How To Dress Well: “It’s All About The Emotional Impact Of The Songs”

Tom Krell, the mastermind behind experimental/soulful pop project How To Dress Well, says he’s the kind of person who doesn’t do anything unless he has too much to do. Given his current tour with Sky Ferreira, his plans to record his third album later this year and a 300-page dissertation looming in the future, his plate is looking plenty full.

While at a sandwich shop in Minneapolis, Krell talked with us about playing in front of friends, his second album, Total Loss, and his thoughts on being labeled an R&B artist before How To Dress Well hits Barboza on Saturday.

What’s your first major musical memory?

When I was a little boy, my mom always used to sing “Ooh Baby Baby” by Smokey Robinson. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how that sounded.

Do you think that influenced the music you make today?

Definitely. She really loves soulful and sad music so that always influenced what I was listening to from birth onward.

Do you think people using “R&B” as an umbrella term to describe your music limits you or stops people from listening to your music?

Not really. It brings people to the project, if anything. People who otherwise wouldn’t listen to weird, ambient sounds can connect immediately with my voice … To me, it’s much more of a whole art project. If I start out saying “It’s a whole art project,” I’m not going to attract a lot of people. Usually genre things are meaningless but also helpful in bringing people into the work.

I think there’s something for everyone on this Total Loss .

Uh huh. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the emotional impact of the songs. The different songs move people in different ways but when you’re moved by the record, that’s all that matters.

Where does the emotional intensity on Total Loss come from?

This is something I’ve thought about a lot. It comes from my constitution. I think I have a capacity for that, which is both a blessing and a curse, but I really like when I’m able to share that with people.

How is it a blessing and a curse?

Because of some circumstances growing up and the way my life has played out, I’ve got some things that are really hard to deal with and that I’ve had to really grow a lot. I think I was forced to mature emotionally at too young of an age and ended up becoming a pretty emotionally-focused person from the age of 4 on, which is weird. Some people are equipped to do things like social work, and I think of myself as having that spiritual equipment.

Would you say that, overall, Total Loss is autobiographical or more about general experiences we all might have?

It’s more about the human experience than autobiography.

Did you write the album with that idea in mind?

No, for me, the songs are autobiographical but when somebody else is impacted by it, it’s usually because of some facet of their own autobiography that they connect with it ... It’s not personal like singer-songwriter music where I’m like [sings] “Today I went to the grocery store, and I thought about Sarah.” It’s autobiographical in a much more trans-personal, human condition kind of vibe.

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