Pop star Charlie Puth goes back to jazz roots on new album 'Voicenotes'

  • Music
  • Sunday, 13 May 2018

Charlie Puth wrote his new album in his parents' home in New Jersey, saying it was important to connect with family after so much time on the road. Photo: AFP

American singer Charlie Puth's silky falsetto made him a global pop star, but his roots, he is quick to point out, are in jazz.

Puth spent a year-and-a-half writing and revising his second album Voicenotes (released on May 11), and despite warnings that it was not commercially viable, he found himself repeatedly turning to jazz.

It's not as if his fans will think he's gone in a drastic new direction. Instead, Puth hears jazz in the warm chord progressions of the keyboards hidden under the pop texture.

Voicenotes – whose first single, Attention, is driven by a gently strummed guitar line and funky bass – harks back to the retro production of songwriters such as Babyface, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who Puth sees as heirs to the jazz tradition.

“The whole album is jazz disguised as pop music,” Puth told a news conference in Los Angeles, California. “I've established a vibe where my music, it might lean adult in a way, but I still have 12-year-olds, teenagers, pre-teenagers – they are all singing the music.

“And that makes me the happiest guy ever because I'm secretly 'edumacating' them, whether they like it or not,” he said with a laugh.

Puth took up classical piano as a child and was playing jazz by age 10 before heading to study at the Manhattan School of Music. The 26-year-old, while acknowledging he failed at transcribing music in school, has an uncanny talent for recognising pitches.

See You Again, which appeared in the action film Furious 7 as a tribute to late actor Paul Walker and features rapper Wiz Khalifa, became a viral hit in 2015 and remains the second most-watched video ever on YouTube.

But Puth, whose first album Nine Track Mind also produced the hits We Don't Talk Anymore (featuring Selena Gomez) and Marvin Gaye (featuring Meghan Trainor), said that Voicenotes felt more like his debut album as it was more sonically consistent.

The album title comes from the vocal notes function on his iPhone, which Puth said he constantly uses as he sings out tunes that come to his head. He wrote the album in his parents' home in New Jersey, saying it was important to connect with family after so much time on the road.

“It's incredible, truly, how the more famous you get, the more alone you are,” he said.

Puth collaborated on the album with Boyz II Men, whose sound is in tune with Voicenotes, as well as the folk-rock legend James Taylor, whom Puth called a longstanding inspiration.

Puth said he would be happy to go full jazz and play with the jazz greats such as Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock – if they called him. "That would be incredible," he said.

Puth's retro turn into 1980s and 1990s R&B comes amid the success of Bruno Mars, who borrowed liberally from the genre on his Grammy-winning last album. Puth believed that the sound popularised by artistes such as Janet Jackson and Bobby Brown still feels fresh.

“I didn't invent this style of music. All I'm doing is the 2018, 2019 version of it,” he said. – AFP Relaxnews

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