Published on September 23rd, 2014 | by TLV News0
How to Dress Well and Nite Jewel to Play Proud Larry’s September 24th
Interviews by Candace Parker-Dickerson
With influences like Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Prince, Tom Krell, a.k.a. How to Dress Well has created his own genre of experimental R&B. And over the past four years, the once anonymous singer/songwriter and producer has created a collection of beautiful, soul-baring and emotionally honest songs with his releases, 2010’s Love Remains, 2012’s Total Loss, and most recently, What Is This Heart?, released in June 2014. I had the pleasure of speaking with Krell about performing live, the new album, and his feelings on his increasing popularity.
You started out anonymously releasing your music online and every subsequent release has garnered more and more publicity, accolades, and anticipation from fans and critics alike. What kind of influence has this had on your music, particularly while recording What Is This Heart?
Luckily the music for me has always been free-associative and from the gut. I don’t really think a lot when I’m making it. So, if I’m thinking about something or trying to figure out how to make a song sound a certain way or calculating it, it’s usually not going to be good. So I just try to produce something really honest and from the heart and not think about any of that. But one way that things have changed is now I know that I have a community. That’s an amazing feeling and gives me an extreme sense of confidence. I used to write, hoping that someone would hear the music. Now I write and I know that people are going to come to the next show. But the music still feels really pure to me and that’s important to me.
Well, the album is amazing, my favorite tracks being “2 Years On” and “Repeat Pleasures.” It is definitely a departure from 2012’s Total Loss, not only emotionally, but stylistically too. Can you go into more detail about the direction you went with on this record?
I tried to take it further in every direction. So for instance “2 Years On” is by far the most bare, naked, and intimate thing I’ve ever put on a record. And then a song like “Repeat Pleasures” or “ House Inside” are like big pop songs that I’ve never put out before, taking things I’d done and amplifying and blowing them up. “Pour Cyril” kind of calls back to what I would do on my first record, with melodic noisiness. But it does so in a huge, muscular way. So I just tried to take everything I’ve done before and everything that I love about music and just go with total confidence in all these directions. I wanted to make a record with different dynamics on it; with quiet, lovely tender moments and then really strong and emphatic and joyous moments. So I tried to spread my wings in as many directions as possible.
What was the songwriting process like?
Every song starts with one element, like maybe a piano loop, a sample, or maybe a vocal melody and I will loop that and sing over it. Through that process I begin to see what the melodies will be. And I begin to assemble ideas from that and see what the song will look like. And I just build from there.
You joined up with producer Rodaidh McDonald again on this record after working with him on Total Loss. How did that affect the sound?
He’s like a great architect. He’s really technically intelligent about how to build songs that are complex but not overloaded messes. He helps me if I have 200 different elements on a song. For instance, if I use an orchestra, live drums, and electronic drums, he helps me to balance those things.
So how does all of this translate into your live show?
It’s just me in the studio and live it’s three of my friends/ bandmates and I. Some songs are close to the record and some aren’t. But the most important thing is that we try to recreate the strong emotional points of the record.
California native, Ramona Gonzalez, otherwise known as Nite Jewel, brought her style of lo-fi meets electro pop to the music world with her 2008 debut album, Good Evening. Since then, the songstress has released numerous projects including 2010’s Am I Real? and 2012’s One Second of Love, in addition to several collaborations with artists like Droop-E. During a quick Q&A session, I got the chance to ask the singer about touring with How To Dress Well, and squeeze out any details I could on upcoming releases!
It’s really cool that you and How To Dress Well are doing this tour together. How did you guys connect?
We have mutual friends and How To Dress Well asked me to join them!
Awesome! Well, I’ve listened to your music since 2009, when you collaborated with Dam Funk on “Am I Gonna Make It”…such a great song! From there I discovered your 2008 release, “What Did He Say?” and I haven’t stopped listening since! Your sound is so vintage and soulful. What are some of your influences?
I’m a collector of music, so my influences go everywhere and anywhere. I’ll listen to anything at least once. Right now, I’ve been listening to Autechre a lot, but just last month all I could listen to were the Isley Brothers.
What is the recording process like in order for you to achieve that unique, vintage sound quality?
It varies. I write my songs right now in Ableton, but in the past I have used things like 2” tape, and cassettes for recording. I like to write alone in my house, getting my ideas out very fast. Sometimes I just go with the idea of a bass line, sometimes a melody, and other times a lyric or a catchphrase.
Aside from previewing some of your new material, what else can fans expect from your live show?
I’m singing, dancing. And I got them heavy beats, plus sick visuals! Fun times!
Fun times, indeed.
This article was originally printed in The Local Voice #212 (published September 11, 2014).
To download the PDF of this issue, click here.