Conceptual mind-scoping with Tom Krell
Sartorial Sense - How To Dress Well

"I would rather have fashion people come to my show than conservatives. Fashion people tend to be more culturally progressive,” begins Tom Krell, the leftfield R&B aficionado better known as How To Dress Well. Queries about any sartorial shortfalls immediately fly out the window with a name like that. Yet, the Brooklyn local has translated this fascination with looking good to sounding just as good. His debut album ‘Love Remains’ surfaced in 2010 amidst a sea of resurgent and hopeful attempts to revise the magic rhythm and blues recipe. Think the wondrously spacy musings of The Weeknd and the like. Call it what ever you like, whether future R&B, indie R&B, future pop or any of the other ridiculous pseudonyms that sprung from the blogosphere.

Nevertheless, HTDW’s was one of the best. Pitchfork stuck an 8.7 on it, Stereogum brandished him one of the ‘40 Best Bands of 2010’ and praise across the board was plentiful for his splintered nod to early soul predecessors.

It was far from plain sailing in his mind though. Two weeks before that album came out, Tom’s best friend passed away totally unexpectedly. “That took a massive toll on me. Then my uncle who had a massive influence on me passed away violently. Shit was just bleak,” he utters. “It was conflicting because the album was doing well, but I wasn’t and there was quite a lot of spiritual tension.”As you can imagine, the song matter first developed a similarly murky aura. He concedes, “I started making these dark tracks at the start. But when I started to prepare for the new album, I didn’t want to make this dark album. It’s not just about loss.”

It’s not. And although the album was seemingly recorded in transition - in New York, Chicago, Nashville, London, on the road and in his parent’s basement, no less - he seemed mentally on the mend. Remaining so grounded allowed him to produce more of his ethereal structures wherever he chose to put up his temporary studio tent. On sophomore effort ‘Total Loss’, How To’s voice meanders through the higher vocal range with songbird ease as was so commonplace on his first. Also returning are the scarce, electronic backdrops that reconcile with similar leftfielders like Holy Other in their methodical overpass of anything near the sounds of dubstep. Tracks like ‘Running Back’ murmur much like an otherworldly rehash of early SWV, whilst others like ‘Struggle’ actually tussle falsetto shrieks with engulfing reverb awash with synths.

There’s a beautiful filmic component to it all and this music behind some moving imagery wouldn’t feel too far-fetched at times. “I have this cinematic imagination and I’m really moved by images. With a lot of the record, I wanted it to have the feel of that kind of experience. I didn’t want it to be like a narrative, but music that doesn’t move in the same complex way as a film doesn’t attract me.”

Thankfully, ‘Total Loss’ does more than enough to allure a flirting ear...

Words by Errol Anderson
Photo by Rory VanMillingen
Fashion by John Colver

The full version of this interview appears in the October 2012 issue of Clash Magazine. Find out more about the issue.

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