The Human Experience: Puma Blue Interviewed

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Inviting over your fears for tea is the only true way to befriend the monster and its looming, and in Puma Blue’s case, death was at the dinner table.

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Jacob Allen, the UK-bred singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and poet we’ve come to know as Puma Blue, has been held in high regard within the alternative indie realm. Racking up millions upon millions of streams since his 2014 SoundCloud demo ‘Only Trying 2 Tell U’, his latest offering ‘Holy Waters’ stands as a love letter to mortality and a testament to the evolution his gritty, stunningly emotive sound has grown through.

Intimate, sincere, and stunning, it’s evident that Blue immersed himself into a full range of being when making this project, minimally thinking and fully feeling. Incorporating embodiment practices during the making of ‘Holy Waters’, he appreciates cycling and plunging in a cold sea for how it “boils him down to his essentials.” The record is one of his first to be recorded alongside his live band, which gravely deepens the dynamic of how the songs translate. No longer fully formed in the solitude of his bedroom as we’ve once known them to, tracks like ‘Hounds’ and ‘Pretty’ reel you in not only with the haunting of his voice, but with the full presence of every horn and plucked string. “I’m so proud of this project and I owe that mostly to the band. Recording with a live band was something I’d never done before and the process of working together brought such a childlike play to the music.”

The making of this project served as a conduit of healing for the Piscean, who has spent diligent time diving within the depths of his own murky waters and turning up on the other side. “I feel great. Sometimes I don’t, but that’s the human experience, isn’t it? I’ve dealt with depression and for so long, I felt the absence of feeling. Just kind of gray, empty, nothingness. I’d trade that for this any day, where I feel everything. I still feel a lot of pain, but I also feel joy and peace, too. I sleep better than I used to.”

Having relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, there’s something completely different about Blue’s aura, a tangible shift in DNA. Whether it’s because the move was ultimately for love, or that a simple shift in external can radically dismember our internal, it’s evident we’re bearing witness to a brand new iteration of the artist, one that is present, grounded, and humbled by the awe of life. “I’m reading more and eating healthier. I write down my dreams, which I’ve learned is a powerful tool for analysing your consciousness. I write more poems than lyrics. I spend quality time with people, that’s part of engaging in presence for me. Cooking dinner with friends, going out to a bar and really being there,” Blue reminisces. “It sounds simple, but for me, that’s the stuff of life. Being around people that I love and recognising that you might not remember the specifics of this particular night, but you’ll remember the laughing and feelings of joy. That’s what I want my life to feel like at the end of it, to be able to reflect on joy. If all these little moments of presence make a larger tapestry of life, then that’s my goal. For it all to have been beautiful.”

The move to America hasn’t been too jarring, having acquainted himself over time during the long distance portion of his current partnership. Still, being in the US more than the UK lends itself disorienting, though the singer recognises how his new home has bled into his sound. “Out here, I get this really profound sense of peace,” he shares. “The trees, it’s amazing being somewhere so green. I feel strangely creatively isolated, like I can just focus.”

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That focus is tangible, and you can hold his musical maturing. The follow-up to 2021’s ‘In Praise of Shadows’, this album is a departure from student to teacher, from learning to wisened. There’s no theme quite as dense as death, yet somehow, ‘Holy Waters’ feels like the artists’ lightest project to date. Though he’s known for the severity of his work, brewing dark notes of gloom, even the album’s farewell track ‘Light Is Gone’ instills more hope than drains. It’s easy to breathe through, and amidst swelling guitars and blurring the lines between euphoria and melancholy, we arrive at a peace only derivative of neutral acceptance. Of bearing witness to it all, feeling the depth of every shade on the spectrum, and accepting what is for what is. “Grief makes you both dissociate yet be as fully present as you can be, as long as you’re not running from it. Being faced with death more than once over the last few years, it’s taught me how finite life is. Presence is so important. Death is always around the corner, so throwing yourself into life is the best takeaway from that.”

As an artist, there’s a constant state of grieving that demands to be leaned into. Once the piece of work you’ve nurtured into creation is released into the wild, it is no longer yours, belonging now to itself and the world. For Blue, that grieving comes accompanied with the wonder of whether the world will embrace or taint this personal project. “I felt pretty hollow for a while once I finished the project. The transition from making to promoting the album, realising there’s nothing left to be done with it, nothing more to learn from the record leaves you grieving. As its parent, you just have to let this thing go. I may feel a massive dopamine rush or be disappointed with its reception, I don’t know, but I’m prouder of this project than anything I’ve done before.”

A bare soul and emotional nomad, shedding skin through new time zones and picking up new pieces of himself at every pit stop, what does home truly mean to Puma Blue? “Home is not a physical place. Home is establishing a strong sense of self that you can take with you.” Greeting the sunrise with solemn bike rides, Puma Blue has been reborn through his confrontation with life’s finality.

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‘Holy Waters’ is out now.

Words: Jazmin Kylene
Photo Credit: Liv Hamilton