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How To Dress Well

How To Dress Well

Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Thursday 15th January, 2015 1:40PM

Chicago-based artist Tom Krell has been making music under the moniker How To Dress Well since 2009. In that time he has gone from putting out free EPs online to developing three evocative albums that walk the line of indie pop and experimental R 'n' B (despite the artist trying to distance himself from the label) and draw comparisons to influential artists such as Prince. But despite the busy schedule of being an international touring artist and promoting his most recent album "What Is This Heart", Krell also makes time to work towards his doctorate in philosophy, a subject that has fascinated him since his mid-teens. UnderTheRadar caught up with Krell while he was in Rome, the birthplace of Cicero himself, to talk about how his academic studies and his musical life intertwine...

UTR: Hi Tom, how are you? Where are you right now?

Tom: I’m good. I’m in Rome.

Oh cool. You’re on tour?

Yeah on tour. We got in about three hours ago and it was pouring rain so intensely that we stayed in our van and just ate dinner. It was okay. We leave in the morning but I will probably try and wake up early and walk to the Colosseum or something.

Do you find that this is a lot of your life now, touring and doing interviews?


I was reading a piece in The Guardian from around 2012, surrounding the release of your sophomore album and it talks about your studies in philosophy and doing your doctorate. Did you complete that?

No, no. It’s a work in progress. It takes quite a while.

So how do you balance that with you How To Dress Well commitments?

Right now, not as well as I would like, but I just try and make time for everything.

What got you interested in studying philosophy in the first place?

Well, I guess when I was a kid, about 15 or 16 I started realising what philosophy does. I Started thinking, what is language? What are we doing right now? Am I just making weird sounds with my mouth? What kind of animal am I given that I’m on the phone with someone in New Zealand talking about my art? What is art? Why are we alive? Why do we do all this shit? These kind of questions just thrilled me at a very young age, and then I got into the technical aspect of it, like the technical ways people ask certain questions for a few thousand years or longer. And I just fell in love with the whole craft. It’s kind of like a spiritual practice.

Does it intertwine with your musical life?

Not really. I mean, obviously in an inevitable way because it’s me doing both things and, you know, it would be like if I had a child or something. Surely, even if I wasn’t writing songs about having a child, just having a child would affect me as a person in a profound way. So I’m doing both, so both are affecting me. I’m in Rome right now, so when I go back to my desk in Chicago and work on my philosophy I will have been to Rome and that’s going to change me in some way. But I definitely don’t have a philosophical approach to music or a musical approach to philosophy, or anything like that.

Did you grow up in Chicago?

No, I grew up in Colorado.

Can you tell me a little bit about your early life? Were you from a musical family?

No, not really. My older brother was always into music, like black metal and stuff like that. So, he was into underground culture and shit, that was cool and affected me in a pretty serious way. But, I failed out of one high school, so I changed schools and then I started playing music there just because there were some kids who were in a band, and I started playing with them.

Oh cool, like on the drums or guitar or...?

That’s when I picked up the guitar and started writing songs.

In regards to your new album "What Is This Heart", you’ve said you “pored over” it more than the previous two, now that you’ve had some time to sit on it can you hear the difference that thoughtfulness made?

Yeah, but it come out of a completely different approach, especially with Love Remains. It’s like, with Love Remains, I didn’t not pay attention, it’s just such a different kind of record. I had a much different idea of what I was doing then, it was way more poetic and I was really interested in ambiguous sounds then, like, is it a voice or is it an organ? I was interested in sound sculpture more than in songs. And then when I started writing this more recent record I was inspired by something like realism. So, if you pick the most intense experience a human being can have, and obviously the poets have written all about it in all kinds of weird and confusing and ambiguous and provocative ways, but if someone says to you something really poignant in a prosaic way, and capturing something about that experience. So I started getting interesting in a more straight forward and direct presence, and I guess a more prosaic approach to that kind of vibe.

Between your studies and touring, when do you get a chance to sit down and write?

I write all the time. I was thinking like Gerhard Richter the painter, has been working for like 50 years or something and has done work from straight-forward portraiture to really weird ambiguous portraiture, to totally impressionistic paintings with just colours and shapes. And it’s obvious with Richter it’s wrong to say that the new colour stuff is somehow less detailed, or missing something, than the portraiture, or vice versa. That’s what I try and explain to people with these records. It’s not like these new songs are somehow what I was trying to do with Love Remains and I’ve just figured it out. I felt a different need. It’s like answering a different question, with the songs on Love Remains and the songs on "What Is This Heart?". And who know what happens next. Maybe next time I’ll be attracted to a more abstract approach to musical expression, or maybe I’ll just sing acapellas, or maybe not sing at all and just talk. I don’t know.

How To Dress Well is performing on Wednesday 21st January at Kings Arm Tavern, head over here for more details and to buy tickets.

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