The past few months our office listening has been dominated by Puma Blue. The South London artist has released a short run of tracks, crossing over from soulful vocals, visceral guitar lines, and a clear love of jazz.
Clash hosted Puma Blue on our stage at the Great Escape just a few days ago, and a different artist emerged. The set was taut, deeply physical, the expertly drilled band adding several new dimensions to his music.
The soft, quiet voice that comes trickling down the phone line for our conversation seems to sit somewhere between the two personas, helplessly emotive yet also studied, patient, and assured. He’s phoning from South London, seemingly, stood outside a caff beside Millwall’s infamous football ground The Den.
“I was recording in a studio in South Bermondsey, and literally the best caff you can go to is beside there,” he says. “As long as you keep your head down it’s fine!”
South London’s unique atmosphere permeates Puma Blue’s music; it’s there in the sharpened, street-edged poetry, the dank, twilight landscapes, and that determined DIY feel. “I’ve been playing live music since I was 10 and I’ve been playing gigs under this project for two years,” he recalls. “And I’ve just always enjoyed it. Whether it’s been a gig to like 20 people or whatever I’ve always just loved playing live and developing the sound.”
“So now that I’ve had a couple of shows where it’s been bigger venues that have sold out I just feel so grateful that I can just keep doing that thing but with loads more people sharing the experience. It’s so beautiful. It’s come on way further than I ever would have imagined.”
At the core of it, though, sits this lone voice. “It’s pretty much always been a solo project,” he continues. “Even now, even on the next EP, half of it is just me and a laptop because it’s just so easy to work that way. At the same time over the last two years having the boys on board for the live band means I can explore so much more musical ground because they all offer their own musicianship, so I can kind of play around with both… which is ideal, really.”
With a sensitive creative antenna Puma Blue was always drawn to voices on the fringes, so it’s little wonder he became entranced with South London’s nexus of jazz musicians, improvisational souls forever in search of the new. “I mean, I used to work with them more,” he sighs. “Now it feels like everyone is doing their own thing a bit more. There’s still a lot of support and there’s huge amounts of collaboration going on but I feel like it used to be a whole larger community. I guess that was the whole point, that we would stem off and be slightly independent from each other.”
Able to break off and pursue his own vision, Puma Blue has surged ahead, whether that’s with the inky future-soul of ‘Moon Undah Water’ – “It’s about this girl that was leading me and a friend on at the same time…” – or the heart-on-sleeve romanticism of ‘Only Trying To Tell You’. Melodically addictive and sonically addictive, there’s always some deeper truth to be had.
He’s an intinerate tinkerer, but there’s always a line to be drawn, an instinct to obey. “Half my stuff, yeah, I would literally change it all the time and it will never feel finished.” he says. “Even now – we’ll have recordings out that are still a way to keep the band playing it, so it still feels fresh.”
“But in other tunes, yeah. ‘Only Trying To Tell You’ or ‘Soft Porn’ I mean they literally came out in one evening, and will stay the same forever. It really depends, I guess, on how I feel about the tune or how much I can afford in terms of energy to fuss over something over and over again. Sometimes that’s a way to kill a piece of music. I wouldn’t want to do that.”
Always, though, Puma Blue’s music is rooted in truth, in his own life and experiences. It’s what makes his music so suggestive, and his live shows so riveting. “Sometimes I’ll try to write from someone else’s perspective,” he explains, “or I’ll write from a dream or whatever, but generally I don’t know how to write apart from my own experience. And that’s the stuff that comes easiest.”
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