INTERVIEW: How To Dress Well Talks Intimacy, Working with Jack Antonoff, and New Album 'Care'
    • WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 24, 2016

    • Posted by: Kirsten Spruch

    [Photo Credit: Ben Tricklebank]

    It's ideal that an artist is comfortable with getting intimate and projecting his/her emotions but unfortunately, we live in a society that makes us feel weird for speaking our minds. If you work at a restaurant or at a bank, it might be frowned upon to be forward with the people you interact with. However as a musician, you have that privilege to open up and be your true self, because that's part of the job description. It's your duty to write songs that hopefully people can relate to, usually derived from personal experiences. How To Dress Well, AKA singer/songwriter/producer Tom Krell, has no problem with getting intimate with his audience. During our conversation last week, he explained that he doesn't try to be open, he just is. He doesn't have a guard and sees no point in playing it cool. With Krell, what you see is what you get, and although it may sound like a simple idea, it's complex and admirable. The singer is gearing up to release his fourth album, Care, on September 23. Co-written by Krell, mixed by Andrew Dawson (Kanye West, fun.), and co-produced by Krell alongside Jack Antonoff, Dre Skull, CFCF, and Kara-Lis Coverdale, this might be his most upfront and focused album yet. I had the opportunity to talk to him about it.



    Kirsten Spruch: You're getting ready to release your new album Care on September 23. For this album you've worked with producers like Andrew Dawson, Jack Antonoff, Dre Skull, and more. What was it like working with such amazing producers?

    Tom Krell: It was really great. I wrote the songs on my own over the course of a whole year and I didn't know if I wanted to bring on different players or different producers, so as an experiment I spent a few days working with Dre Skull on a couple of songs. And this was a funny experience because obviously Dre Skull makes dancehall music, but I loved the way his sounds sound. I had this idea where I was like, maybe I can have this dancehall guy produce this weird 7-minute rock song. So I hit him up and his first message back was "Hi, super busy right now, but I'm down." I was like oh shit, cool!

    People who really care about making music are pretty willing to indulge in a creative vision when it's clear. I had these pretty rigorously written things and I'm pretty specific about what I want. I think, "who would be the dopest person in the world to do the drums for this song? Or the production on this song?" And that's when I started reaching out to people, and it didn't work in all contexts, but everything that made it on the record worked so well for me personally, and then sonically, in terms of the final product, I was fucking so floored.

    KS: So you think when a producer hears something they're enthusiastic about, they're willing to do it and they have no problem working with what you want?

    TK: Most people hate being pigeonholed and objectified. I get calls every day to do remixes, and they're like "Do it in the How to Dress Well style!" What does that mean?

    KS: I hate that. Did you do a lot of the producing yourself as well?

    TK: Yeah, both before and after engaging with collaborators. So I produced the demos and wrote all the songs, and then went in with people and developed a lot of material for the songs, then went back, produced again, and recorded all the vocals, and then sometimes went back to those producers. Other times I would just go straight to Andrew Dawson with what I had and finish it.

    KS: What was it like working with Jack Antonoff? He's worked with Taylor Swift, Lorde, and so many other amazing people.

    TK: Jack's a goofball. Hes a hilarious dude whos just constantly doing dumb ass bits, but he's amazing at making music. He's amazing at listening to music and listening to you describe what you want and then trying something and seeing if it works. My first experience with Jack was when he asked me to go on tour to open for his band. It wasn't the right thing for me at the time, but then he was like "Hey come over to my studio, we're working on stuff for Maroon 5." So I got there and there were a bunch of famous people and I got super nervous. Jack just comes over to me and gives me this huge hug. He gets it. He and I are so much on the same wave when it comes to music. The reason people like to work with him is that he's really caring and focused, but really unpretentious and really joyous.

    KS: It's important to be able to work with someone. Obviously you can't have bad vibes in the studio when you're recording your album.

    TK: No, you definitely can't. For me, with How to Dress Well, we had written for a bunch of people before together, and later on we were in New York and he was like, "Where's your record at?" and I was like, "Oh, actually I have all these demos," and he was like, "Oh let me hear them." I had 30 demos at the time, so we listened to like two hours of music, and he was like, "I would love to produce this song." It had never occurred to me to have Jack do a How to Dress Well song until then, so I was like, "Oh, word, so what would you want to do?" and he was like, "What if we did it like this," and I was like "Fuck, that sounds so sick." So it just came about really naturally.

    KS: Care is your fourth album, how does it differ from your previous records?

    TK: It's pretty massively different, but then I've also been working on one project my whole life, you know? The first record is obviously like, take pop music and pumping as much noise and ambient electronic chaos into it as possible and see if it still looks like pop music. This record is more like the inverse, all the way on the other end of the spectrum. I think from the first record, its been a path of hollowing out music to filling it all the way up.

    KS: Off of your new album, you released an insanely gorgeous video for "Lost Youth / Lost You." It features amazing choreography and colors and it's really intimate. Is it challenging for you to be so intimate in front of the camera and also lyrically?

    TK: For better or worse, no, it's not challenging. It's just who I am. I don't know how I ended up as this person. My friend the other day was like, "Oh, you literally have no gate, do you? Like you have no door on the inner-show?" and I was like, "I guess that's just me." I don't feel inhibited, it's not hard for me to be free. I don't know, I guess it's a blessing.

    KS: That's so important, though, as an artist. You need to not have your guard up. It's pretty beneficial.

    TK: Yeah, definitely. It's my entire life. I don't know how to say this exactly, but when I meet a new friend or I'm pursuing a love or whatever, I have a lot of layers in my character, but I don't save them. I'm not in my head like, "Hmmm, what should I wait 6 months to tell this person?" Artistically, I've never had an idea that really felt like a good idea that I wasn't willing to just completely indulge.

    KS: If you weren't doing music but were still super open with people, what do you think you would be doing? Would you still feel the same way?

    TK: If I were working at McDonalds, I couldn't be like, "Hey, welcome to McDonalds, here's what I'm feeling today!" That's just not how it works, but that's because life is fucked up, right? Only a few of us really get to live in real freedom.

    KS: Yeah, because it's not acceptable in society to say what you want?

    TK: Yeah! It took me a long time to get to this point in my life and I'm quite blessed and understand the luxury of being an artist, but if I wasn't an artist, I think I'd probably want to do something like a psychoanalyst or a therapist.

    KS: Let's talk about the album title. Why "Care"?

    TK: It's a word that just kept popping up in the lyrics. So that's where I got the idea, because it was all over the songs. I thought, "What is 'care?'" The record is a lot about personal growth and "Care" to me is nurturing for growth. You care for a child or you care for yourself or a plant, like what you're doing is not blindly feeding it and just providing for it without looking into the details. Again, it's kind of connected to this unguardedness. Looking at myself, guard down, what do I really, really want? Not like, "Oh I want this beautiful person because all my friends think they're attractive," but like "what do I really want to most? What do I really need to grow?" "Care" to me is a fundamental concept connected to the real, authentic value that survives in the world.

    KS: And the album artwork goes along with the title quite nicely. It was a bunch of, I can't really explain it, but you know what it looks like. It's a bunch of squares with that beautiful neutral color. Can you explain the inspiration behind that?

    TK: Yeah, I wanted to do something that was sensual, because also Care is not just a concept. It's about hearing somebody crying and responding sympathetically with your body and being present in reality. It's very difficult to care for somebody by just PayPal-ing them money. And so I started to become obsessed with sensuality as a mode of care, and "care" is tenderness and physicality and a muscular presence. Basically, "care" is vital and loose and in motion -- So I was like, "How do we make this image feel as if it's moving?" And that is why we used the multiple portraits woven together.

    carecover2


    KS: Speaking of visuals, how important do you think aesthetic is to you?

    TK: For me, it's 100 percent everything. It's weird because I make pop music or whatever, but this is what I would call a "whole arts project." This is the first album where I really executed everything with a singular vision. Everything we put out for this record, whether it be promotional materials or the album art or the videos, was super focused on and around this verb, "care."

    KS: And you're going on tour, what can we expect to see? What's your live setup look like?

    TK: We just started rehearsing the show and it's going to be so fucking sick, I'm so excited. When I would perform with projections and stuff, it was a beautiful thing, but I felt like it kept me from connecting with the audience. Sometimes I would do these a cappella things where I would just walk out and just stand at the front of the stage and just sing, and those moments were really special to me. It was like I could see everyone, everyone can see me. There's no obscurity, there's nothing other than this shared moment. Over the course of a few years of performing, I kept weeding out things. The last tour that I did, we didn't use any projections, we just used some simple lights and just played the music, and that was the first time ever where I decided to take the live show out and just sing the songs for people.

    KS: So you're simplifying things in a way?

    TK: Well, it's still musically pretty complicated, but presentation-wise, I want to walk onstage and be like, "Hello. We are here together. Here are the songs, I'm going to sing them for you. Thank you," and just see how that goes.

    You can see how it goes when How To Dress Well comes to your city, tour dates HERE.
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