After the recent warm weather we’ve had, I was surprised to arrive at a coffee shop with Sam Prentice (better known as brooding dark pop sensation CYMK) dressed in an oversized black top with a black hat.
It’s not uncommon for artists to have outstanding fashion sense, but CYMK more often than not takes it to a whole new level.
“It makes me feel good,” Sam says about his fashion sense, with a telling smile. “I think when I was younger I used to like dressing how I want, whatever that was, and more so now that I’m an adult I kind of have that freedom again. I fully throw myself into wearing what I like, wear a dress, wear a skirt. It’s just I think at the core I like being the center of attention.”
And wearing his heart literally on his sleeve is not exclusive to his incredible dress sense, but also comes through in his music. The new album ‘Bad Habits’ is available on all forms of online streaming and purchase now and it’s release for me personally, is probably one of the best I’ve heard anywhere this year.
If you were to introduce it, what would be your words?
I tested the field broadly, as Sam stirred his milkshake with a straw.
“Well, I would say that it’s a study of humanity…” Stirs milkshake again, “That tackles the, on a personal level and on a world level, faults of humanity.”
I press further:
“The album is titled ‘Bad Habits’ because that is its overarching theme,” Sam laughs at himself “Because, when I wrote my last EP (Phase, also available everywhere and more than worth listening to) I wrote this set of songs and said ‘that’s it, I’m not writing any more songs about that boy. And guess what? I wrote way more songs about it because I realized I wasn’t over it.”
It’s the kind of honesty that Sam gives in his interview with me, within 5 minutes of us talking, that shows just how revealing ‘Bad Habits’ as an album is about CYMK, about Sam. This makes the songs more appealing, and tug further at the heart strings.
This perhaps shows more than anything in the video and absolute brilliance of ‘Long Way Home’, the lead single from the album, depicting a moody breakup song, combining scintillating melodies with heart-damaging production.
So for the video for ‘Long Way Home’, how did that come about? What was behind that?
“It’s based heavily on the content of the song. It’s based on the relationship I told myself that I would never write about again, but it’s kind of reflective thing, I’m not really in the moment more, it happened, I watched it fall apart. It did just happen suddenly. The frustration through the dancing, snapshots of thrashing, it’s the idea of not being able to stop the inevitable from happening.”
Long Way Home, the whole idea of it, makes me think of dark evenings walking home and wallowing.
In truth, the song is gold dust. Melodically beautiful, incredible sustain and production, including a killer use of reverb. But what makes that song, and the album is the honesty behind the record. However, on this album, CYMK could not help but pop in a political song, under the title of ‘Billionaire Boys Club’. The lyrics seem stunningly obvious at points ‘sat up in your ivory tower’ with ‘your tiny hands’
“It’s about Donald Trump.”
I had no idea (wink wink nudge nudge).
“(your tiny hands) yeah, I was very pleased I could get that in, I had been sitting on that title for ages (Billionaire Boys Club) and, I think of a concept and then I’ll have like a little note in my phone full of song ideas. I had it for ages, I think after Riot Club came out. I enjoyed the concept of this group of rich men just being really shitty.”
I jested at the idea that this was the American cabinet office…
The faults of humanity are an important part of songs like ‘Problematic Human’ and ‘Bad Habits (Long Way Home Pt. 2), but another thing that is vital to CYMK’s music throughout, rather surprisingly, is colour. Obviously, an artist called CYMK, with as vibrant imagery on previous works, has some interest in colour but Sam revealed to me why this is.
“It’s a big part of my identity because I have synesthesia, which is when I listen to music I see colours. Music is always a very visual thing for me, and it affects the way I even listen to music in a big way, I’ve always liked the idea of doing a different colour for each album. I hear with ‘Bad Habits’, a lot of red and black, but there are other elements, so it kind of naturally progresses between work. Often I’ll hear something, and I’ll say like ‘this sounds very red’ and people often look at me like, ‘what’? But I think most people get it.”
Often I’ll hear something, and I’ll say like ‘this sounds very red’ and people often look at me like, ‘what’? But I think most people get it.
I do, personally, not to such an extreme level, but I am in complete awe of the way he can combine music and color to create what CYMK is, and now I understand why it’s so important.
“The best way to describe it, is you know in ‘Ratatouille’ (Disney film about a rat chef) when he (Remy) tries that bit of food and he sees like those swirls of color around him? That’s like the same for me, but it’s more of a fog.”
A colourful fog is certainly a brilliant image of what you can see with a lot of the music in ‘Bad Habits’. I can personally picture it right from the prologue. I’m not sure I can associate Ratatouille with it though; I don’t think that’ll happen.
“Another important part of your music is your sexuality. It comes across very clearly, is that something very important to you?”
Is it important to represent the LGBT community through music, for you?
I thought I would hit him with a difficult question, but as with most things, he calmly and profoundly talked me through it.
“It’s a bit of both. Of course, I like men. And I think it’s important for me therefore to use personal pronouns. For example in ‘Tell Me,’ I explicitly say ‘boyfriend, and I do that consciously. For instance, with artists like Sam Smith, he is gay but avoids pronouns in his song writing as he thinks it’s more accessible to everyone. And whilst I understand that mindset, I think that my music is first and foremost for myself, and it’s about my experiences. It’s important to keep it personal, it’s very much like a diary for me.”
I’m also a big advocate of being the change you want to see in the world. I’m so open about being gay, and raw, and myself.
I added in my thoughts, “In my opinion, I think it’s important for people, for artists, to say what they want to say. And I feel there are not a lot of artists in the charts writing from an LGBT perspective, even though many of them are part of that community.”
Sam expands for me.
“Especially in this day and age, because the music industry is so saturated. There are artists out there writing from the LGBT perspective, but they’re just not getting a push.There needs to be like openness, something needs to change. Music that is popular, while I do love it, it does portray a very narrow section of life.”
Indeed it does, and CYMK has not been afraid to push that, to step outside of it, and on the fascinating and brilliant ‘Bad Habits’ he does that.
We’ve both finished our drinks at this point, so I ask him one last question.
“Well…” He pauses to think, and once again, refers to visuals. “I want to do more videos for this album. I have kind of ambitious visual ideas for songs like ‘Try’ and ‘Billionaire Boys Club’, and I definitely want to do one for ‘Tell Me’ because it’s such a personal song.”
In terms of the next record, CYMK would not reveal to me any titles and definitely said no to publishing them. He did let me listen to some, and let me say, they’re incredible. Synths out of the 80s, can I say that? I’m pretty certain he would allow me to say that. As we wrapped up our interview, we realized we had been chatting for about three-quarters of an hour without realizing it. As well as a wonderfully open person, he’s a wonderfully open artist.
CYMK’s album ‘Bad Habits’ is brilliant. Stop what you’re doing (or intending to do after reading SUBCULTURE) and go and stick it on. Have a little cry if you must, and rejoice in the beautiful sound of humanities faults.