10 Questions With Puma Blue As He Releases His Sophomore Album, ‘Holy Waters’

Puma Blue, the artistic alias of Jacob Allen, creates soulful music that demands a live setting. Cradling audiences in a sweet, cathartic and sometimes haunting journey through  life’s more difficult dealings, the artist has garnered a die-hard fan following from big music biz names like BTS since the release of his debut EP, Swum Baby, in 2017. Five years later he’s amassed over 80 million global streams and as produced and co-written for other artists including Lava La Rue, Loyle Carner and Biig Piig. His music avoids comparison, holding authentic personal expression, above all else, at its core, and after making waves with his premier album, In Praise of Shadows, in 2021, the South-London born, Atlanta-based artist is back to baptise listeners with his sophomore album, Holy Waters.

Holy Waters, which was released today via Blue Flowers, continues Allen’s exploration of In Praise of Shadows with life and mortality as its central theme. This iteration of Puma Blue’s sonic universe is admittedly less morbid, death still nestles like a sweet creature in its heart, with the singer noting that this next phase shifts to more of “a chronicle of the graciousness within each repeated cycle of life, death and rebirth.” It highlights a significant elevation in Puma Blue’s sound and artistry, taking listeners along for a walk through some of the harshest parts of his life and inviting us into his intimate healing process which is expressed with startling sincerity and unflinching vulnerability. 

Employed throughout the 11 track record, studio techniques build on previous projects, including more experimental and analogue production methods to create a fuller sound that amplifies the intensity of the emotions underlining the lyricism. Recorded with his live band over the course of two visits to Eastbourne’s Echo Zoo Studios in 2022, on Holy Waters, the list of co-producers and contributors includes Andrew Sarlo (Bon Iver, Nick Hakim), Gabe Wax (Soccer Mommy, Adrianne Lenker), Sam Petts-Davies (Warpaint, The Smile) and Luke Smith (Foals, Depeche Mode). 

Holy Waters – as all-encompassing as it is – arrives alongside a brand new single (released back in April) entitled ‘Pretty‘ which explored the experience of feeling ugly to the point of pushing people away and fearing how your loved ones may actually perceive you. The track explores the contrasts between these dichotomies with great subtlety as bittersweet melodic vocals echo “Feel so pretty, feel so pretty, feel so pretty”, alongside sorrowful confessions like “Guess I don’t know what to do, so scared that you’ll see right through”. ‘Pretty’ is coupled with a film-noir inspired music video shot in New York City by director and film-maker Angela Ricciardi over just two days. The video plays with ethereal visual components that further elude to the narrative of mortality, including angel wings, as well as a haunting dysmorphic embodiment that conflicts with the idea of feeling pretty.

In celebration of Holy Waters, Puma Blue has announced a string of European tour dates, including a headline at London’s Koko club on September 28. Here, we chat with the polymath about the new album, playing in different cities and his cathartic themes.

1. Who is Puma Blue?

“Just an alias I suppose. It’s not an alter ego or a character, just a name to call something. And that something is my artistic voice, just my expression.”

2. Which artists have helped shape your soul growing up?

“I grew up on the vibrations of artists that seemed to be very connected to their own souls – Stevie, Eva Cassidy, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin – stuff my parents would play in the car or in the house. I remember the darkness of Pink Floyd and the strangeness of The Police really sticking out to me. As a teenager I connected more with the feel-don’t-think energy of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against The Machine. Later Jeff Buckley became incredibly important to me. He seemed to me then, and now still, to be some kind of pure, open channel to music. D’Angelo and Radiohead were two of the last artists that kind of snuck in around my late teens and became these really important worlds to get lost in.”

3. If you had to play one song from your new album to an alien, which would you pick and why?
“I would choose ‘Too Much’, to see if I could get those martian hips moving and if not, then we might have a problem. I don’t know if I can relate much to an alien that doesn’t feel the groove. Also, the lyrics are a cry of pain over the world burning and people starving, so I’d hope that it would communicate some level of awareness and sadness, and maybe this alien wouldn’t see the Earth and just think we were complete monsters.”

4. Your music focuses around themes that can be quite cathartic. How significant has Puma Blue been for you in your healing?  
“Extremely, but I always feel like, to be fair, I have no idea of what my healing process would look like without it. Maybe I would be doing beautifully, but music is such an alchemy, it means so much to be able to make beautiful things from painful experiences, or even to understand new feeling or thought from playing an old song live that had a complete different context before. It’s wild to me that it doesn’t even have to be something in lyrics though, just music is enough, Ravel or Burial is as healing as Joni Mitchell or any other great wordsmith.”

5. What is your favourite memory from recording the album?
“We wrote the song ‘Gates (Wait For Me)’ from a jam. Bringing the band into the creative process was new for me and this was one of the ways I saw things happening that couldn’t have happened if I had made the album by myself. I started playing these chords in a circle and Harvey was noodling at the piano and within maybe half an hour we had this full piece that everyone had contributed ideas to. The next day we recorded it twice, and used the first take. My favourite memory is the moments in which that take was recorded. Everyone was just so in tune with one another, I think it’s one of my favourite memories of music in an even broader sense. There was just so much feeling in the air as the music reverberated between us and bounced back and around. I could see in everyone’s face such focus and yet this very wild explosive thing as if any one of us could fuck up, like passing a bomb. I felt so connected to everyone during those six minutes and so emotionally open and so grateful.”

6. What has been your favourite city to play in and why? 
“God that’s such a hard question, each night is so different. There have even been cities where we have had a terrible show and come back again another time and played a really special one. I’ve had profoundly meaningful nights in New York and London but consistently I love playing in Atlanta, Dallas and Dublin because the crowds have so much soul but the shows also aren’t that big, so it has still felt intimate. Plus in Dublin, they won’t just sing the words, I’ve heard them sing the guitar parts too which amuses us to no end, like it’s a struggle to keep it together.”

7. You’ve been in Atlanta for around two years now, do you notice a big difference in your creative process living over there? 
“I think I’m just experiencing a deeper peace than I have known before. I’ve never lived somewhere that is both in the woods and a happening city. I spend more time reading and playing with music than I did in London, I feel less pressure to take myself so seriously and that ironically helps me to make music I seriously care about.”

8. If you had any superpower, what would it be?
“If I could transform I think I would abuse it and lose sight of my image, so I would choose to be able to communicate with animals. Or airbending.”

9. What’s your party trick?
“I can moonwalk pretty decently but it’s a rare sighting. I spontaneously showed Cameron (bass) once at a party in Texas but he was disappointed in me for not showing him before.”

10. What can we expect from Puma Blue for the rest of 2023?
“After the album comes out, we’re playing live shows in Europe, America and Canada through ’til the end of the year and I can’t wait because I love playing live shows and I don’t get to see the boys as often since I swam across.”

Photography by Liv Hamilton. ‘Holy Waters’ is out now, available for streaming on all major platforms.


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