You may not know his face (yet), but you probably know his work. Charlie Puth is a singer, songwriter, and producer who has written and produced songs for an array of A-list pop and urban artists, including Lil Wayne, Jason Derulo, Pitbull, Austin Mahone, Trey Songz, Akon, and Sage the Gemini, among others. Most recently, Puth co-wrote and sings the hook on Wiz Khalifa’s moving hip-hop anthem “See You Again,” which plays in the final scene of the motion picture Furious 7 and is a highlight of the soundtrack. “See You Again” has reached No. 1 in over 90 countries across the globe including the U.S., with the coveted No. 1 positions on the Billboard Hot 100, Shazam, iTunes and Spotify.
Now the New Jersey-born and bred Puth is ready to step out as an artist in his own right with his self-produced debut single “Marvin Gaye,” a sultry blend of Motown-influenced pop and hip-hop-flavored beats that feels like an instant classic. “I was a big fan of Marvin Gaye growing up,” Puth says. “Some of my favorite songs of his are ‘Heaven Must Have Sent You,’ ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,’ ‘Sexual Healing,’ and ‘Heard It Through The Grapevine.’ I was inspired by the soulful feeling he evoked through his music and wanted to bring that quality to my record.” Lyrically, Puth says he wants “Marvin Gaye” to be like sonic courage. “I want a dude like me who’s shy to hear the record and have the courage to go up to a girl and just kiss her or something crazy like that. I want people to hear it and be spontaneous, to act on what they feel they can’t feel. It’s like musical assistance.”
Helping Puth deliver that assistance on “Marvin Gaye” is his duet partner Meghan Trainor. “Meghan got involved after we were hanging out at a party one night in Los Angeles,” Puth says. “I played the song for her, she loved it, and said that she could absolutely kill it if I let her sing on it. Of course I’m going to let Meghan Trainor sing on it! Her vocal put the bow on the whole record. She brought such a soulful element.” Trainor also appears in “Marvin Gaye”’s prom-themed, spontaneous-make-out-filled video. Puth returned the favor by making a cameo in the video for Trainor’s latest single “Dear Future Husband.” He will also join her as support on her Mtrain Tour this summer.
“Marvin Gaye” was the first song Puth wrote the day he arrived in California for a writing trip after signing his publishing deal. On his second day he wrote “See You Again” with DJ Frank E (Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco). “It was inspired by my friend Vale who passed away in 2012,” Puth says of the poignant song that plays over Furious 7’s closing montage of late actor Paul Walker and his character Brian O’Connor. “I had him in the back of my mind when I started writing the hook. Then Frank said to me, ‘This is the song for the end of the movie’ and I said, ‘I think you’re right.’ I was thinking about my friend’s energy and him watching it when we shot the video, which gave the performance an emotional realness.”
Puth himself is the real deal, a multi-talented vocalist, musician, producer, and versatile songwriter who shuttles easily between the pop and urban realms. Puth first fell in love with music growing up by the shore in Rumson, New Jersey. “I didn’t grow up wealthy,” he says. “We couldn’t even afford spaghetti sauce when I was first born, but my mom and dad worked really hard and came from the bottom up.” He credits his supportive parents for his early music education, citing his idol James Taylor as his primary influence. “My mom would put headphones on her belly and play his records to me while she was pregnant,” he says. Later on, Puth’s father exposed him to R&B artists like Barry White, The Isley Brothers, and Marvin Gaye, while his mother, a piano teacher, played him classical music and began teaching him piano when he was four years old.
Puth played piano throughout his childhood and began studying jazz at the age of 10. As a high school student, he spent his Saturdays commuting into the city to study classical and jazz at Manhattan School of Music in Harlem. “I thought I was going to be a jazz piano player, but I always had an interest in pop because my parents would listen to all this pop music,” he recalls. “I always tried to incorporate pop elements into the jazz I was playing.” Puth began listening to more and more pop, fascinated by the way it was produced, especially Max Martin’s late ’90s work, which led him to buy his first music production keyboard at age 11 and start making his own CDs. In sixth grade, he recorded and produced his own Christmas album, which he sold door to door in his town. “I made $600 and donated the proceeds to my local church,” he says with a laugh. “I designed the artwork and put all the jewel cases together; I was really into the whole process.” Shortly after, Puth began writing his own songs and eventually posting them on YouTube, along with covers.
“I come from a very sports-oriented town,” Puth says. “Everyone plays football. It’s not a bad thing, but I felt like the black sheep in my high school, like the ‘weirdo musician.’ Whenever I would attempt to sing in front of people, they would make fun of me, so I turned to YouTube. That way people just happened across my music, which gave me confidence to one day play it in front of them, which I did. Now I can get in front of anybody and play a song.”
In 2011, Ellen DeGeneres tapped Puth and a friend to appear on her show after a cover they did of Adele’s “Someone Like You” for a Perez Hilton covers contest went viral. Puth appeared on the show twice and watched his international fanbase grow both on and offline. “It got me in front of 30 million people,” he says of the experience. “It pushed me into a different area I never thought I would reach.”
Puth looks set to reach an even bigger audience with his killer combo of “Marvin Gaye” and “See You Again.” He is also hard at work on his debut album for Atlantic Records, which promises to deliver even more of his old-meets-new musical charm. “I’ve never been more proud of what I’m doing,” Puth says. “Usually when I’d write a song, I’d be too shy to play it, but I’ve never been so confident about playing these songs for people, and that’s a great feeling to have.”