Stephen Puth Takes a Trip down Memory Lane with “Half Gone”

Stephen Puth Takes a Trip down Memory Lane with “Half Gone”

The Los Angeles-based artist’s nostalgia returns in a new form.

The Los Angeles-based artist’s nostalgia returns in a new form.

Photography: Justin Wu

Text: Emma Li

Singer, songwriter, and musician Stephen Puth grew up in Rumson, New Jersey where he immersed himself in piano and classic rock at a young age. Inspired by artists like Van Morrison, Led Zeppelin, and The Beatles, Puth taught himself how to play the guitar as he also embraced the music of ‘60s feel-good pop.

After signing to the relaunched Arista Records last year, Stephen Puth released his debut single “Sexual Vibe”. Acclaimed director and filmmaker Ally Pankiw, who has worked with Ariana Grande and Janelle Monáe, lensed the music video, which has amassed over 3 million views.

Now, Puth is back with his newest single “Half Gone”. We join the artist in reminiscing about the past and looking forward to the future.

How did "Half Gone" come to be?

"Half Gone" was an idea I had since I was in college trying to gain a sense of closure from a previous relationship. Almost a year and a half later after saying "How can I love somebody when my heart's half gone", I simply looked at my friends and said I have a song idea. "Half Gone" immediately resonated with all of us and we wrote the song that day.

Are there any aspects of your music you wanted to show through "Half Gone" that weren't present in your last release?

I think my vocal range. "Sexual Vibe" has a cool timbre given the fact it’s sung a laid back low register. The reality is I have the range to sing higher and the tone is unique to me. Despite the song feeling upbeat and happy, the lyrics recall an emotional time from my life. The angst and energy in my vocal are a direct compliment to how I felt.

Stephen wears Reyn Spooner full look

What does “Sexual Vibe” showcase about your style as a musician?

I think “Sexual Vibe” stylistically shows simplicity but also reference of music from the ‘60s. The reality is that there’s not a lot going on in the song, just a guitar, drums, bass, and it’s all just about the rhythm and what feels good. I like to evoke nostalgic sounds like that as much as possible.

Looking back as a classically trained musician, what were some of the sources of inspiration for your music and your current identity as an artist?

That’s a good question. First and foremost, my mother was my piano teacher my whole childhood. You start to hear how melodies – not taking melodies from classical music – but you kind of realize they’ve been around this long for a reason. It’s just important to always have a variety of influences not just for the specific style you like. Ultimately, I appreciate classical music a lot more now.

You released an acoustic version of “Sexual Vibe”. Does acoustic hold a special place in your heart?

In a weird way, yes. And a good weird way. I taught myself guitar when I was like twelve. It just kind of reminded me of when I was growing up in my bedroom or in my dorm room, sitting there noodling around and not being serious about anything and just enjoying it. [The acoustic version] was in a really fancy warehouse with nice cameras but I still had a great time. It’s a different aspect of the song, you know. So I think it’s a way to show it. I could’ve easily made the same song in the same key with just a guitar but that would’ve been boring so I was like, how do I put a little Sriracha on it, if you will.

Stephen wears Valentino full look, Ami Paris top

Can we expect a similar sound for your upcoming EP release?

Yeah, I think there will definitely be some commonalities in terms of sonic. But you’re not just going to have a 2.0 version of “Sexual Vibe”. In fact, you’re gonna get a sort of human personality, multiple facets of it. A couple will just have that good old rock feel. They’re all gonna connect besides the voice so I’m excited to share that when it’s ready.

You’ve mentioned before that you were in Los Angeles when “Sexual Vibe” first took form. Does LA play a role in your creative process?

Yeah, in the sense that it’s important to be around a network of people that you can grow with, learn from, write with, and produce with. I definitely have learned at an exponentially faster rate how to produce music and play instruments and write songs because I’ve lived out [in LA]. But I think at the end of the day another important aspect of creativity is just, honestly, living and not being in a room all day like “I have to make a song”. Rather, go out and, I don’t know, hang out with friends, get ice cream, go to a bar, or go to the beach. It could be anything. I think you’re a product of your environment, and living here helps in a good way.

How did the sound of “Sexual Vibe” transfer visually into the music video?

Normally the way that goes from a working standpoint is, they send that song to a couple directors and then they write treatments. I had a couple ideas in my mind but I was also trying to be respectful because I want to see their side of the vision too. And there was just one in particular – it was Ally who was the director – and that video just made a lot of sense to me. Ally did a great job and I’m shocked that I got to work with her.

Stephen wears Valentino full look, Ami Paris top

As someone who focuses on expressing small, random moments through your music, do you have memory of a specific moment that became something more powerful for you later on?

My brother came and visited me because I told him I wasn’t steady at school. We had dinner, drove around and I began venting to him what was wrong. I said to him, “You ever feel like every time a relationship ends it feels like a piece of your heart gets taken away? Well how am I supposed to love somebody if my heart’s already half gone?” He said, "Say that again". And again. And again. He then asked why I’m in school studying history when I say philosophical shit like that. I should be writing music. Then I wrote my first song that week and it sucked. But he wasn’t wrong.

“Half Gone” defines that purgatory feel. When I tell you the story, it’s not interesting, but for some reason in my head now that I look at it through nostalgia, it’s like the coolest thing. It’s fascinating how your mind will saturate these finite memories that don’t even have the greatest importance of that day.

I think that’s a really interesting approach.

Yeah, everybody wants to always write a love song and I think that’s one of the most unanswered human questions: “what is love?” How can you approach it in a multitude of ways that are different?

Was there anything outside of music that you wanted to explore but never had a chance to?

In a past life, I really wanted to be a professional hockey player but I learned very quickly that I’m not good. I knew I wasn’t the most athletic but I just loved [sports] for what they were. I love history, but I don’t think I could be a teacher. I think the reason why I enjoy this stuff now – sports, history – they’re like leisure. I think what’s funny is music, my whole life, was always leisure. And now it’s supposed to be “serious”, but I never knew how to take it serious to begin with. So now, it’s just like a seriously leisure activity, if that makes sense.

Stephen wears Hugo Boss full look

After that, you became a songwriter-for-hire. How do you think it’s different being a songwriter for your own music in comparison to writing for other artists?

First, let me annotate that. When I say “writing for hire”, it doesn’t necessarily mean, just because you show up you get paid. I never really had any major distinguishing cuts as a writer so when it was time to be the artist, I just had these songs that didn’t get cut and I was like, I still really like this song. I should be able to put this out. In fact, “Sexual Vibe” was finished around July of last year in terms of the writing. But before that, it had been alive for almost two years. It actually does kind of mess with your psyche, to be like, “Oh we have to write a song for Stephen today.” I don’t even know what I want, so there’s no reason to stress. But I still do [stress] sometimes.

Now that you’re officially signed to Arista Records, what’s the next step you hope to take in your music career?

I think the most important part is getting a body of work out for the crowd, and not only just getting my name out there but also establishing a core fan base. I love the idea of eventually getting to play somewhere that’s maybe not the biggest venue but every person in the room knows the song. If it does more than that, I think that exceeds my expectations. I’m honestly happy to just be writing and performing music at this point.

Any New Year resolutions that have either flopped or you’ve been making progress on?

I’m trying to eat less bread. I’m pretty serious about that one. I like the idea of having more energy and health even though I’m not the most athletic like I’ve mentioned before. Just trying to get my body, all that fun stuff. Let’s see how it goes. I do like bread though, that’s the problem. Pizza?

Is there anything else that we can expect to see from you this year?

Definitely more music. It’ll be out soon, we’ll just tweak everything and make sure everyone’s content because I think what’s the most important is, you’re working with a team, and you want everyone to be happy. I think that’s what’s crucial about this year. Just getting myself known out there, to actually connect with fans. I just can’t stress enough, I think that’s the most important part to all this. What good use is the music if no one can relate?

Stephen wears Prada full look
Credits: Make-Up + Hair: Mark Gonzales, Stylist: Yael Quint, Stylist Assistants: Nicola St. George Hyslop, Tine Rider-Nielsen, Special thanks to the Bisha Hotel Toronto

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