The release of How To Dress Well’s debut LP was one of the big surprises of last year, the culmination in the form of an album of a series of EPs and releases with which Tom Krell, through his blog, had been creating new forms, mixing drone and R&B. Though at present there are loads of bands exploring and deforming the roots of styles like urban and R&B (think poppier projects like Dirty Projectors, The xx or jj), the dark and mysterious “Love Remains” directed the whole towards the witch house aesthetic, as few others did. Almost a year has gone by since the release, and the sound of How To Dress Well has become essential when it comes to outlining a map connecting all those tags, bands and labels which we’ve been telling you about on these pages and which are, although still half unlinked, finding their place in the fantastic musical panorama, little by little. After leaving Lefse and recently signed to Tri Angle Records (one of the key labels in all of this), we talked to Tom Krell via e-mail, on the eve of his performance at Sónar 2011.
I read that after high school you began to hate rock. I suppose that “hating rock” implies, in one way or another, loving pop more. Could you tell us how you used to work before HTDW and in which bands or projects were you involved?
I’d say that feeling began before I left high school. And, initially, HTDW was very noisy, equally as dark as its current incarnation, but yeah, there’s still an influence of the metal and noise I’ll always adore. I just hate the tendency – and I see it as much in my own soul as in culture in general – to be conservative, to repeat, to fall into predictable patterns. I hate conservatism. Where there’s experimentation, there’s love and life.
Why do you write songs, and why did you write those on “Love Remains” specifically?
It’s just a way for me to use my voice. I find singing very cathartic at times. It’s very therapeutic. Having a thought or an emotion is one thing, but to be able to sing it adds physical and spiritual elements – and brings much more meaning to it.
In our report on "hypnagogic pop" we tried to figure out the key concepts that characterise the style. Do you have any clues about it, further than the eighties revival and the lo-fi aesthetic? Some people say that the hypnagogic movement is good as it serves to bring together musicians by their methods rather than their results. What are your thoughts on that?
Hmm... Well, I can’t really comment as I’m unfamiliar with this movement. But I’m super flattered to be included in any genealogy of any genre with any band.
You seem to be as protective of your private life as almost all the hypnagogic bedroom producers. It’s difficult to connect your musical persona with information of your personal life. This contrasts boldly with the behaviour of some of your favourite artists, like Kanye or the-Dream. Can we say that, unlike them, you don't use your achievements as a platform for your personality?
Again, I’m unfamiliar with this movement, so I can’t comment. But, in relation to those ostentatious artists (that I’m quite the fan of, mind you), I’d agree that I’m quite the opposite. Although HTDW is certainly a channel for me to express my personal emotions, it’s definitely not a platform for me to showcase my personality or my personal life, as it is for Kanye. I channel myself into it insofar as I think other people will have had the same feeling. You know, universal effects.
Regarding your anonymity and, on the other hand, your pop aspirations, would you prefer to have your music on commercial radio stations or stay on the indie scene?
Either is fine with me. I mean, I don’t know what ‘indie scene’ means anymore - I don’t belong to a scene, exactly. I want to be on commercial radio though, that would be great.
Is HTDW music written for all kind of audiences?
Yes, I think so. I think it’s really unpretentious music, even if it might be challenging in some way. I mean, it’s ultimately pop.
There are more bands exploring the roots of urban and r'n'b music (thinking of Dirty Projectors, The xx, jj) but is difficult to think of any other artist mixing, as you do, drone and R&B. What were your main musical influences when composing "Love Remains"?
A lot of the pop and R&B that I’ve been listening to for almost 2 decades now. And guys like Christan Fennesz and Black Dice, and Coil, Prurient 93, Burial, you know.... artists that recognize that there can be just as much beauty in noise and silence as in any note or chord.
You’ve said in interviews that the hazy side of your music is down to technological limitations. How would HTDW sound if you had the money to create your ideal recording process?
Love Remains would sound exactly the same. Initially, I did have some technological limitations which caused the lo-fidelity in those early demos I released online. And there were people telling me to polish it, offering money, offering studio time. But, I really fell in love with that sound. The effects I was trying to communicate became much more poignant with every crackle and hiss. It’s beautiful. So, if I had lots of money to record, nothing would change really.
Do you have any beloved producers you’d love to work with?
The-Dream or Tricky Stewart...
What’s the most important part of your music for you, the melody perhaps?
The voice. HTDW is the sum of many parts - the noise, the space, the tone - but the voice is at the core of that.
One of the biggest aesthetics of your music is the obsession with obscurity, perversion and fetishes, mostly in the artwork and visual imagery. Where is it coming from?
It’s not so much an obsession as it is an interest or admiration. Images that jar, that spark questions or less than comfortable reactions, are very interesting to me. Anything that is effectively charged, full of creative intensity. Often these things are base or transgressive, but they might also be plaintive and lovely.
What albums have you been listening to lately?
The new Gang Gang Dance, Kreng, Clams Casino, Space Ghost Purpp... Young jeezy’s newest mixtape, Soulja boy’s Juice tape... Diddy dirty money. The new Balam AcaB.
Are you working on new material? What are your plans for the future?
Yep. There’ll be a new EP soon, this summer. An album early next year. I’m so thrilled to bring some new stuff out!
How To Dress Well will be appearing at Sónar 2011 on june 17 at 18:30 h at the SonarComplex stage. Tickets are on sale here.
PlayGround is a media partner of Sónar
Tri Angle's showcase is one of the most highly anticipated of the upcoming Sónar Festival. Are they the label of the moment? What we do know is that the addition of How To Dress Well, one of the best newcomers of 2010, to their roster is great news. We talked with Tom Krell to unpick his sound and find out more about the project.