IN CONVERSATION WITH CHARLIE PUTH
interview by JANA LETONJA
Charlie Puth has proven to be one of the industry’s most consistent hitmakers and sought-after collaborators. He has amassed eight multi-platinum singles, four Grammy nominations, three Billboard Music Awards, a Critic’s Choice Award and a Golden Globe nomination. In October, his highly anticipated and deeply personal third studio album ‘Charlie’ was released.
Charlie, you’ve just released your third album, which is your most vulnerable album to date. Tell us more about this album.
For me, it’s a big deal that this is the most vulnerable album because I’ve never truly put out an entire body of work that is so called completely naked. No fronts, no faux pause, no lies. It’s the most truth you’re gonna get out of me with some melody attached to it, so significant to me for that reason. This is my third album. I wouldn’t have had the courage to put this type of album out at the very beginning of my career.
You decided to give your fans, 16.6 million followers on TikTok, a glimpse of your creative process and have taken them along every step of the way while developing this album. What was behind your decision to take your fans on this journey?
I think taking the fans on this journey actually enhances the music making process. For me especially, it felt like I was performing for people online and Covid kind of robbed me a little bit of performing live for my fans. So I’m performing for them in a different way. And it’s been great, because if I’m unsure about something and I get positive affirmation that’s actually quite nice sounding, it’ll make me wanna finish the song even sooner.
You started playing the piano at the very young age of 4 and then started studying jazz at the age 10. Is this how you developed love and interest in music, also as a career?
It definitely had a huge part in it. I always noticed the similarities that jazz and classical music had within traditional pop music. Meaning the pop music that I grew up with. I would listen to an NSYNC or a Backstreet Boys record and hear melodies that are in Mozart, simply saying. But I always loved drawing those similarities or listen to R&B, like a Luther Vandross record and listening to Bill Evans play piano and hearing that same type of G major seven chord I heard in this R&B record and that came out in 1988 and this came out in 1968, so I wonder who was listening to who and et cetera. So there’s similarities between everything, but yeah, heavily influenced by jazz classical music early on in my career.
From starting your career with releasing songs on YouTube, did you ever dream of being such a successful musician?
I always dreamed of maybe being the assistive motivational coach for anybody else who was making music online and needed some positive reinforcement in what they were doing. I would always look towards producers of my day and age on the internet and try and get their secrets. They were very secretive, they never give up any of their tricks. But that’s kind of the opposite approach I take nowadays, where I literally give people the stems of my music so they can remix the song and learn everything. So maybe one day I’ll learn something from them.
What is the most fascinating thing about music to you?
The most fascinating thing about music to me is how it can garner such an immediate emotional response from anybody and they don’t even necessarily need to listen to the type of music. It can be music that’s too loud sounding and it can cause an unpleasant reaction to the person, or it’s super reminiscent and pleasant listening and it can easily pick someone’s mood up if they’re having a bad day. I don’t really know if there’s anything else in this world that can do that. That’s what I’m most fascinated about music, people’s reactions. And I hope that I can be the one to trigger those emotions and be the one responsible for writing a song that triggers those emotions.
Which of your songs to date is the one that left the biggest impact on you?
I think ‘We Don’t Talk Anymore’ will always have a profound impact on me. Just the perspective of two people moving on from each other, knowing that so many songs have been written about that and there’s been millions of people who have experienced that sensation before, whether it be a relationship or beyond. The fact that I was able to kind of come up with this nursery rhyme, song, chorus that sounds fun to sing, but is actually kind of sad and lonesome topically, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot and broke down some barriers with that song, especially internationally. Meeting my fans who don’t speak English and they sing that song directly back to me, we have an immediate connection. And I really do believe that being my first solo international record, it really broke the mold for me.
Who is your absolute biggest musical idol?
There’s a producer named Max Martin who continues to churn out pop hit after pop hit that I’m incredibly impressed with and will forever be impressed with. I’d say him and the likes of Billy Joel and Elton John.
You’ve co-written and produced a long list of songs for other artists. How would you describe this process being different from when you’re writing and producing your own songs?
When I write for myself, I don’t even think it’s gonna be for myself. If I take that mentality, I’ll be boxing myself in from the very beginning. So when I write for myself, I always think it’s for another artist. When I’m with another artist, I’m gonna try and make a song that somebody else would sing. And it’s just like this reverse psychology that you play with your brain, which will actually produce a song that nobody ever would’ve dreamed of making.
So how do you actually then decide that a song you’ve written will be sang by another artist and not by you?
It’s just this inexplicable energetic thing. It just needs to feel right. There’s been instances like the song ‘Hallelujah’ by Jeff Buckley. It actually wasn’t written by Jeff Buckley, who was no longer living, but he put out the version of ‘Hallelujah’ that actually transcended and reached millions of people. And there were 10 different versions of that song prior. I guess it was the singer or something about the versions maybe, that just didn’t really transcend and reach a lot of people. And it was his version that did that. I’m not sure why a certain vocal works with a song or a certain song works with an artist better than another, but it just does.
You’ve also collaborated with so many artists. Can you say that one of these collaborations stands out the most to you and which one that is?
I think ‘Left and Right’ really stands out to me because it’s sung by two people that can only communicate really through music. I certainly don’t speak any Korean and Jungkook doesn’t really speak too much English, but we’re able to communicate and emphasize with each other through song. And I think that’s a really beautiful thing and can be done many times over.
Who would you really love to work with in the future?
Anyone who’s prolific in music and anyone who’s just getting their career started. I really am fascinated by up and coming talent as much as I am with the likes of legend status talent, like Adele or Lady Gaga. So I’d say honestly, I’ll work with anybody. I really am just fascinated with anyone who’s doing something different.
You’re a four time Grammy Award nominee. How does it feel to receive this recognition and praise, for one of the most famous awards in the music industry?
I like awards and if awards and being nominated for anything allows me to reach a wider audience and reach people who potentially wanna be inspired, that’s really what it’s worth. For me, it’s cool having physical awards, but there’s nothing better than inspiring people.
What are some of your other plans for the rest of 2022 and 2023, besides the release of your new album ‘Charlie’?
I really wanna make more music for other artists. Like I said before, I’m very fascinated with other artists in their work. I wanna make more albums and tour the world and meet people musically. I’m very fortunate to align myself with something as cool as being a musician where I can connect with people on an international level.
Do you have a special memory of where the audience totally surprised you and you were really fascinated by the fans?
Maybe when I performed in Brazil, when I headlined Rock in Rio. I couldn’t believe that the crowd was singing along to songs that I thought nobody knew deep within my albums.
talent CHARLIE PUTH
photography and creative direction TYLER PATRICK KENNY
styling TREVOR BOYD
grooming DARCY GILMORE WITH THE WALL GROUP
videographer ARI ABRAHAM
photography assistant AHMED MOUHAMED
studio REVIVAL LA
agent MACY RIVET & NORA CARLBLOM
editor TIMI LETONJA