”Never would have left your ether… Every structured fortress inside of your well. Would have followed the dark waters through to hell” patters Puma Blue in his latest single, As-Is. It’s a spoken word piece of prose landscaped across scattering, forlorn beats and a rusting saxophone. Every inch crackles like an old record bent from overuse. Human and sublime, there’s a Chet Baker quality to Puma Blue’s work. It’s easy to get lost in.
Puma Blue, also known as Jacob Allen, paints a world that exists only at night. Nocturnal, dark and full of shadows, his pictures linger, hanging jauntily from their moving walls. It’s London that inspires him; “Just going for walks late at night, feeling switched on by orange lamplights on leaves and neon café signs,” he explains. “I really wanna write music that feels like what I’m seeing.”
We meet in Forest Hill, not far from brightly lit subway tunnels, tower blocks and crimson leaves. Allen is just another of South East London’s emerging new talents. Maxwell Owin, Lucy Lu and Sistertalk are on that list, as well as the more established likes of King Krule and Cosmo Pyke. Combining elements of jazz, soul, ska and spoken word, the capital’s South is an ever-rich tapestry of creative collaboration and grassroots. Keen to bring his mates up with him, Allen speaks highly of his contemporaries. His passion for other artists strikes a tone of kindness and humility.
Things are looking good for Puma Blue. November '18 marked the release of Blood Loss, his second ever EP following last year’s Swum Baby. Not yet ready to put out an entire album, Blood Loss is a weighty eight-track, filled to the brim with short songs, sultry tones and poetry. He’s done it again. Doing a fine job of mimicking synesthesia, he casts the cold grit ground that shivers beneath your toes with custard warmth. You’re home.
Eoghan Barra and Woody Cecilia join Jacob Allen on a Tuesday to unveil what days off from Puma Blue look like.
Puma Blue – 'As-Is'
What time do you usually wake up during your days off?
It really depends. Every day is different so, depending on what I’ve got on, it could be 8am, 4am, or 12pm if I’m super jet-lagged. I have the worst sleeping schedule! I find that when I’m with my girlfriend, I can just sleep when she sleeps. It’s really rhythmic. But when I’m on my own, it’s just like playing roulette.
What’s the first thing that you do when you wake up?
I stretch on a good day. On a bad day, I just head straight for the kettle and start making coffee – and then I’ll check my emails and put some music on.
What does a typical day off look like for you?
I like to play guitar in my room, I always like to listen to music – and I’ll phone a couple friends. If I’m planning on seeing people, I don’t think about it – but if I have a day of producing from home, I like to have phone chat with someone. It’s just kind of sweet to not feel like you’re in your cave. I feel like that’s when you start getting in that weird closed off place. It’s bad health to be an artist in solitary confinement at all times.
When was the last time you had a day off from everything music related?
Saturday last weekend was the first time in three months! I just stayed in my pyjamas and did a lot of nothing.
What do you love the most about South East London?
It’s a hotbed of different culture. It feels like the centre of the world sometimes. There are so many people here from different backgrounds and different lifestyles that, chances are, when you meet a new musician for the first time, they’re gonna have such a different story to you of how they came to do the music they make. It’s where a lot of the people I’ve collaborated with have been based. Everyone’s enthusiastic to make new stuff. There’s never a shortage of people you could work with or bounce ideas off, you know? Also I just love the way of living; you can jump around from Tube station to Tube station and be in a different place in half an hour.
How did going to Brit school come about?
It really came about because they were gonna cut the music course at my secondary school, and music was already all I could think about all day. I’d be tapping on my legs, obsessed about getting home to play more music. I was expecting Brit to be a performance school, but when I went to their open day, I realised it was a really serious, diverse music course, so I did everything I could to get on it.
What was your first day like, having been to a standard comprehensive school before that?
Weird! It seemed like there were a lot of really bubbly people, so I wasn’t used to everyone being so liberal. It was cool to realise we were all there to be passionate about the same thing. Brit does tend to carry a bit of a Fame Academy identity, but it was way more like a degree in music. They were never enforcing law or rules – it was always just a discussion about music.
How are you feeling about Blood Loss, the new EP?
I guess this one feels more circular. It comes back to itself. There are a lot of references in the songs of other lyrics and titles, the EP starts and finishes with the same sound and there’s a lesson of letting go at the beginning and at the end. In the middle is all the mess of figuring that out. Instrumentally, there’s a span of different styles that seem to all fall into what I do, but there’s not one tone across the whole thing. It kind of flits around. That’s what I’m excited about! It feels different.
It’s an eight-track EP! What’s stopping you from labelling it an LP?
I thought about putting it out as an album, but I still feel like I’m figuring out what it is that I bring to music, so I’m not ready to make my definitive statement of ‘This is my debut album’ yet. Plus, if I was gonna do an album, I’d want it to be a bit more meaty. Even though this is eight tracks long, there are still a lot of interludes and short tracks, so it feels more like a mini album or an extended EP, rather than a full-length release.
You were saying your songs usually start from poems. Are you always writing poetry?
I have lulls – but, yeah, it’s something to do with my hands sometimes. I keep it pretty raw. I’m not a serious poet, I don’t use any techniques… I just write it in one go, a splurging stream of consciousness, and then I’ll give it one edit afterwards.
Your music’s so lyrically intricate. What do you do when you’ve got nothing to write about? Do you make up abstract prose, or do you just stop?
I think that it’s all over and that I’ll never write again – and then I try to calm myself down. Once I’ve relaxed, once I’m not trying to be an artist every second of the day, it creeps back – and it’ll be what I’m needing to say, rather than what I’m wanting to say.
The description you’ve given others as to why you named yourself Puma Blue is a super visual one; this whisky drinking drunk who’s half man, half cat. Were you listening to a lot of Tom Waits when you thought it up?
Oh, cool! It wasn’t my intention at the time, but I do love Tom Waits! I’d only heard him a bit when I was starting to use that name, but now I’m a huge fan. And, funnily enough, I don’t even see the name like that anymore. That’s definitely where it sprung from, but the ‘Blue’ kind of more feels like a reference to water than it does to this melancholy puma now… But Tom Waits has an amazing way with telling stories. Like the phrase you used of ‘abstract prose…’. His lyrics feel surreal, but then he’ll bring it back to something that you can totally imagine. He’s awesome!
What is it about London that inspires you the most?
I think with the first EP, it was very much a visual thing… Just going for walks late at night and feeling really switched on by orange lamplights on leaves and neon café signs. It just springs a spark of, “Ooh, I really wanna write music that feels like what I’m seeing” – but now what London holds for me is it just feels like home. It’s a comforting place to write music from, where you belong. The grind of London after I’ve been away helps too. I mean, who would need a deadline when you’re just happy eating fresh food in the sun? Whereas, in London, it feels like there’s an important thing to work towards – and that just helps me draw everything together and complete stuff.
Well, London can be so warm and so dark… And maybe you’re situated on the warm side, or in the middle – but you could very easily slip into that dark side, which can really fire you on…
Yeah, I try not to now – but I think I used to almost let [the dark stuff] happen, because I felt like I had to be sad to write music. But now I realise that’s just some teenage melancholy bullshit. It’s like, ‘No! That’s bad for you. What are you doing?’ So I try and keep positive about London.
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