How blossoming N.J. star Charlie Puth became pop’s ascendant hit-maker

January 28, 2016

Puth is poised for further acceleration into ubiquity — not as a bolster to more famous acts, but by propulsion of his own infectious, soul-inspired solo tunes

RUMSON — Since April, Charlie Puth has prowled super-stardom’s border, emboldened by two incredibly successful pop collaborations, and a third single that continues to gain widespread favor.

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Most of America has already heard the Rumson 24-year-old’s striking voice, from the delicate chorus in Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” — arguably the most dominant hit-radio jam of 2015. Puth provided the piano melody and glossy hook for the smash, which enjoyed 12 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard, a near-record 1.4 billion plays on YouTube and four platinum certifications in the U.S. alone. “See You Again” is nominated for three Grammys this year, including the coveted Song of the Year award.




“I’ve always weaseled my way into Grammy parties to network and everything, but now I have a legitimate reason to be there — it’s so cool,” Puth says in a recent interview with NJ.com.  

The Berklee-trained singer-songwriter followed his first mainstream splash with the romantic Ben E. King-inspired tune “Marvin Gaye,” accompanied by pop star Meghan Trainor, last fall. The song was less successful — a mere 220 million YouTube plays and one platinum score.

Not too shabby for the jazz pianist who this time last year was best known as a viral artist, whom talk-show host Ellen Degeneres had signed to her eleveneleven Records in 2011.

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Now, Puth is poised for a further acceleration into ubiquity — not as a bolster to more famous acts, or as a cover singer, but by propulsion of his own infectious, soul-inspired solo tunes.

His anticipated debut LP “Nine Track Mind” (Atlantic Records) will be released Friday, and comes loaded not only with “Marvin Gaye” and his current radio soldier “One Call Away” (No. 26 on Billboard), but with an arsenal of sinfully burnished hooks and vintage sensibilities set to refresh the mainstream, with something a little old, a little new.

While the refrains of “See You Again” and “One Call Away” remain relatively simple — breezy singalongs wrapped in traditional pop progressions — Puth strives to achieve a balance between his pop market and a life of classic musical training, built as much for Carnegie Hall as Madison Square Garden.

During his “Nine Track Mind” sessions, the singer says he drew inspiration from fellow Berklee grad John Mayer’s 2001 breakthrough “Room For Squares.”

“It wasn’t safe, it was musically complex — I wanted to make my debut album like his, in that it wouldn’t be too complex, but just enough where it would sound differently from other pop music,” Puth says. “And you don’t want to overwhelm people, who don’t want to drive to work at 5:30 a.m. and hear the most complex music on the radio. They want something that’s digestible.”

In Puth’s world, “digestible” seems to translate to “addictive” as “We Don’t Talk Anymore” — a track released Monday and set appear on his new album — melds a tropical house dance-pulse, flirtatious undertones and a smoky verse from superstar pal Selena Gomez into a tightly wound banger.

Much of “Nine Track Mind”‘s radio-ready gleam stems from Puth’s newfound confidence in his own writing and production, a self assurance that has worked its way into his live sets.

“When my (2015) songs took off, I really got a lot of performance swagger, and I learned how to perform,” he says. “Now I can get on any stage and not think about it, and put on show.”

Puth announced earlier this month a headlining tour, with a finale date set for Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank April 8, where he attended jazz camp as a teen.

Puth was a devoted member of several Monmouth County musical programs as an adolescent, including his jazz ensemble at Forrestdale School in Rumson.

“He had a brilliant ear … until then, I had never had a student with perfect pitch,” says Forrestdale music teacher John Lebitsch. “He could construct these incredible jazz improvisations (on piano) as part of the ensemble band, but he never showed off, or tried to show anyone up.”

Puth, who now lives in lavish home he recently purchased in Hollywood’s hills, recently visited Forrestdale during a holiday break, to chat with students and perform a surprise concert.

The return to New Jersey was a necessary one for Puth, who desperately missed his family, as well as his favorite restaurant, Anjelica’s in Sea Bright.

“I’ve been to Italy a few times and still haven’t had better Italian food than at Anjelica’s,” he laughs.   

3 TDYOUN29 FREEMAN YEPELLOCharlie Puth, at age 12, during a jazz workshop at the Count Basie Theatre’s Cool School, in Red Bank, 2004. (VIC YEPELLO/THE STAR-LEDGER) 

Charlie’s interest in music was almost immediate, as his mother Debra began teaching him classical piano at age 5.

“He was always so interested in sounds,” Debra Puth says. “He’d tell me the sound of the wind, or the sound of a dime dropping on the floor, and say ‘Mommy, that’s an A flat, or a D sharp.'”

Years later, Debra Puth played soothsayer of sorts.

“I’d tell him, ‘I just want you to write a song the whole world will sing,'” she says. “And now he has. I’m just happy he’s happy, and gets to do what he loves.”

Puth will be back with his family soon again, to rock Count Basie — a venue that may quickly become too small for his growing fan base. Amphitheater or arena tours could be next if “Nine Track Mind” catches fire. But Puth would rather stay humble, even incredulous toward his expanding fame, for now.

“I still don’t believe that’s even going to happen,” he says of becoming a true household name. “I truly, truly don’t believe it. And that keeps pushing me, so it’s unfortunate, but I’ll never be completely happy with all that I do.”

Bobby Olivier may be reached at bolivier@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @BobbyOlivier. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

This article was originally published by Nj.com. Read the original article here.

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