Colorado native Tom Krell first came to wide attention via his debut full length 'Love Remains' in 2010, a ghostly ode to his childhood love of R&B. Its distinctly ethereal and lo-fi aesthetics made the LP sound like it derived from a rusty speaker on a desolated, windswept beach, which Krell explains was his intent in the first place. His sophomore offering, 'Total Loss', which arrived last month following a dark period of life, manages to make its way off the deserted sand and into a more, as he puts it, "shared, collective space".
Emily Tullock spoke to the self confessed music nerd called How To Dress Well about the new album and inspirations behind it, his interest in philosophy as well as what he hopes to gain with his new live show, which is revealed will be coming to Australia early next year.
Pulse: Where in the world are you and what are you doing at the moment? HTDW: I’m in Chicago and leaning outside so I can maybe have a smoke while I talk with you. I just got back in from a day of running errands and getting the last shit in line to do this tour that I’m about to go across the East Coast of North America and then 26 cities in Western Europe. Then I do the rest of North America; the West Coast leg. Not even all of America - I’m not even going to play the town I was born in yet - Denver, Colorado - or New Orleans, Houston. That will be later in 2013.
The new album 'Total Loss', what experiences and emotions influenced the creation of that? Honestly a lot, I tend to be moved by experienced and emotions. I don’t think I would create things if I wasn’t moved by affect, if I didn’t allow myself to be disturbed by complicated and challenging affect. That’s where the creativity comes from for me if I think about it. As I’ve repeated over and over, it was a pretty hard time after 'Love Remains' because I lost my best friend and it cast this cloud over 'Love Remains' because it was so amazing but he wasn’t there. Then I had some other challenges in my family and in my life in general. The record came out of a pretty dark patch but curiously I learnt a lot in making the record about how to be positive and how to find my way out of sadness.
I read that you had almost a whole album’s worth of songs but then discarded them because they were too miserable – will you ever revisit them? Yeah, I mean I’m playing one song live right now called 'No More Death' which was a song from that batch. I’m working on another record now which obviously won’t be out for a while but it follows that line a little bit. I’d like to release these songs that I’ve written eventually.
Would you say the soundscape on this album stepped out of the bedroom compared to 'Love Remains'? Of course. 'Love Remains' doesn’t sound like a bedroom recording to me though. It doesn’t sound like an Elliott Smith acoustic guitar and microphone kind of thing. It sounds to me like I was trying to create really foreign soundscapes which lived on the same terrain as emotions, like wherever emotions live. And I don’t mean individual emotions in a psychological sense but affects - the way they live independent of humans. The way an affect will manifest; in one moment it will be anger in a human being’s soul and in another it will be a tumultuous storm or a flash of electricity. I wanted 'Love Remains' to be pure affects. This one definitely steps out a little bit. It’s a bit more in a shared space; in a collective space.
Do you have any weird rituals or routines when it comes to writing songs? Writing songs is a weird ritual for me in a certain way. I’ll have a feeling, or I’ll see a movie or a piece of art which will give me a feeling. Or I’ll think, if you made an equation, for example what would this song plus this painting, what would that sound like? Then I don’t speak for many hours when I’m working on a chord and just try and really live with the sounds. I record almost everything quite freestyle for a long time before I sit down to record the final song. Usually just start with some kind of equation in mind and then I’ll close my eyes and I’ll sing for as long as the computer will record, usually a couple of hours of freestyling. If I don’t know exactly what the song is going to look like after that then it’s kind of a dud.
Your vocals are pristine, do you come from a background of classical or professional musical training as someone like Active Child does? No; nothing like Pat. My music has a much more naïve streak in it than I think people recognise. It’s compositionally adept or whatever but it’s really immediate music.
Where do you take your musical influences from? At heart I’m a music nerd, I just love music so much. I just released this mix for FACT Magazine which I called 'Why Are We Here' and it had a lot of inspirations of 'Total Loss' on it. It starts with this DMX instrumental with Britney Spears talking over it and then it goes into Shai and 'H.A.T.E.U' by Mariah Carey but then also this really beautiful ambient piece by a group called Porn Sword Tobacco. Then it’s also got Alicia Keys and Jimmy Eat World and Estasy and Prince and Beyonce. There’s a little slowed down sample of the Cure. There’s a lot of influences on that mixtape.
Someone described your shows as “next level karaoke” - is it important to engage emotionally with the audience rather than exactly recreate your album? That only show I’ve ever toured in Australia was just playing solo over backing track so that’s the next level karaoke but now I’m touring with two other musicians and it’s really quite special to my mind. The most decisive difference between 'Love Remains' and 'Total Loss' - the albums and the tours that will follow them, is that with 'Love Remains' I was experimenting pretty hard and trying to push the boundaries really hard. With 'Total Loss' I just wanted to create something beautiful. With the set it was also about creating something beautiful so we can have a collective experience of that beauty and the intense emotions that come with it. The pain, the sadness, the joy, all the collective emotions. All that matters to me at the end of the show is that people, they were moved together. So this new show is quite a bit different than anyone in Australia has seen. I’m certain I’ll be in Australia in early 2013.
You study philosophy as well – do you see the study of philosophy and the making of music as related? They’re related because they’re both me, but personally they’re very disconnected for me and happily so. I use them to play off of each other, they don’t communicate with each other. They both come out of the same whirlspring but they’re two very different ways of approaching the world and approaching the soul. Music is very immediate. Philosophy is not immediate, it’s very heady and rationalising and about argument and logic. The music to me is just about emotional openness and emotional honesty. At least for me a life of music without philosophy, or a life of philosophy and not music, it misses a whole region of my personal experience.
Do you have a favourite philosopher? My favourite philosopher probably comes more from me thinking as an artist. My favourite philosophers are not the ones that I am working on in my dissertation. My favourite philosopher is probably Alfred Kubin but he’s not really a philosopher, he’s an artist.
What’s next for you? A ton of touring and more recording. Some music videos. Just living the dream one day at a time. Just going to hit the road and write as much as I can while I’m on the road and see the world and share these songs with people live. The new live show is really amazing.
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