Puma Blue Learned to Sound Great By Not Over-Thinking Things
Lead image by Abby Douglas

Puma Blue Learned to Sound Great By Not Over-Thinking Things

We’ve got the first play of the London musician's video for soulful, falsetto-heavy track “Only Trying 2 Tell U.”
February 5, 2018, 10:53am

Lucid and lilting, Puma Blue’s dusky pop sounds like something snatched from within the furthest reaches of his mind. On his track “Only Trying 2 Tell U,” the young south London artist plumbs the depths of his emotions with smoky melodies, snatches of layered vocals and a wistful tale of heartbreak delivered in a fragile falsetto. These elements make it feel intuitive rather than deliberate; a moment that comes into focus only briefly, before dissipating like a cloud of vapor.

“The whole song was an accident,” Puma Blue (real name Jacob Allen) says, speaking over the phone from the southeast London family home where he first wrote it, in Croydon in 2014. Taking a melody that was buzzing around his head and applying it to a guitar tuning he’d never used before, the song came together inside half an hour. “I recorded it and put it out on Soundcloud that day,” he adds, keen to highlight the impulsive nature of his work. “Back in 2014 I think I felt a lot easier about just doing that and putting it out straight away, because I didn’t think anyone was listening anyway.”

A lot’s changed since then. The release of debut EP Swum Baby last summer saw people flock to Allen’s musical pick ‘n’ mix, which combines an indie sensibility with jazz inflections and blips of electronica. Soon followed by countless festival dates and crammed shows at his local haunt, the recently-demolished Montague Arms pub in Peckham, his tales of romance gone awry drifted far further afield. “The most amazing thing was having the music resonate with people on the other side of the world,” he says. “It's really surreal. You don't expect it, and then you've got someone detailing how your tune was their break-up song—it's intense, but really beautiful that you've been able to impact someone like that.”

His very particular, kaleidoscopic sound seems a direct result of Allen’s own piecemeal attitude to listening. Jeff Buckley was an early obsession (“He inspired me early on to try and find my darker side; try and find chords that didn’t fit, but kind of do as well”), and he also reels off a list of influences that sound like the shuffle function on a playlist of every genre’s all-time greats: from D’Angelo to Donnie Hathaway, Al Green to Deftones, and J Dilla to Miles Davis. But it was Elliott Smith who perhaps had the biggest impact on the way Allen makes music—specifically, his creation of grand statements with relatively modest means. "He made the most out of that cheap sound quality, but still made it sound like an orchestra,” Allen enthuses. That ethos was something he clung to when he decided to dust off that 2014 “Only Trying 2 Tell U” demo.

“I realised early on that, if I was gonna re-record that song, the thing I found special about it was how fragile the voice sounded—I didn’t want to get rid of that,” he says now. Eschewing the showiness that his first foray into a ‘proper’ studio could have afforded him, Allen retained that delicate, accidental feel. “I didn’t want it to sound like a big band track,” he says. “I still wanted it to feel like someone leaving you a voicemail. Something personal.”

Initially reluctant to revisit it at all, by chance, he found himself in a similar situation to the one that first inspired the track all those years ago. "I felt like it'd just had its time, and to try and relate to the song again on the level that I used to would just require too much acting. I wouldn't be able to sing it meaningfully or from the soul,” he says. “But then, kind of out of nowhere, I ended up going through the same thing—I had a break-up, over summer, and it just meant that I could reconsider doing the song, because I was feeling that same way again. Even though [the break-up] was really different this time, it just added a completely new meaning for me. I guess this song almost feels like a different song to the old one. I know the chords and the lyrics are the same, but it feels like something separate to me now."

The new video for “Only Trying 2 Tell U”, which we’re premiering above, thrives off that cosmic, serendipitous style. Dreamlike and laconic, the clip follows Allen as he strolls around a pool late at night, haunted and followed by memories and former acquaintances. At one point, half-formed memories begin to play Lynchian tricks on his mind, from a ballroom dance, to half-human half-dog creatures pottering about in the background. It’s kind of like Strictly Come Dancing meets The Shining. “I thought it’d be so cool to have a human dog,” Allen says with a laugh. “I’d been watching a lot of BoJack Horseman…”

With a debut tour incoming, and a swell of hype now picking up pace, Allen’s still trying his hardest to remain hands-off. After all, it’s when he relinquishes control that those happy accidents seem to create something beautiful. “I like to leave it to the last minute to decide what I’m going to do, but I’ll always be working on something so there’s options,” he says, drifting off. “Whatever feels right at the time.”

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This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.