Tom Krell, aka How to Dress Well, makes music that combines pop and R&B production value with a sincerity and emotionality that transcends both genres. He’s been known to hide in murky beats and distorted vocals, but with his newest album, “What Is This Heart?”, he opens up both sonically and lyrically.
“What is This Heart?” touches on themes of existential anguish, shame, anxiety, and love in its many forms. Krell just began a massive tour to promote his new album, but he was able to find some time to talk to me about the new full-length, his tour, and how excited he is to play The Echoplex in Los Angeles next Friday, August 22nd (yay!).
How’s the tour been going so far?
I just got back from two shows in Europe. They were the first two shows of this tour, and they were both festival shows. One was in Göteborg and the other was in Helsinki. They were great. It was very different from a show at a venue. It’s cool and has a great vibe.
I’m excited to see that you’re coming to LA pretty soon.
Yeah, I’m pretty sad because it was supposed to be at First Unitarian Church, which I was really excited about.
The venue was switched to The Echoplex, right? Why was that? I feel like hearing your music in a church would have been so appropriate.
It would have been good, yeah, but they lost their permit to host shows there. How messed up is that?
You’ve been promoting your new album, “What is This Heart?”, on this tour. You’ve also released a trilogy of videos. What, in your own words, is that trilogy about and how does each song relate to the video?
The trilogy is about how we all live and, in this case, die. The songs relate to the videos in a general kind of way.
The video for “Repeat Pleasure” features an old man dying in the back of a van.
The idea of it was to confound people’s expectations, to contrast the poppiness of the song with that video.
What was on your mind and what experiences were you drawing from as you were writing the album?
So much. So much stuff. It was a whole period of my life.
What went into writing the lyrics?
Well, the way I write my lyrics is I usually freestyle over something, and I listen back and figure out what I was talking about, what I was thinking about, what was pulled out of me by the music or the beat.
So you draw inspiration for the lyrics from the music?
Yeah, and I try not to premeditate anything; I like to be free-associative. I find that if I have an idea driving it, then it’s a mistake.
The album is really open and honest. What was driving that?
I was touring a lot, meeting a lot of new people, and getting such amazing support from people all over the world. That was a big part of that.
The song “A Power” deals with some very heavy themes. It sounds like both a confessional and an open will.
That song has kind of a weird prayer vibe. I was feeling that I didn’t want to be cynical but also feeling that there’s so little I can change about the world and the people I see being brutalized by the world. I was kind of begging for everything to be right in the world and finding out that I don’t have the power to end everyone’s suffering, end everyone’s grief.
Trying not to get bogged down by the world even though it can be just shitty and trying not to be cynical?
Yeah. The challenge is to avoid being cynical because cynicism is the death of the human heart, the death of the spirit.
What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself going from here?
I don’t know. I’ve been thinking a little bit about what I’ll record next, but the main thing I’m focused on is getting ready for a lot of touring. I’m really excited to play this record live. It feels really big and full to play live. It feels amazing to play live. I feel like there are a lot of distractions right now, but just getting out there after cutting through all the bullshit of putting a record out, getting out on the road and being able to see everyone’s faces is really exciting right now. It’s kind of a trip when you’re on stage. There you are with everyone. I’m really excited to play in LA, too.
Be sure to pick up your tickets to see How to Dress Well play at The Echoplex on August 22nd!
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