Charlie Puth Is Working Hard For Your Attention
If you've flipped through a radio dial recently, there's a good chance you've stumbled on Charlie Puth's voice — maybe on a few stations at once. His song "Attention" has been everywhere for months; the full album, Voicenotes, is out today.
That title is a nod to process: Like many songwriters, when inspiration strikes he'll sing little fragments of melodies into his smartphone. Less common is where he goes from there — writing, recording and producing fleshed-out tracks in a room of his Beverly Hills mansion, where he recently got a visit from Morning Edition.
"I'm so used to doing everything myself," he tells NPR's David Greene. "It would be kind of pointless for me to hire an engineer because I would just continuously push them out of the way."
Puth has been a one-man production house since he was a kid in New Jersey recording songs in his bedroom — and a natural performer since, as an 11-year-old churchgoer, he was called on to fill in for an organist who was out sick. "My feet couldn't even reach the pedal boards," he says. "But I played Christmas masses, like all from memory, because every Sunday I would go to church and hear the same songs over and over."
When he was a teenager, Puth built a huge following on YouTube, doing jazzy covers of pop songs. He later studied jazz at conservatory, and loves working it into the stuff he does today — like the song "How Long," whose pre-chorus section begins with "a Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett chord. But it's in a pop song."
Watching Puth mess around with his sound equipment, it's easy to forget the scale of what he is producing. His first hit, as the hook man on Wiz Khalifa's "See You Again," was featured in a The Fast and the Furious film in 2015; it spent 12 weeks at No. 1 and the video has been streamed more than 3.5 billion times.
"The fame is fun, at times. There are paparazzi and people who are literally just chasing me to make money for themselves — like, what is it, like 500 bucks a picture? It's probably a hundred bucks for me. But I don't know what the hell is so interesting about me getting coffee," he says. "I'm a private person. I like being recognized for my work today, but I don't like being recognized for things that have nothing to do with what I'm showing you right now."
In the lyrics of "The Way I Am," which Puth says is the first song he's ever written completely from his own experience, he hints at some of those feelings: "Maybe I'ma get a little anxious, maybe I'ma get a little shy / 'Cause everybody's trying to be famous, and I'm just trying to find a place to hide." That place seems to be his cluttered home studio, where he says he's a bit more comfortable than he is onstage.
"I think I like this 10 percent more, just because there's nothing more exciting than the process. I love making little sounds and putting them into the song," he says. "That's fun to me."
Hear the full conversation with NPR's David Greene at the audio link.
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