Originally from Chicago, Tom Krell adopted his How To Dress Well moniker in 2009, and released his debut Love Remains in 2010. It was instantly acclaimed for its experimental, lo-fi approach to R&B, and for Krell’s distinctive falsetto. He followed that record with Total Loss in 2012, which built further on the pop aspects of Love Remains. In 2014, he finally found breakout success with his most acclaimed album to date, What Is This Heart? Featuring singles like “Repeat Pleasure” and “Words I Don’t Remember,” What Is This Heart? presented Krell’s artfully vague lyrics about yearning for love within a variety of production frameworks, ranging from sunny acoustic guitars and pianos to smooth R&B synths with an 80s influence.
On his recent album Care, Krell moves farther into the realm of pure pop. He sheds the “alt-R&B” conventions of sparse production and melancholy lyrics for an approach closer to pure pop than James Blake. His lyrics are more positive and open than on previous records, and the diverse range of instrumentals are often more maximalist than he has employed in the past. While Krell says his new work was influenced in part by “heavier” music like contemporary rap, Care is a warm embrace. The album feels worn in on the first listen. At its best, it finds a happy medium between catchy, comforting, and enthralling.
A captivating live performer, Krell brings an unwavering intimacy to How To Dress Well shows with his unmistakable voice and animated delivery. With his new album about love and caring, his Boston tour stop promises to sweep you away into the soundscapes. Expect the concert on Friday to put all of Krell’s trademark artistry on display—just in a new, more positive light. Melisma was able to chat briefly with Tom before his show at the Sinclair this Friday, September 30.
First off, I’d like ask you about the concept of your album: you named the whole record Care, and ‘caring’ seems to really be pervasive throughout the album. Was the idea of ‘caring’ central to your writing process or did it naturally emerge as a theme?
I had been writing the record for about 8 months and I sat back and thought: what is this thing? It was really only then that I realized, I’d been using this word – care – in so many different contexts and valences. I realized, it’s a very important thought for me over the last 18 months – the idea of nurturing – for – growth.
You reference yourself a lot by name on this album. Is self-care a major part of Care?
Absolutely. It’s important to snap out of the way we’re programmed to relate to ourselves and really learn to care for yourself— I think once you do that, you start to become aware of your own vulnerability and fragility, and that sort of automatically connects you with others in a more caring way, and also connects you with political reality in a more focused and sympathetic way.
It’s really interesting to listen to your Spotify playlist with the music that you were listening to while writing the album, including a lot of current rap music that comes out in songs like “The Ruins”. Was it originally your intention to make that compendium of references public?
I’ve always said each of my records is a pop compendium, so it’s cool you used that word as well. I’ve always made my influences really public! For me, making music and listening to music are always in really tight relation.
On his recent album Blonde, Frank Ocean plays with experimental song structures in a similar way to a lot of your past work. What do you think of the experimental direction that him and others in pop are pursuing?
I think Blonde is a beautiful record, though while listening to it I often wish it were more focused. I really love the songs that are quite focused, like ‘Ivy’ and ‘Self Control.’
The album seems both production-wise and lyrically lighter than your previous records. Are you more personally interested in happiness now than you were when writing your past works, or does the shift in mood stem more from a desire to do something different musically?
Actually, I don’t really think it’s lyrically lighter. I’ve found that often times people tend to think that happiness can’t be profound, which I disagree with. In fact, one of my main goals in making this record was to celebrate happiness and goofiness as profound aspects.
How has translating this mood-shift to a live show been for you? Does performing your newer work on stage feel natural?
Performing has always been so playful for me – so this music translates so nicely to the live context. Playing these songs live is just thrilling and amazing.
You’ve mentioned in the past that, “happiness and pleasure and joy are really explosive political affects.” Is there an overt political message in Care? What would you like listeners who aren’t feeling happy to take away from the album?
I don’t really think art being overtly political is that interesting. I think it can be a distraction from real political involvement. My music is political in a non-didactic way and always will be, because tenderness is a political affect, and tenderness is always my primary concern.
Are you worried about a disconnect between this album and your fans, a lot of whom empathized deeply with the more subdued mood you projected in the past?
No, because everything I make is unique and separate from everything else I make. Love Remains was a noisy ambient record, then I did Just Once, an orchestral EP, and on and on…I think my fans can see it’s a natural step in my career as an artist.