. So when I sing in a different way I’m like, “oh man, hilarious, I sound just like that.” And I’m like, “I haven’t listened to that song in a long time.” Yeah, it’s much more naive than conscious or anything like that.

Artists often fall into a trap of pulling inspiration from artists surrounding them but with you it’s like you take inspiration from things that are in a completely different world and reappropriate them. Am I right in saying that?
Not quite. I’m definitely not inspired by a lot of the stuff in the present. Let me rephrase that. I’m not inspired by a lot of the shit that people are like, “this is so good, oh my God.” I’m not moved by a lot of the stuff that people are calling the finest. A lot of stuff that people say is their favourite record of the year, I’m like really, “have you listened to the Porches record?” I tend to not fit in. It’s always funny when my album comes out. I see how critics fit me into different things that are happening. They always find two to three artists they can fit together so they see who is on the album cycle and it’s always funny to see who they fit me in with. I’m like, “oh shit, I think their music is super fucking whack.”

A really big inspiration for me was the movie Mummy by Xavier Dolan. There’s a scene where his Mum and their neighbour are drinking wine and he comes out and he sings Celine Dion Ne Change Pas. Autobiographically that movie smashed me because it’s quite a bit like my family. It’s a really intense experience watching that boy and being like, “I know him”. Then seeing how the purity of the pop was so connected to the desperation in the world of those people and how it isn’t a sad scene, it’s an utterly joyous scene even though, it’s an utterly desperate scene. Something about how he twins the pure positivity of the pop and the pure desperation of the reality. That’s my art. There it is. Thanks Xavier, you’ve fucking cracked it. I was pretty shaken by that experience, it was pretty formative.

The mode of pop has always been sunny melodies that take over the radio but the stories behind some of them can be quite heartbreaking. Was that something you explored, in terms of the juxtaposition between the music and the lyrics?
Yeah for sure. And I also started to value the positive moment. That’s what I think Dolan does that’s special that other people don’t do. He doesn’t just do it to show the desperation. He does it to give you the full three and a half moments of pleasure. It’s such a fun thing that you almost forget everything’s that happening. You see them inhabiting pure joy for a sustained period. It shows what love of pop is in a specific and very different way. I was like, “this is how I love it.”

In that way with Care, what’s the response you’re expecting from the listener? Do you want them to forget what’s going on around them or forget what’s going on around them?
Not every listener is like that scene. I still write very introspective music and one of my big things from the start was being like, “I’m an intelligent person and I don’t just listen to music to forget I also like to think and I feel thoughts that are deep and thoughts which feel really resonate through the music.” It’s definitely very poetical and philosophical both lyrically and sonically I think but I also respect the intelligence of my listener enough to know that my business isn’t dictating the experience, my business is something that produces real physical pleasure and then I sing things which are stirring and moving and vexing and powerful.

To take on subjects as complex as you do, it carries a weight on the artist’s mind. Is it cathartic for you or is it draining at the end of the process?
No, it’s very exploratory for me. Even when my music is fun, which it is at time and especially on this record, it’s so serious. It’s not frivolous. For me, because I take the process seriously and I learn so much of myself through making it. It’s not about finding something within me that I have to get out. It’s about self-exploration and if anything, the experience of the record should be one of self discovery, thinking about what kind of relationship you really have with yourself. What would it mean to treat myself like a sweet child? What would it mean to respond to my neediness as if I was a child needing care?

Is there where the album title comes from?
Weirdly the album title comes from the fact that I was saying that word all the time. I do it from a really dumb place, like super playful, and then I look at it and think, “who am I? If I don’t know myself and I read all these words, what is my orienting value?” Using this word as a noun, as a verb, to refer to a relationship with other people, a relationship with myself, a relationship with the world, a relationship with political and economic structures and what they teach us about how we should interact with eachother? I was like, damn, I’m using this word to describe what it means to live as a moral subject, a human being with concerns and cares. And I really wanted to have a title…when I started listening back to the music I was like, “this is a one word album title”. Care. Not like To Be Is To Care by How To Dress Well. That was where I was when I wrote What Is This Heart? That’s a mouthful, I’m less interested about that on this record. I’m more interested about touching another person, literally, sexually. But also not literally, in terms of the tenderness of care.

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