Stephen Puth on ‘Sexual Vibe’ and Igniting His Own Music Career
You’re probably already familiar with the name “Puth,” but maybe not with Stephen Puth. In early December, Stephen (yes, he’s Charlie Puth’s brother), revealed that musical talent does in fact run in the family with the release of his Motown-influenced debut single, “Sexual Vibe.” The 24-year-old newcomer also happened to be the first artist signed to the newly resurrected Arista Records, previously home to artists like Pink, Daft Punk and Aretha Franklin.
Before pursuing his own solo career, Stephen dabbled in the finance industry, but made the move to Los Angeles to write songs for artists like The Vamps, Pretty Much, Daniel Skye, Jack & Jack and Stanaj. While becoming a solo artist wasn’t originally his career path, the prospect quickly became more enticing.
Following the release of “Sexual Vibe,” Stephen spoke with PopCrush about becoming a part of the Arista Records family, the making of his first track and his initial reluctance to take center stage.
You were songwriting before, what made you pivot to putting out your own music?
Two years ago I moved to L.A. and within that first year, I was signed as a producer and songwriter. I actually had no intention to do an artist project. I was taking publishing meetings, which is where a songwriter/producer would sign. One of my last meetings was with David Massey [of Arista Records] and I thought he was intending to sign me as a writer. I told him I’d already sealed my deal with that, but I just wanted to meet with you if you have any artists I’d love to write for. He was like, “Oh, I don’t care about your publishing, I wanted to sign you as an artist.” Immediately I was like, "No.” It took a couple of times. I think the third time was literally the charm. The first time I said “no.” The second time I said “maybe.” And the third time was, “I want to come to New York and talk to you.” It was just unexpected. I get to express myself differently now musically.
What does it mean to you to be one of the first artists signed to Arista records?
Well, funny enough, I was actually informed at the release dinner that I was the first to be signed. Not that it makes a difference; it was all in the same week. It’s a cool story. The history is that it’s Clive Davis’ record label and it has this sense of prestige. And you look at the former rosters and it’s a lot to live up to, but I think most importantly, Arista is approaching music how they want to in a sense. They’re signing artists who have fulfilled a threshold of an artistry. Every musician is very different and cool on the label. Call Me Karizma is emo, sad pop, but it’s really hard in a sense, and Upsahl brings you back to the punk rock days with a 2018 twist. It’s just cool to be a part of it.
There’s a Motown-esque vibe to your music. What do you like to listen to in comparison to how your music sounds?
I like to think that the music coincides with a late 1960s era. I think the predecessor to Motown — like Van Morrison, for example. It was soulful but it was a different sound coming out of that 1950s rock era. I love singer-songwriters like James Taylor. In terms of contemporary, Ed Sheeran and Gavin James are unbelievable. It’s a huge range in a sense that I listened to my parents’ music growing up and now I like to go through current music, radio, playlists and stumbling on the internet.
Tell me about your first single “Sexual Vibe.” Why did you decide to release it as your debut single?
Honestly, the sound was weird in the best way. The title itself makes you look at it and go, "What is he about to talk about?” But more important is the sound. We’re in an era where music is designed to get really, really big by the chorus, but it’s a steady groove in a sense. Actually, the song wasn’t intended to be called “Sexual Vibe” at first. I was just writing the song with a friend on the guitar and he was like, “We need to give this song a sexual vibe.” Months later when I was going back to the lyrics I was like, “I’m just gonna call this song ‘Sexual Vibe.’” I’m not mad at it, I’m very happy with that idea.
Do you plan on releasing more singles or putting out a full-length in the near future?
I think the objective is to see how “Sexual Vibe” performs from a numbers standpoint, how it resonates with people and build a fan base from there. Yes, I have music and if it’s not already done, it’s damn near close. I definitely have a body of work I plan to release. I wouldn’t be mad at doing a longer EP or maybe just a smaller album. I think building the story is the key element to making this all work.
Is there anyone you want to collaborate with?
In the future, in terms of dream collaborations, Mumford & Sons, I think they’re so cool. James Bay. Obviously someone like Ed Sheeran would be unbelievable. Right now, I’ve just been working with my friends and it’s great because they have a lot more experience than I do, but we’re all in the same playing field in a sense. The best part is it doesn’t even feel like work. Some days we get songs, some days we don’t and some days we do nothing. Some days we’ll stay up until 4 a.m.
What’s something you want people to get out of your music?
The fact that it’s different sonically. The fact that it’s a retro nod, but most importantly, every day, if you think about how much people are listening to music on a daily basis, it always helps to wake up when you’re happier. If it resonates with people where they hear it and it makes them happy, that’s all the satisfaction I need need.