How To Dress Well is the pop-tismictic project of Tom Krell, who released his fourth album, titled Care, this past fall. After running into him at Pitchfork Festival and snapping a Polaroid, we caught up with him before the Toronto stop of his North American headlining tour. Check out our interview and photos below…
Sidewalk Hustle: Shall we ease into it or just dive into the shit of the shit?
How To Dress Well: Let’s go!
SH: Do you believe in love?
H2DW: Yeah, of course.
SH: What do you think of when you hear the word “love” and what does it mean to you?
H2DW: I think of all kinds of love. I have this song on the new record called “Made A Lifetime” and I wrote that song about my mom, my grandma, my best friend, people I’ve had romantic love with… My friend Matt got married and he told me this thing that stuck with me. He said, “You know how when you’re a little kid and people tell you about heaven? And you’re gonna get there and everyone you love is there waiting for you, so happy to see you? That’s what it was like at my wedding. I came out and everyone I loved was there smiling at me.” I thought that was so beautiful. Marriage isn’t for me per say, but I just like that image so much cause there’s so much love in the world. If anything, people who are cynical about love probably already have a bad concept of what is it, restricted to a certain coupling or experience. Love is everywhere.
SH: Love plays a large role in this record. Was it an emotional process to make? Was it difficult to get so vulnerable or did it come naturally?
H2DW: The weird thing is that I don’t have any other register. It’s so weird to have an entire industry of criticism around my music that describes me in all these ways. I definitely agree with what a lot of people say but I also learn a lot about myself through that kinda stuff. I don’t think at all when I make music. It’s just pure play. The purest just straightforward outpouring. When I open up that’s just where it goes.
SH: What do you think people get wrong about you? Most common misconceptions?
H2DW: One major misconception that people have about me in general is that I am 100% what I am in my music. The music plays an important role for me personally where I’m able to be what I want to be, almost like an aspirational projection. Put that out there and see if I can live up to it or if I can match my ideal image. That’s the goal. Another major misconception about this record is that it’s my big pop record or something. On the one hand it’s definitely a much more day lit record and that’s something I discovered as I started working on it. It feels courageous to make songs that sound like this, but I still did it in my room and it’s still an indie record. I think people miss that a little… A lot of my fans have come to me and been like, “wait this just sounds like a How To Dress Well record… What is all this criticism saying this is your first bright record?” What about “Is You”? It was so posi! My biggest song off my first record is called “Decisions” and it’s a bright, soaring, celebratory song. So the fans I feel like get it 100% and weirdly the people who should be aware of how records are made, don’t get it. Most of my fans just really get it. It’s really cool. I’ll be on Twitter and they’ll be like “oh I caught this vibe on this song” and it’s like holy shit I didn’t even realize it but they caught the wave. They’re dialled in.
SH: There can be this confusion in the indie pop world because there are major acts being “touted,” labeled, & sold as indie music and indie acts that are actually independent, doing it all on their own on a much smaller budget. Often both of them get put in the same box. Just because something has thousands and thousands of plays on SoundCloud doesn’t meant that there’s always thousands and thousands of dollars behind it.
H2DW: It’s hilarious to me how people don’t think about this sort of stuff. Think about how long Frank Ocean’s record took…it’s because he’s filthy rich. He makes much more money on his records, his record deal, his label support with studio time. He had everybody who he wanted work on the record. That’s how to take time like that to make a record. I spent two years, basically going broke to make a record on an indie budget.
SH: And the team is much smaller.
H2DW: I don’t really even have a team. I have my manager who’s a woman in New York & she’s cool as fuck. It’s a funny thing, people praising Beyoncé for doing an “indie” record…I don’t know. It’s confusing. It’s very confusing. My music is always a bit of a reaction to that contemporary scene. I’m definitely allergic to rich people pretending to be down to earth artists. I just don’t have time for that shit. I’m not moved by it. I don’t fall for it. I see right through it.
SH: It’s funny to see these pseudo independent acts & these legitimately independent acts being treated like they’re the same thing, bubble or scene. That being said there is a sonic connection.
H2DW: I’m into the sonic connections but I do think that there’s an irresponsibility on behalf on independent music critics. I don’t expect Billboard Magazine to be interested in the material economic factors that go into record making, but that used to be something that credible independent music publications were interested in. It’s being discussed as if we’re all in it together, but we’re not all in it together. It just occurred to me…but it’s almost like the critics missed the entire 99% vs 1% rhetoric. They just missed it! I feel like people reading Pitchfork are reading headlines about Lady Gaga, “Who worked with Mark Ronson?” A hundred posts about Frank Ocean, a hundred posts about Beyoncé. All that music is dope. I’m not shit talking those musicians or all the musicians behind it… but they don’t need that help. It’s like being a Donald Trump supporter. Literally, independent musicians the past two years are just laughing hysterically in every group chat like “you catch that headline?” It’s just insane. My friends had a record this year that Pitchfork really liked and they sold twelve-hundred copies of their record, which is like… I could sell twelve-hundred copies on Bandcamp. It used to be a way that we’d help each other, independent artists and independent critics working together to make things happen, and it’s just gone now. There’s been a weird change in the critical independent space.
SH: It can also be tied as well to the death of print and the move towards publishing for clicks. Before you’d go out-of-the-way and buy a copy of an independent music magazine to find out about new music & stuff you haven’t heard before. While the internet is this amazing resource, now writers have to be clickbait & it’s harder to get work writing about lesser known acts. Before it was about being the first to break a new act but now it’s all about what will get us the most clicks.
H2DW: That’s the thing! I feel extremely blessed. I have a music career, which is extremely rare. I have had a lot of support from a lot of different avenues, but when I look at the time I came up around 2009/2010, there was a lot of blogs. As a listener and as a fan, every single week I would discover new music that I was blown away by and then I’d go see them live.
SH: And then you go on a wonderful music discovery wormhole!
H2DW: Yes! I think you’re right it is connected to the clicking. The clicks. The click-y-ness. I hate the culture that it promotes because it then promotes less courage in musical choices. I’ve actually noticed the last few years that less courage is promoted. I have a lyric on my song “Anxious” where I sing “someone told me not ironic, that less meaning, means more profit” – and it’s true! A writer from an important publication was drunk at a bar and told me, “If I could give you one piece of advice I’d say just tone it down. Make it all a little less meaningful.” So I was like “thanks…” and he replied, “no I know that sounds lame but less meaning means more profit.” I texted my manager like “This is what we’re up against!” But I’ve never once thought it my life that I could change that.
SH: And you shouldn’t! Don’t take that advice. Speaking of “Anxious” and anxiety and social media… Artists now have to be online to be present in the conversation but being on your phone all the time is bad energy. You even have a lyrics about your Twitter mentions. How to you keep the balance between the URL world and IRL world?
H2DW: That’s what “Anxious” is about precisely. On the one hand, I’m not just paranoid about the internet. It’s not trivial. I’ve also made amazing friendships and How To Dress Well as a project would never have gotten a start before the internet. People are really allergic to tenderness in music, it’s really hard to come up in a scene with tenderness as your wave. There’s a lot of machismo. There would have been no way to reach people all over the world without the internet. Then I think there are drawbacks, with the weight and pressures. One of the things I think about a lot is how it’s the place where we do our self-formation.
SH: And for as negative as it can be, it can also provide a safe sharing space.
H2DW: That’s dope. I’m into that.
SH: We read that you’re focusing on “joy & pleasure” – what’s your approach to focusing on those to things?
H2DW: For me it’s my artistic practise, and if I’m able to do anything I hope it comes through in the work. Different things I try to do in terms of exercises? I try to think on different time scales. Somebody told me recently about a meditation where you meditate on your elderly self, or meditate on your childhood self. I think the weird thing about the internet is that it reduces you to this moment which is, essentially, nothing, because it’s so fleeing. It’s not before and not yet, you’re just in this weird negative empty space and that empty space is just where anxiety loves to grow. Obviously there’s some anxiety in thinking about the future & the past, but scale is maybe the most important concept. Say we’re relatively large mammals, if you go one scale down to cellular activity or even down to organs, none of our concepts are there. There’s no love. There’s no romance. There’s no peace or justice or anything like that. If you go one scale up to the biosphere all you have is the circulation of energy on the surface of the globe and if you go another scale up then you’re at the planetary level & humans are nothing. Moving around different scales and levels is an interesting meditative practise. You gotta find the right scale of analysis where your concepts have the grip you want them to have. If what you’re interested in is love for instance, don’t constantly be moving to the scale of “Will we have children together? Will we live & die together?” Maybe try to tone the scale down, but also don’t reduce the scale to just the present moment, because then it could be anybody. It’s about finding the right scale or frame to make something make real sense. That helps me.
SH: Love it.
H2DW: Something I’ve also been doing in terms of joy is noticing that when I get tired I get sad and really distraught. I’ve been trying to actively register that. So when I’m like “ugh I’m so depressed,” I check myself like, “no you’re tired.” Feel it in your body as a vulnerability. That’s why you get grumpy, because you’re physically vulnerable. So let that vulnerability somehow feel like an openness or a soothing possibility, instead of it just taking over.
SH: You’re not always what you’re feeling. So much is a chemical reaction or evolution. Closing up, any advice about anything at all?
H2DW: I don’t like giving advice. People are so didactic right now. We live in such a fucking didactic phase. By and large my fans are super progressive and super involved, and because they’re actually politically engaged they don’t need their art to be didactic. They’re more interested in the political effect of tenderness and they see a political value in that because they don’t mistake someone saying a political slogan as a political action. It’s important to be engaged. If you’re engaged as a political agent and are involved in your community, you no longer need anybody to slam it down your throat. It’s important these days to avoid being too didactic. The reason that people find Donald Trump attractive in my country is because he’s so didactic that it makes them think they’re involved in politics when in fact being involved is organizing. The most political people I know are exhausted traveling to Palestine to plant trees where the IDF has ripped them out. That’s politics. It doesn’t count to just have a handful of slogans you can just throw up on twitter. That’s my advice.
Fri Nov 11 || Brussels, Belgium || Botanique – Rotonde
Mon Nov 14 || Amsterdam, Netherlands || OT301
Tues Nov 15 || Hamburg, Germany || Hakken
Wed Nov 16 || Berlin, Germany || Gretchen
Fri Nov 18 || Copenhagen, Denmark || Rust
Sat Nov 19 || Stockholm, Sweden || Debaser Strand
Mon Nov 21 || London, England || Village Underground
Wed Nov 23 || Glasgow, Scotland || Stereo
Thurs Nov 24 || Manchester, England || Band On The Wall