PREP Discuss “Pictures of You,” A Bittersweet Bop About Ending the Night Alone

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For Tom Havelock—the British singer-songwriter who fronts London’s “smooth music from the future” band PREP—melody comes first.

“[In general] I tend to work on the melody quite hard before finishing off the lyrics, often before writing any lyrics,” he tells American Songwriter of his approach. “But I think unconsciously [the lyrics] are probably there—you know what you’re writing about, you know what the feeling is, even if you haven’t actually put the words to it.”

In the case of PREP’s new single “Pictures of You,” Havelock’s vocals were the final addition to the track, which the band had put on the backburner for a few years. The first lyric Havelock wrote—“pictures of you”—would guide the rest of his effort.

“When it first came into my head I was thinking about someone being quite messed up at the end of the night and maybe they’re on their way home in that slightly wobbly state and then there’s one person who’s just in your head in that weird moment of drunken clarity,” explains Havelock. “So it was about pictures inside someone’s head—memories—more than literal photos, but then I liked the idea of someone going back home and lying there in a daze, just scrolling through photos of someone. A light obsession—that’s what it’s about. And being separated from someone—someone you can’t be with.”

On the track—a crisp, grooving electro-pop number—Havelock sings of “losing my mind at the end of the night” over vibrant synths and a funky bassline. “We wanted it to feel like it’s got a nice little bounce,” says keyboardist Llywelyn Ap Myrddin. “We’ve done some real nice slow groovers that have been quite mellow. [On] this one we wanted to keep it bright and up-tempo and quite positive in the vibe.”

“Pictures of You” is the third song PREP has released this year following “Over” (featuring Anna of the North) and “Love Breaks Down.” The band is rounded out by drummer Guillaume Jambel and producer Dan Radclyffe in addition to Havelock and Myrddin, both of whom spoke to American Songwriter by phone from their current digs in London. Check out the full interview and listen to “Pictures of You” below.

American Songwriter: What’s the story behind “Pictures of You”? How did it come together?

Tom Havelock: Basically the way we tend to write all our tracks is I sing, and I tend to hear these demos that the other guys have made. They’re pretty complete songs by the time they get to me, but they haven’t got any singing on them. They kind of sound like a record with the vocals taken off.

Llywelyn Ap Myrddin: [“Pictures of You”] is a real old one, actually.

Tom: Yeah, I think it’s been around in one shape or another since we first put out “Cheapest Flight,” which is a few years ago. It’s got this thing about it—it’s always stuck around.

Llywelyn: It’s been a few years. It was on the hard drive waiting for something to happen. It was this sketch—we thought up the intro and then one day I think Dan brought up, “There [are] cool chords that could go in the chorus.” Suddenly it felt like a song. And then I think your vocal came together pretty quickly, didn’t it Tom? It just clicked really nicely.

Tom: Yeah, it all locked into place.

So the melody was in place before the lyrics, or they both evolved together?

Tom: It’s funny. [In general] I tend to work on the melody quite hard before finishing off the lyrics, often before writing any lyrics. But I think unconsciously they’re probably there—you know what you’re writing about, you know what the feeling is, even if you haven’t actually put the words to it. With this one I’m trying to think if any of the words were there straight away. I think that “pictures of you” was there pretty early on.

What does that phrase mean to you?

Tom: When it first came into my head I was thinking about someone being quite messed up at the end of the night and maybe they’re on their way home in that slightly wobbly state and then there’s one person who’s just in your head in that weird moment of drunken clarity. So it was about pictures inside someone’s head—memories—more than literal photos, but then I liked the idea of someone going back home and lying there in a daze, just scrolling through photos of someone. A light obsession—that’s what it’s about. And being separated from someone—someone you can’t be with.

In terms of production, what was the sound or vibe you were going for with the track?

Llywelyn: It’s quite upbeat and quite positive. I think we wanted that feeling there. We wanted it to feel like it’s got a nice little bounce. We’ve done some real nice slow groovers that have been quite mellow. [On] this one we wanted to keep it bright and up-tempo and quite positive in the vibe. We used some cool synths on there which worked out nicely, and also had two solos on it—a guitar thing and a synth thing, which is quite unusual for us.

Tom: We often have songs where the emotional feeling of the song isn’t an obvious match for the feeling of the production. [In] this one, the song is quite sad and introspective in some ways, but it’s got this real jaunty groove to it. You find interesting places like that. That clash can take you somewhere that’s a bit more interesting than going with the totally obvious instruments you might expect to put under a particular kind of feeling.

What are some influences that you register in the music you’re making right now?

Tom: There’s a bunch. Mac Demarco is someone we all listen to a lot. It might not be obvious—his stuff can feel like it’s been put together so quickly and it’s got that lo-fi thing, whereas we tend to really work on stuff and hit this slightly perfectionist thing. But the thing he does in his songs—a sad feeling with a kind of nice, slightly sunny groove to it—he’s definitely in there. Llywelyn? I’m less involved in the production side of things.

Llywelyn: Loads of stuff. We’ve all been listening to Thundercat quite a bit recently—his new album, and his album before. We’ve definitely been enjoying that. It’s interesting ‘cause he’s got a very fresh sound, but he’s also had Michael McDonald guesting on one of his tracks. He’s got really nice songwriting and an interesting take on lyrics. That’s what we’re aiming for, really: classic ideas of songwriting, but with a fresh approach. That would be someone I reckon we’ve all been checking out recently.

Is there anything else you want to share about “Pictures of You” or the rest of the music you’ve been working on recently? I know there’s an album coming down the line.

Tom: There is! That’s what we want to share. We had a real rash of writing at the end of last year and we’re just working through that in these strange circumstances, passing sessions back and forth, doing what we can. The plan is to have a record ready within the next few months. We’ll try to do it as quickly as we can. That’s gonna be a big thing for us.

Llywelyn: We’re going to instantly double the number of songs we’ve released! Well now we’ve released fourteen songs, so that’s not exactly true, but we like to take our time and make sure we get it right. We’re not compromising on this—we’re taking our time on it. But it’s going to be really satisfying having a lot more music out there, and songs we’re really proud of. To really feel the album coming together now is a great feeling.

“Pictures of You” is out now via Bright Antenna Records. If you dig what you hear, check out their vinyl selection.

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