PREP’s Tom Havelock discusses city pop origins, spreads yacht rock love

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If smooth yacht rock and electronic pop band PREP isn’t on everyone’s radar already, it should be. Made up of a classically trained pianist, a house DJ, a hip-hop producer and a songwriter-for-hire, PREP is churning out groovy, 1970s-inspired tracks that will take listeners back to the days of mustachioed dads and corduroy pants.

In an interview with The Daily Californian, lead singer and songwriter Tom Havelock unpacked the complexities of PREP’s sound, mentioning that the members each bring their own “different flavors” to PREP’s music. Inspired by Japanese city pop producers of the ’80s like Tatsuro Yamashita, the band mixes yacht rock with a city pop style, noting the “sad” qualities and “quiet, incessant grooves” that make Havelock enjoy the music so much.?

It’s got a kind of melancholy quality to it,” Havelock said. “There’s a bunch of sort of ’70s and ’80s music … and then also a lot of more modern sounds, like a Kaytranada production (or) Unknown Mortal Orchestra.”

The band’s diverse makeup doesn’t let any of its talent go to waste. Keyboardist Llywelyn ap Myrddin uses his deep knowledge of harmony to set the backbone for songs, while hip-hop-influenced producer Dan Radclyffe and DJ Guillaume Jambel add in their own flairs. Havelock puts the icing on the cake with his lyrics and vocals, a method that, without fail, gives PREP its signature sound.

“This yacht rock-y sound is where we meet,” Havelock said. “The kind of day-to-day way it works is the other three guys make the instrumental tracks, which are pretty complete songs without any vocals on, and then I give them a listen and sing some stuff over the top.”?

But as with any group, four musicians with different backgrounds are bound to clash. Havelock likened PREP’s settlement of disagreements to making a horror movie: While directors can stretch the genre to a certain extent, there’s a clean set of rules that is always followed.

“Everything takes a long time because, inevitably, there’s loaded discussion about what direction it should go in,” Havelock said. “I guess what makes resolving those conversations easier … is that there’s this blueprint there for what we want to do.”?

PREP has garnered recognition for revitalizing the genre of city pop, a soft rock style of music that originated in Japan in the 1970s. Havelock admitted that the group wasn’t aware it was considered city pop or that the genre existed until the members toured Asia, but they’ve embraced the label since.?

We’re listening to these songs that we really love and that really resonate with us,” Havelock said. “We want to follow the same kind of line, in terms of the writing and structures, often, but we want to update production.”

Havelock revealed that PREP is currently working on its first full-length album, which the band hopes will stay true to the sound PREP has been cultivating for the past few years. Havelock predicted that the record will have a stronger electronic element, but that “the basic sound is what people know us for.” When composing albums with complex scores of music, however, Havelock mentioned that PREP often faces challenges surrounding how to bring extravagant tracks to life onstage. But since PREP has played more and more across the world, it has worked out most of the kinks.

?“The original concept was that we’d be in the studio writing songs, making it all there, and we’d get musicians to come into the studio and play,” Havelock said. “A lot of it would be electronic productions, and there was zero thought about how we’d actually go and do it onstage.”?

Currently, PREP is gearing up to visit the West Coast again on its tour, and this is the first time the band visits the Bay Area. “We’ve signed with a label that’s based in San Francisco,” Havelock said. “They’re really supportive and that’s all really exciting. It’s becoming kind of a second hub for us that we’ve yet to visit.” The charming quartet is undoubtedly one to keep an eye on, putting its own spin on city pop and grooving its way into listeners’ hearts.

Pooja Bale covers music. Contact her at [email protected].