How To Dress Well: "I don’t need to write another song about how I don’t feel good"
As he approached new album ‘Care’, How To Dress Well found himself in a good place.
Published: 10:13 am, September 27, 2016
How To Dress Well’s Tom Krell is fed up of being labelled a dark miserabilist. His fourth album ‘Care’ is a glorious rejection of all that is bleak and torturous. “I knew that I wanted to make a record that was a little bit more triumphant with big drums and joyous sounds,” he explains. “I really wanted to be happier. Freer in life and not defensive.”
Tom provided the impetus for How To Dress Well’s life-affirming comeback by firstly pondering how he could begin to take care of himself. “I thought a lot about raising myself and what it would be like to be a mother to myself,” he reveals. “To treat myself the way I would treat a child. I knew that I wanted to write a song to help this child.”
The result is an album that is big, open-hearted and honest in a way that Tom’s previous records have only hinted at. “There are still dark moments on the record, but they’re dark in a different way. They’re not depressed, maybe they’re just illusions or maybe they’re paranoid. Even when it’s bleak, it’s big sounding. It’s got a three-dimensionality and a robustness that I never had the confidence to do before.”
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The past six years of writing and recording have been something of a creative and spiritual awakening for Tom, culminating in a new album that sees him looking at himself in the world in more simple terms with a newfound purity. “It’s been a period of intense opening,” he says. “I realised there’s so much more to love in the world. So much more to invest in than I had given the world credit for.”
“Part of growing up in the 90s, there was still a lot of nihilism to shed and I think that’s happening globally now,” he continues. “People are shedding off the last layers of nihilism that we’ve been stuck in and trapped under for the last 25 years. One simple thing is that I don’t need to write another song about how I don’t feel good; I can write a song about sex. Really wet, physical sex.”
Tom’s desire to lose all inhibitions is a clear theme running throughout ‘Care’’s ecstasy and celebration. “I’ve been really moved by more direct and normative art than ever before. I lost a bit of patience for a more impressionistic approach,” he says. “I’m just more interested in pleasure than before,” he explains. “I was really wanting to give myself and the world pleasure in a different way. We like our artists to be more masturbatory and narcissistic and I wanted to please the partner more than I wanted to get myself off.”
How To Dress Well has always been associated with preconceptions and labels that have never sat well with Tom. ‘Care’ is about rejecting those labels. “Characterising my music as R&B has always been an upsetting thing,” he says. Honesty was a key thing. “With this record I was like, look I’m going to go more towards a type of Kiss FM template because that’s literally what I listen to. I listen to a lot more Shania Twain than Bobby Brown. I let myself foreground certain things over other things. The process is particularly playful.”
Tom is now blissfully comfortable with himself as a person and an artist and that allows him to do different things with his music and challenge himself in different ways. “I work so much fucking harder now recording,” he says. “I did five times as much recording making this record than for all my previous records combined. I’ve never worked like this on anything in my life.”
Entirely comfortable with his beautiful voice and the dazzling things it can do, he gave himself up the music and writing the most joyous hook-filled pop that he could. The songs and the sounds came easily. “If I’m gonna climb up a melody I now know where the good footholds and handgrips are. It gives me options and capacity. At a certain point you stop thinking about how you’re holding the racket.”
This time though, Tom reached out to work with some of his favourite artists and producers. “It never previously occurred to me that I could just pick all my favourite people and see if they wanted to try something,” he laughs. Working with Dre Skull, Jack Antonoff and CFCF among others, he made the brightest and boldest pop album of his career.
The concept of ‘Care’ extends beyond the album itself into visual films, and the performance of the tour. For Tom, the whole package is essential. “The label’s gonna spend a hundred thousand dollars on this shit, so you might as well do some fucking work before you die and make something beautiful and with conviction,” he proclaims. “I feel like I owe it to the people who supported me to do something really well.”
‘Care’ is an album about moments of joy and transcendence. Perhaps for the first time, Tom is completely at peace with himself as an artist and has no time for darkly wallowing in self-pity. “You do it because it’s joyful and you love doing it,” he says. “For the last eighteen months I haven’t been disabled, violently ill, poor, assaulted, and broken. I’ve been privileged and able to pursue this pleasure of making this record. It’s totally insidious to go, ‘Oh, it was the hardest time of my life’. Bro, it’s such a fucking blessing to be an artist and to be able to do this.”
How To Dress Well’s album ‘Care’ is out now.