Interview with Charlie Puth: "I'm a fan of enjoying the moment, which is why I'm not playing Pokémon Go"
Not just a one-hit wonder
To say it's been a pretty good year for Charlie Puth would be an understatement. His stratospheric rise to stardom has secured three Grammy nominations and a Golden Globe stamp of approval under his belt, courtesy of his chart-topping Furious 7 soundtrack 'See You Again' — a song you couldn't escape from as it hit airwaves all around the world. Even if you tried.
Aside from the Paul Walker-dedicated track, you'll also recognise the singer-songwriter's gooey pop ballad 'One Call Away' or the exasperatingly catchy 'Marvin Gaye' duet with Meghan Trainor. His first record, Nine Track Mind, dropped in 2016, which included previous hit singles as well as another chart-topper — the tropically breezy house number 'We Don't Talk Anymore', featuring Selena Gomez.
When he kicked off his first-ever Asia tour in August 2016 for Nine Track Mind, the unusually browed (no, it's not a Vanilla Ice tribute — his right eyebrow was bitten by a black lab when he was two) singer descended upon Singapore with a jet lagged, cheery smile as he talked to press before his performance.
Welcome to Singapore! First off, what does it feel to be Charlie Puth today?
Tired, but very thankful. Charlie Puth — I'm gonna talk about myself in third person — feels really good to be me. I come from a humble position, because I made all these songs in my laptop and now I need to perform in front of lots of people around the world. It's like paying you to sing these songs that actually come from the heart. So it's cool.
Are you happy?
I am. All I am is tired. Someone needs to give me a big energy drink or something like that.
Selena Gomez made a stop here during her Revival Tour. Did she give you any travel advice or do you guys just don't talk anymore?
Really? I didn't even know she was here, so I guess we don't talk anymore.
Back then, you created jingles and composed theme songs for other YouTubers. You started off small and now you're here. So how does it feel going from that online platform to the world stage?
In high school, I used to charge money for theme songs [written] for these popular YouTube channels. Sometimes I wouldn't even charge any money if they're big enough, just "Hey, give me a shout out at the end of your video!" That's also how I grew my YouTube followers. I did that through college. I felt like the man and was taking everybody out to dinner. "I made three theme songs, McDonald's on me!" and boom, big widespread.
I try to make the world stage feel like a platform. It's really cool that I get to meet fans and people who are with me from the very early days. I look at it as making music in my own bedroom. I made this whole album and my album is made in my bedroom. I would probably continue to always make music in my bedroom. I'd like to perform there too, that'll be cool, but the audience seems to be getting bigger which is a good thing too.
Where do you get your inspiration from when you make music? Is there a happy place you go to?
I actually have to activate the happy place. If I'm uncomfortable at all, I won't write a good song. In my hotel room here, I made a track just last night because I had these fancy blinds that open and you can see all parts of Downtown. I'm a very visual person so I usually look at things and then work with the sounds.
I love hearing people talk too. Even when my friends break up with their girlfriends or boyfriends, I'll have them talk to me in detail about it. Sometimes it'll be really hard for them to talk about it. "Dude, just keep going because I still haven't found that line yet. Just keep talking." I almost always eavesdrop on people's conversations as well. That's how 'We Don't Talk Anymore' came about. My friend broke up with somebody and I asked him "Do you still talk to her?" "No, we don't talk anymore."
Does your friend still talk to you though?
Oh yeah, of course.
Have you pissed anyone yet from asking too many questions?
I think I just naturally piss people off (laughs). No, everyone knows that I'm the weird songwriter.
Are there any musicians you've listened to while growing up that you'd want to collaborate with?
Yes, I actually got a chance to open for Billy Joel, which was cool, there were 45,000 people in a stadium. And I got a standing ovation from his audience which was nuts. I really model my music after him.
James Taylor, who's a guitar player. And you'd think, "You're a piano player, why are you listening to a guitar player?" I'm going to answer that question that you didn't ask. James Taylor plays the guitar like I play the piano. He plays the guitar really interestingly. Any singer-songwriter from the golden age of the '70s has really rich dance music. I'm very much about it.
Paul McCartney has some of the most beautiful music. 'If I Fell' by The Beatles has really beautiful chord changes. Anyone who has that in the olden days, I will try to bring that to my music today.
What made you decide to delve into the pop genre?
I haven't written a pop song until maybe three years ago. I went to Berkeley just to study jazz and classical piano. But I grew up with this pop palette, my parents would always play pop music. My mum would listen to Barry White and my dad would listen to Tchaikovsky. There are a lot of melodic similarities [between pop and classical music] believe it or not. That's kind of what inspired me to write pop. And I can integrate jazz music into pop music. That's what I've been trying to do everyday.
You mentioned you look up to James Taylor, who was in a very highly publicised marriage with—
With Carly Simon.
That's right. How would you feel to have your relationship under public scrutiny, would you be comfortable with that?
I've had a lot of changes in my life and I can adapt to them. I used to actually cry when paparazzis follow me. I was in France one time and I was so stressed out, because these two vans followed me for an hour. Now if that happens, I'll just laugh and be with a couple of my friends and I'll tell the driver, "Hey, pull over. Do you guys want your picture?" And they'll be like, "Yes, please." "Because I'd love it if you guys stop following me." I'll get used to that.
I haven't dated anybody for a very long time, because I've been really focusing on the career but I think I'm ready to find somebody again. I'm not going to not date somebody because they're famous. If I really like them, and we truly vibe, then it's going to work out.
Why did you call your album Nine Track Mind?
I call my debut album Nine Track Mind, because when 'See You Again' came out, it was a life-changing moment and a lot of people, literally millions of people, knew who I was overnight. I already had a little bit of anxiety and it would get out of control.
So when I was making this album — in my bedroom — I had a lot of anxiety and I didn't want to go outside from time to time, because it was just too much. I had definitely more than nine things on my mind but I said that exactly to myself, "I have so many things on my mind, I definitely have more than nine things on my mind," and I was like, "Nine. Mind. Rhymes Nine Track Mind. Done."
How are you coping with anxiety right now? If you have a chance to be yourself again, without all this, would you take it?
No, I like this. I'm not like, "I hate this life." I love this. There are so many perks that come along with being famous, and so much fun. You get to run into people who admire your work. You take pictures with them. I love stuff like that. I kind of always wanted that, so as long as it doesn't get out of control, I think it's fun.
You mentioned in an interview before that you're very selective about what you put on your social media. How do you curate what you want to post?
I don't think I've had a week off for the first time in a year. But you don't want to put out too many things and people are gonna be like, "We're getting kind of sick of this kid now." You know what I mean? I'm a private person too. So I don't need to tweet, "Hey guys, there's a great chipotle at the corner of blah blah blah." I just want to eat lunch and just be there and enjoy the moment. I'm a huge fan of enjoying the moment, which is why I'm not playing that Pokémon Go.
There was a Pokémon right on that chair where you're sitting on before you came in.
Oh, really? I was with Joe Jonas the other time, he was playing Pokémon Go and there was one right here (motioning to his crotch). And he was like, "Don't move." So I stayed in this position for like a really long time.
Do you have a screenshot of that? I'm sure he took one.
He took it and it's on his Twitter, if you're interested.
Charlie Puth performed on 10 August at The Coliseum, Hard Rock Hotel. This article was first published in August 2016.
Charlie Puth returns to Singapore with 'Voicenotes' Live on 13 November at The Star Theatre. Tickets go on sale on 28 June at Live Nation.