Tom Krell AKA How to Dress Well has been producing beautiful, ambient and heartbreaking RnB records for the past five years. His most recent album, What is This Heart? is as full of love and loss as his previous records, albeit bolder, braver and filled with bravura vocal moments.
Upon its release, Spin compared What is This Heart? to both Kanye West's Yeezus and Terrence Malick's film The Tree of Life, perfectly fitting for the work of Krell who is studying for a PhD in philosophy as well being perfectly versed in Ye's oeuvre. We sat down to talk about America, misogyny, capitalism, Lil Wayne mixtapes and wanting to write songs with Savage Garden,
The first song I ever heard of yours was the R Kelly I Wish cover, I'm always a bit suspicious of RnB covers for fear of butchering but you nailed it. Do you know if Kellz has ever heard that cover?
No, I don't even care, he's such a fucking psychopath. I actually have very mixed feelings about performing the song, we did that cover because it was important for me, my friend had just passed away, and that song was meaningful to me at the time. I won't perform it on stage, I don't want to endorse him in any way, shape or form. It's like, I love (Roman) Polanski but I would never on stage say 'watch Polanski films' because he's a fucking child rapist. Responsibility scales differently, I think it's okay to be an R Kelly fan at home but here out on your public forum, it's not really decent.
It's quite heartbreaking to talk about so many of our heroes now, like R Kelly, Polanski and Woody Allen...
Did you hear about the brief for the new Woody Allen film that just went up on IMDB? It's basically middle-aged professor at liberal arts college in small town has existential crisis and solves it by dating one of his students. It's crazy, it's as if they made a misogyny movie generator, you know, like one of those band name generators.
It's almost a case of, if the art is good enough those guys can get away with morally questionable content. I hated that I loved Chris Brown's Loyal so much, it's a song about women not being faithful from a guy who tried to kill his ex girlfriend... but it's a great song!
Yeah and Deuces is truly one of the greatest songs of all time. I was really, really lit up on New Years Eve and when Deuces came on and I couldn't believe it, I was like this is the best song I've ever heard in my whole life.
I wasn't going to bring up the 'dark and alternative RnB' discussion because I feel at this point in 2015 it's boring and that it's an older generation who didn't grow up on Aaliyah who frame it that way. But I did read an article where you called out a few people who you don't like who have recently been labelled 'alternative RnB'.
Oh yeah, damn I don't remember. Who did I call out?
Banks. I was into the honesty because I feel like everyone is so polite these days, it's all very PC.
Everyone's so fucking money hungry that they want to make sure like, 'well I'd better not insult Banks, because what if she wants to write with me, and then we can make a hit and then I can pay off my student loan debt' and everybody's under such extreme pressure financially that nobody can be honest about their art.
How do you try and stay honest and away from that pressure?
I guess I just say whatever the fuck I want and then just figure it out afterwards. Luckily I'm not as crazy as like Ariel (Pink), I was just talking with him outside and he was saying the craziest shit to me… sometimes I worry that I just say way too much shit in interviews and I alienate people and then when I was talking to him I was like no, okay, he alienates people because he's fucking mental.
We need more Kanye figures though, people who call out shit and aren't afraid to alienate.
Kanye's so dope. I wish Kanye had a couple more people in his circle pushing him to be just a little more progressive, he has the opportunity to be such a fucking progressive force. You know he's yet to comment on the Ferguson events.
That surprises me, it's so un-Kanye, why do you think he's stayed silent on it?
I think it's a money thing, hella' illuminati vibes for sure. Everybody in America has something to say about it, especially if it's a young black guy who grew up in Chicago, one of the racially most segregated and violent cities in the United States. His music, he's such a political artist, I mean that's something people miss. People are always talking about Kanye's rants as if from day one he wasn't calling shit out.
He always has been political right - from The College Dropout.
He's the shit, so I feel like he's missing an opportunity. I mean you don't expect that stuff from Beyonce and Jay-Z, they're in that Rockefeller Trump kind of zone. But Kanye's such a fucking legend. Kanye's the kind of person who could completely galvanise a generation of young black guys to change things.
I agree 100%. I spoke to Vic Mensa recently and we had a really solid chat about politics and what's happening in Chicago, he's a really thoughtful young guy who gave me a real sense of hope.
Yeah he and I have been in contact a bit over the last couple of years because, you know, I'm from Chicago and he's born and raised Chicago. The city has a real history, the Black Panther Party started in Chicago. I just ran into Chance The Rapper a couple of weeks ago at a rally for the non-indictment of the cop who murdered Mike Brown. And it was cool you know to just see Chance walking down the street at a march and some girl was like 'can I have your autograph?' and he was like, 'no, not now, I'm not up here as Chance The Rapper right now.'
How To Dress Well - Lost Youth / Lost You (Official Video)
You were living in Europe a while ago, did you feel like you needed to get back to America?
For sure. I feel like a real American boy on some level, I mean it's embarrassing to say it.
No it's not.
Oh, it is. America is so despicable.
Australia is too.
Yeah but I just wanted to get back, I had to get back to America at one point. And also I'm pretty lucky, I can do summers in Berlin and spend time off tour during the year in Chicago, so it's pretty good.
Are you working on a new album at the moment?
Yeah, I'm writing always. I tend to write and record every single day. In the morning is best and anytime I can on the road. I have probably two hours of new music that I've written.
Just like Lil Wayne.
Yeah I am a lot like Wayne actually. I've got my purple lean right here. Have you heard his new tape?
A few tracks, although I don't really like when he raps over other beats…
Are you crazy? That's like the best shit! I don't give a shit about Lil Wayne albums, I just want Lil Wayne mixtapes!
We will have to disagree I love The Carter albums.
But he's at his best going in over other peoples beats. He just has this crazy knack for picking up someone's cadence and then flipping it and then making it way, way tighter than they ever could. Or like picking up the little slang in the track and just flipping it. I also love, did you hear the Future Shit flip on Sorry 4 The Wait 2 tape? He does this like interpolation of Motownphilly by Boyz II Men. He sounds so twisted, it's amazing.
My favourite song of this summer is Truffle Butter by Nicki Minaj and Drake and Wayne, I scream Weezy's verse when it comes on in the club.
I love that too! The line "I'll put one leg on the tub girl, this my new dance move, I just don't know what to call it".... he's such a legend because Lil Wayne really does want he wants, he seems to have total freedom, total unimpeded magic, like how has he not cracked up or exploded? On his recordings he just sounds completely unchained, it's beautiful. He's nasty, too, he's a nasty motherfucker...
Who else are you listening to at the moment?
Ahh I've got this Fleetwood Mac album that I really like that I've never heard before called Tusk. There's this really beautiful song on there called Beautiful Child that made me cry. I really like a couple of songs on the Panda Bear album and a bunch of really silly stuff like Shania Twain and Savage Garden.
Oh, really? They're Australian? Cool. They were so massive in America, his voice is so beautiful. Do you consider Savage Garden at all RnB?
I think they are! I feel like they are kinda RnB. I would love to write a song with those guys.
I want to hear a Savage Garden X How to Dress Well pop smash!
Hey, maybe I really will do a song with Savage Garden.
Interview by Courtney D read the full article up on i-D.