How to Dress Well on the Dark Period that Inspired "Total Loss" | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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How to Dress Well on the Dark Period that Inspired “Total Loss”

Pain in Real Terms

Dec 10, 2012 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


 

Talk to How to Dress Well's Tom Krell for five minutes, and it's not hard to see how he's the type of person who would end up working on his PhD in philosophy. Whether the topic is his songwriting process, the ins and outs of the music business, or his personal life, he speaks with a sense of clarity and insight that indicates that he sees connections and contours that most of us likely miss. It's that sort of mind that sees how avant-garde sound collage and 80s R&B can fit together to create something otherworldly and deeply relatable, from the crackling fuzz and falsettos of his 2010 debut Love Remains to his 2012 follow-up, the more elaborately textured but similarly affecting Total Loss. And, yet, while he tends to talk about the personal pain he has experienced in intellectual terms, the music he makes is all raw emotion. Here, Krell talks about the art of channeling pain into the creative process and how the resulting work can help heal the pain it represents.

There's an article on How to Dress Well in the print version of our current Fall Issue of Under the Radar, which is on newsstands now. These are extra portions of our interview, quotes that didn't make it into our main print issue article on How to Dress Well. The http://www.zinio.com/browse/publications/index.jsp?prnt=cat1960014&productId=500629351&categoryId=cat1960070">digital/iPad version of the issue includes an even longer version of this interview. Both the print and digital/iPad versions of the issue include more frames from our photo shoot with How to Dress Well. So be sure to check out both the print and digital versions of our Fall Issue for much more from our interview and shoot with How to Dress Well.

Matt Fink (Under the Radar): I understand this album covers a really dark period in your life.

Tom Krell: It's complicated. I wrote this record on the heels of a lot of quite bad stuff in my life. I wrote Love Remains when all the darkness was kicking off, and I was in the thick of it. And then it all came to a head. My best friend died and my uncle, who was a very important figure to me, died, and it really fucked up my whole family life. Then, a relationship that was very important to me went sour and awry in all possible ways, and then I moved to Chicago and started writing Total Loss. A lot of the songs that didn't end up on the recordand I finished about 20 songswere super dark and quite heavy. But as I went through the process of writing the record, I found it was good to write the dark songs and then put them aside. I want to release everything that I've made over the last year. But for this record I wanted it be a document of what felt to me like having grown through a very dark period and learning how to meaningfully remember people I had lost so as to understand that it's possible to undergo extreme loss and disruption and then have that be a wellspring of super positive creative energy. That was the vibe. If I had to put it concisely that's the general vibe of this record. Love Remains, the whole thing, I was in the thick of shit. Total Loss is like the storm has settled, everything is fucked, and how to go on from there is the gesture, I guess.

It must have been cathartic to write these songs.

Very much so. And a lot of things changed for me. What I took to be significant and what I took to be incredibly pressing, these things changed quite a bit over the course of the process. I think I have a very different relationship to my whole life now after the record. I feel quite a bit more open and lot of more sensitive and a lot less judgmental in my general life. Maybe time has dilated a bit. It feels like things are going a bit more slowly, and I feel more patient and quite a bit more accepting of things.

When you listen to your music, does it draw you back into those dark moments?

That's why I decided to table the really dark songs for a while. There is the risk of being pulled back into it. When you spend a lot of time figuring out how to capture your emotional life and any given moment, and then you get a good snapshot or portrait of an emotional experience or an emotional state, it does return me quite intensely to the feeling when I hear the songs or sing the songs live. I've seen people in my life and some people have died from this and others who still live in it, and I'm not sure what's better or worse there. But I've seen people fall into misery, which isn't like a misery you go to work and talk to your friends about, but it's a sadness that takes away your ability to speak and have any sense of yourself. It's quite crippling and something more like a total dementia than, I don't know, feeling blue. It's very important to me to figure out a path in my life toward some ground away from those shores.

As you were writing these songs, was it difficult not to think about the fact that there was an audience waiting to hear them?

No. Do you mean like the critical edifice waiting for the record? That all hit me quite a bit after the record was done, and I definitely had some serious anxiety about that. Making Love Remains, that was when I was learning that I really wanted to share these things with people. So that record, I wasn't even thinking when I made the recordings of giving it to anyone. But through the process of giving them to people, showing them to people, playing live, doing that orchestral recordI really came to realize that I love sharing and opening my heart and giving myself away to people, giving people a view on affects and experiences that I think are important. So I actually think that I wrote most of this record in a real communicative way. I wrote it way more thinking about people sharing in the emotional experiences than I did before. Total Loss, I think is a bit more sentimental, so the record is maybe less alienating then Love Remains. It's still an alien sounding record, I think. It's pop but it's not populist at all. I've thought a lot about giving these songs to people, and two of the songs are dedicated to people in my life, one to a brand new baby that a friend had, and one to my friend that passed away. I thought a lot about sharing this record, and I thought about, "Oh, shit. There's going to be people interested in this record." Love Remains is such a niche record. People who love it, love it, and a lot of people don't love it and don't really hear it. This record is going to reach more ears that are totally ready for it, and I'm sure that some people won't know quite what they're hearing. I've thought about how it's going to have a bigger reach thanLove Remains. I feel confident and happy having anyone hear this album. I think there's enough true feeling in it.

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