How to Dress Well on the Visual Side of ” I Am Toward You”

How to Dress Well

This year brought with it a new album from How to Dress Well — I Am Toward You, the first album from Tom Krell’s musical project since 2018’s The Anteroom. (In the meantime, Krell’s earned his doctorate in philosophy.) With the new album out in the world for about a month, I chatted with Krell about the visual side of things, the artwork by Joshua James Clancy, and his thoughts on AI and generative technology.

How did you and the Joshua James Clancy Organization first begin working together? And how has that relationship evolved over time?

We first met through Acephale Records, a label that put out early records from How To Dress Well and Elite Gymnastics, JJC’s amazing band. This was in…. 2011! Wow, a different world and life back then.The relationship has evolved in amazing ways – as friends, we’ve both grown immeasurably, including both recently becoming fathers. Artistically, the work has evolved from a single album cover image inspired by the Bataille death mask on a beautiful edition of Le Coupable, to building experiential ecosystems around the last two records, The Anteroom and I Am Toward You. For I Am Toward You we talked a lot about how fragments and contingencies accrue a kind of semic density over years and precipitate in an undeniable life. So we started from that insight and began painting and sketching what would become the full world of the record.

The cover art and the video for “New Confusion” share some imagery; did one predate the other?

They were born of a single process of experimentation, painting and doing bizarro bricolage type work in VR– from conversations about prehistoric art, death nesting, dim revelations. We did a bunch of real movement and ‘peripeteia’ to the music with LiDAR and mapped that to the virtual environment, modulating spatial and temporal parameters— moving from the speed of the body to ‘mach speed,’ etc. The cover art is actually something more like fifty micro arrangements collaged together, born of these processes of experimentation and spatio-temporal dilation and compression. Ultimately, the sound of the record is the same – countless micro arrangements assembled into a holding ‘nest’ or minimally unifying world.

What was the process of collaborating on the artwork like this time out? 

Because we spent a lot more time on this than in the past, where a record was turned around in a year or eighteen months because I needed to get back out on tour to earn a living, the collaboration was way more protracted and slow. This is ideal. Everything is too fast now, so it was super nice to just be patient and complete the work at its own pace.

"I Am Toward You" cover art
“I Am Toward You” cover art

At what point when making music are you thinking about the visual component of it?

At the instant of creation. So much of my sound is sort of ‘sonics first,’ textural and detailed. And so much of my lyrical content is inspired by visions, cinematics, etc. So, the second I started on this record, I had the images in mind. Of course, metabolizing these visions and mediating them through contemporary media and tech changes and mutates the vision a lot. You end up somewhere different than you thought you would, and then go back and sort of learn what you meant to mean in the visionary first moment. 

At a point in history when there’s a lot of discussion of AI and visuals, do you feel like there’s something almost political about working with human artists on a project like this?

I mean, we used generative technologies at different moments in this process. I don’t really care about the ‘discourse’ conversations when I’m making. When I’m thinking, I have a lot to say about the politics of this technological moment, but when I’m making, I’m tool agnostic. Ultimately, there is no universe where I wouldn’t work with humans because that’s the thing I like the most – the collaborative conversation. 


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