Midway through Charlie Puth’s first interview at VH1’s Lift Ticket to Ride Saturday, he started riffing a showtune on the piano with shocking precision. It’s the kind of move only a true musician would make–someone more interested in the smooth keys of a Baldwin Baby Grand than the sugary glitz of media attention.
That same virtuosic zeal permeated through our chat with Puth. Sprawled out on a distressed leather chair, he dished on everything from his sound to sexy female singers. Nearly every answer came back to the music, Puth’s biggest love–though he is excited about finding love elsewhere. Or falling in it.
Until then, the tunes will suffice. Puth was part of arguably the biggest song of 2015, Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again.” His debut album Nine Track Mind is chock-full of soulful ear candy, including the hit single “Marvin Gaye” with Meghan Trainor (who he smooched at the 2015 American Music Awards). Puth performed a medley of his songs during an intimate Lift Ticket to Ride performance; he slayed, of course. That’s nothing new, but you’ll be surprised by some of the things he told us in the mountains.
How did you discover your sound as an artist?
I still don’t think I discovered my sound. I finished the album and I immediately started making a record the next day in Pro Tools and I was like, “This sounds, No.1, nothing like the record I just put out a day ago.” I’m still evolving and finding out what the sound is. I think [Nine Track Mind] is the first example of me attempting to figure out what that is. As long as it falls under the category of “soulful melodies”–“soulful pop music.” It can be more electronic in the future.
Nine Track Mind is creative and fresh but still has undeniable mainstream appeal. Was that intentional or organic?
It definitely is an intentional move. I came to Los Angeles a year before I made the album intending to be a songwriter-producer who is just making people singles. I’m very single-minded. When I made the album, I was like, “OK. It needs to make sense when you listen to it from start to finish.” It needs to all make sense–some sort of musical story. But at the same time, I want it to be catchy and know the chorus right away. I treated every song as a single.
What is your favorite song on the album?
“We Don’t Talk Anymore” with Selena [Gomez]. That’s a good example of a song of me coming closer to figuring out my sound. That was the last song I produced on the album. I thought the album was done and focused on just making a song. I called up Selena and she came over that night and recorded it. I was like, “Oh my gosh! There’s still time to submit this for the album!” Now, it’s one of the most popular songs. It’s produced 100 percent by me. Selena wrote on it, too.
What is something about Gomez we’d be surprised to know?
She loves pickles. Every time I was in a hotel and she was staying across the street and we met up…she has a big jar of pickles [on her hotel rider]. It can’t be a small one. It has to be a big jar. She’d be like, “Would you like one?” I’d be like, “I’m good.” She’s like, “I’m gonna have another one.” I love pickles because of it.
Love is a heavy theme on Nine Track Mind. What do you look for in a romantic partner?
You know what’s weird? I write about love, but it’s me wanting to be in love. I’ve never been in love. I love my mom, my dad. I want to be in love. I think I have to allow myself to get there. I’m just so in love with music. It’s weird. I’m at a crossroads, because I want to be in love. I think it can assist the music and make it even better. I did this whole album not in love but wanting to be in love. Maybe the next album, it will be me in love. There are some songs about certain people on this album, but I kind of cleverly word play and hide it. If you listen closely, you can figure it out.
What is something about Meghan Trainor that we don’t know?
On a musical level, she is probably one of the most brilliant melodic writers. I would compare her to Rogers & Hammerstein. No one in this day and age–except me!–is making melodies like that. She is so brilliant.
You two kissed at the American Music Awards. Who is another female pop star you wouldn’t mind swapping a kiss with?
You know who is really sexy? Zendaya. She has that new song that samples “Creep” by TLC (“Something New”). If a girl sings a sexy song, I actually become even more attracted to them. She might find this creepy, but I went to some party after the Grammys and she was there and I froze–and I don’t really do that.