Combing elements of various genres all into one, London-based pop band, PREP, are the coolest boys in town. Unlike your ordinary four-pack band, all four members of PREP come from different musical backgrounds. While one is a hip-hop producer, one is a pop songwriter, the other is a DJ, and there's even a musical composer, they join forces all for the love of music.
Emerging on the scene back in 2016, PREP had modernized city-pop as they expanded on the norms and fused sounds of R&B and Funk. Instantly connecting with a nonstop groove, the band have provided smooth retro leaning jams that are nostalgic sounding yet still fresh for today’s soundscape.
Comprised of vocalist Tom Havelock, drummer Guillaume Jambel, producer Dan Radclyffe, and keyboardist Llywelyn ap Myrddin, PREP explored city-pop, a Japanese genre that they’ve helped to revive in 2018. After a trip overseas, the band expanded their sound, cultivated a massive following, and were ready to reinvent.
Crafting the world of PREP, simplicity is key for the boys and they make it clear with a precise vision that comes to life with their aesthetic. As they’re ready to release their full-length debut album in October, CTRL talks to the band about the album, their style, and more.
The album is very synth-heavy, what made you guys want to approach this direction with this project?
I don’t think it was a conscious choice to go that way - we definitely didn’t start with a plan to be a synth band - but I guess there are certain electronic sounds we’ve ended up gravitating towards, some of which come from the kind of records that have inspired us, and some of which are us trying to escape those records and make something new.
Was there a specific concept for the album? How did it come together? And how long did it take to complete?
It’s all about the sound of the record - which is really how the band started. This idea of reimagining the world of smooth music from the late 70s and early 80s, trying to give it a new kind of production kick.
The process was weirdly quick for us. We were used to a way of working where we could easily take 6 months to finish one song. But we did an album deal last year and suddenly had three months to write as much as we could. Then lockdown happened, a load of touring got canceled, and before we could get too miffed about that we realized that actually, here was this gift of time we needed to finish off the record.
A lot of that happened with us in different rooms, sending files back and forth, but then after a few weeks we were allowed to get back in the studio - even if we had to sit at opposite ends of the room - so we got to finish things off kind of together. Or maybe three of us together, one waving in the corner on Zoom.
Where did the name PREP originate?
PREP came from a phrase Llywelyn used to have about getting ready for a big night out. Preparation.
How do you guys manage to find an appropriate balance of bringing each member unique style into one?
It’s partly about giving each other space - we work separately quite a lot, so one person gets a chance to take a song quite a long way in their direction without interruptions from anyone else. And we’re lucky in having this really strong shared understanding of what PREP should sound like, so we don’t tend to get those scenes I think lots of bands do where the singer’s heard a tasty new record and suddenly wants to go off in a new direction that no one else is into.
With four drastically different musical backgrounds, you guys are bound to clash. What is usually the common ground when settling on a final decision?
I guess it comes back to this shared sense of what the sound is. But that common ground is always shifting, and you’re right, we all come from massively different musical worlds and those spats are going to happen. Generally whoever cares the least will go silent, then everyone else fights it out.
What is it about Japanese City Pop that has inspired your sound?
The City Pop thing is a weird one, because people started telling us we reminded them of those records before we’d ever really listened to them. But as soon as we started digging in, we loved it. The songs, the production, the whole aesthetic - it’s music with this super clean, perfect surface, but when you start to scratch into that there’s often some real sadness underneath. That kind of hi-fi melancholy is a big part of what we’re trying to do.
There’s this simplistic aesthetic from the sounds to the overall style that has remained consistent. Is there any particular reasoning behind that?
Simplicity is important, although we’d never want to be too basic. We work really hard to keep things interesting in the harmony, the lyrics, but without that ever disrupting the flow. We want the songs to have that same clean surface I was talking about with City Pop - there has to be a strong groove, and there has to be smoothness, whatever murkier emotional stuff is going on under the surface.
The likes of Mac DeMarco and Tyler, The Creator were cited as influences on what you guys do. If PREP were to collaborate with either artists, what would the final product sound like?
It could be messy and beautiful. Or it could be us having an awkward conversation about how much we love the video for On The Level over a Jeff Porcaro beat.
With the current climate of the 2020 soundscape being overall synth-heavy and 80s inspired nowadays, do you think now there’s more potential for you guys as a band to widen your appeal and overall expand your audience?
I mean, let’s hope so. If there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s that if you just do your thing, love and support can flow in from the most unexpected places. Scenes are always shifting, and it’s exciting when something you’re doing is right on that point that everyone’s paying attention to. But I also hope there’s something deeper going on with our music that will keep people listening to it even when the spotlight’s moved on to the next thing.
PREP also curated a playlist for CTRL:
“This playlist will place you in the controller seat of PREP’s studio. Here the future always communicates with the past, and at all times it remains smooth. For the next 80 minutes Benny Sings will set the tone, while Diane Tell takes you to Quebec in 1982, challenging her inner Steely Dan. Jacob Collier will show off his incredible arranging skills while Letherette samples and cuts up Bobby Caldwell for some sweet dancefloor action. Bringing things down, Shura and Rosie Lowe represent the smoother side of the UK and, last but not least, some essential City Pop classics courtesy of Hiroshi Sato, Minako Yoshida, and the classic 4 am from Taeko Onuki. Enjoy” - Guillaume Jambel