Puma Blue
leaves space for the listener

Surrey-born, by way of Croydon and now a fully-blown nomad, 24-year-old Jacob has been enamored with music from a young age. With both parents as musicians, it wasn’t long before he started on the cornet age 6, before moving onto the drums, and then the guitar age 13, which accompanied his new love of writing: “I wasn't trying to hustle or thinking about a career in songwriting. I was just writing stuff that was fun to play.”

Having garnered attention with his first EP Swum Baby in June 2017, Jacob released his second EP Blood Loss late last year to another positive reception. With hints of jazz, RnB, rock and soul, he writes and arranges everything himself, along with his best friends as his band. Jacob is adamant about the collaborative nature of the creative process: “I’ve often demoed it through myself, but 70% of the time at least, the band rehearsals end up shaping what they play. I would 100%, forever, eternally, rather have these best friends being in my band, rather than some slick session musicians that would just play my parts clinically.” This is also the blueprint for performances, and plays into the jazz influence: “Every gig is different with them, and I love that. I think the beauty of it is whatever comes to me, and then they just interpret it their way. Then it’s more of a conversation, rather than just dictation.”

The result is music which floats around and envelops you in melodies and synthy sounds, sometimes punctuated with a heavy guitar, other times with a soft drum beat. From how Jacob speaks in person, you can see why he is so talented at writing. His words come out in narratives and beautiful syntax, always thoughtful and articulate. It’s hard to pull apart sentences from each other because somehow he’s woven them together into a single strand.

Jacob is a very self-aware person. He knows who he is, what he sounds like, but crucially, who he doesn’t want to sound like: “One thing I do too much is edit lyrics, because I think they sound similar to other artists’ styles. I have a real fear of being hailed a copycat. It’s imposter syndrome. You just worry that people will misinterpret your intention.” This fear of misinterpretation comes through again when talking about the relatability of his music:

“I’ve always worried ‘She’s Just A Phase’ would be turned into some sort of gross boys anthem and it’s not at all what I would want to be doing.” From a listener perspective, these insecurities are difficult to see, but somewhat grateful they exist if his music is the eventual outcome.

Writing for Jacob is a “cathartic” process, and enables him to open up without having a direct conversation about his feelings. “I played two shows today and I was singing songs about depression and relationships but opening up to you I’d probably feel more fragile. It’s disguised, isn’t it? Analogy and poetic turns of phrase, rather than, “I am depressed”, which would be quite intense.” In a previous interview, Jacob talked about his music as “voicemail ballads.” For a medium that our generation no longer uses, it’s meaning still rings true. “Sometimes I was trying to write in a way like, “I’m just going to leave this under your door, and you can read it if you want, but you don’t have to.” It felt both easier, and more complex.”

‘Want Me’ came from such a moment years ago where Jacob told someone directly how he felt about them, but didn’t get a meaningful response back. With hindsight, he felt a message would have sufficed: “I kind of wished I’d not told her, because maybe it would have been cooler to see if the feelings had passed. This song was what I should have said, just to myself, just a recording. I didn’t tell her the song was about her, so that was the control of it, having a song that meant something about someone, and then letting it just sit there.” This direct yet indirect declaration of feelings is likely why Jacob’s lyrics feel so personal, yet he doesn’t mind performing them in this musical form. To him, it’s a nonconfrontational way of handling his emotions.

From a musical perspective, Jacob’s style is evolving: “I don’t think I’m hiding behind retro sounds as much anymore. We use less guitar as a starting point, I’m getting more into writing on a keyboard or building off beats. It feels a bit more tender at the moment; less of a punk attitude and more of an R&B intention.” Unsurprising for someone so comfortable with words, Jacob enjoys reading. When asking which writers have influenced him, he draws on a Tanizaki essay on Japanese aesthetics: “It had a massive influence on how I use space in music, and feeling comfortable at treasuring lack of noise. It’s good to realize as a boy that you don’t have to be exciting all the time. I gravitate towards the more floaty, sleepy, I guess feminine things, in terms of writing.” This is easy to hear in the music, especially on more recent tracks like ‘Close’ and ‘Ether’.

Working on his first album, albeit he admits “slowly”, Jacob is very content in his current situation: “I’m not used to being so happy. I’ve been doing really well for the last year and a bit now, just me as a person, not in terms of what I’ve achieved.” He says this with a bright countenance, even though this disposition is making writing harder than before: “It’s easier to pull from the dirt, when you’re just absolutely dying. I’m just trying to challenge myself to find new ways to write lyrics, because I don’t have that miserable gut to fall back on.”

Previous projects may have benefited from this “miserable gut” but someone with this much talent and emotional intelligence cannot be waylaid by happiness. As his music continues to reflect his life experiences, it’ll be interesting to see how a content Puma Blue sounds. Having just announced a headline show at EartH Hackney in October, there are only good things coming for this man and his band.

 

Words by Nicola Davies / Photography by Gabby De La Rosa

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