Meet the musician who’s doing a PhD for fun

Tom Krell (How to Dress Well) mixes experimental and ambient sound with the immediacy of a rock star.

When How to Dress Well, the stage name for Tom Krell, arrives in Vancouver for a show at the Biltmore Cabaret, he’ll find loads of friends and family, and a city that’s ready to party for the last show of his North American tour for his latest release, Care.

He spoke with The Peak before his show in Dallas about what makes his show worth going to, what German philosophy and nihilism have to do with his sound, and what music is all about for this American singer-songwriter.

Though he specializes in an ambient and experimental sound, with a sprinkling of pop, Krell’s voice sounds raspy and almost rocker-like while performing live. “The show is really, really unique insofar as it’s extremely beautiful moments paired with really energetic and fun, loud and dance-y moments. I don’t think there’s anything else like it on the road right now. It feels special.”

For Krell, how the music feels is everything.

“It’s fun to do the live show because some songs just feel amazing, just the way the vocal melody sits in my body, or the way the guitar sounds or the drums rock.

“It’s such a naïve, bodily, very free and playful thing — the music writing — whereas as an act, philosophy is a discipline. It’s a totally different kind of game.”

As for whether his doctoral pursuit influences his music, the simple answer is no. “I mean, obviously, there’s a common thread between music and the philosophy studies, and that’s me. But they’re extremely different kinds of acts. Like, I also play a lot of basketball, but that doesn’t really affect my sound either. It does give me a lot of bodily pleasure to do that, and so does singing, so there is some common ground, but not really.”

As for how he juggles his philosophical pursuits with his life as a musician? “The study is just like, it’s not a career or anything. It’s just something I’m doing for leisure.”

Despite Care having only come out last month, Krell’s already thinking to the future. “I’m always writing. I’ve done a few songs in the last few months that I’m extremely excited about [. . .] I’m always just following these songs around, thinking of what feels really good, and always writing.”

How to Dress Well also likes to switch things up on stage, to play with the set list and make each experience something special. “Lately, I feel like ‘The Ruins’ and ‘Made a Lifetime’ — we did them back to back last night (in New Orleans) and it felt so fucking sick.”

Krell will be here to play as much music as he can. “Sometimes, when you’re up there [on stage] you’re like, ‘Can we just do every song? Can we just stay out here forever?’ And then the venue’s like, we have to close. We need to clean up.”

How to Dress Well will be at the Biltmore Cabaret on October 20. Tickets are available on Timbre Concerts’ website.