Charlie Puth Dishes on His Best Pickup Lines & Why Marvin Gaye Is His Inspiration

Charlie Puth
Rebecca Cabage/Invision/AP

Charlie Puth photographed on Friday, April 17, 2015 in Los Angeles.

Charlie Puth's "Marvin Gaye," featuring Meghan Trainor, sits at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 dated Sept. 26, and the 23-year-old is set to release his debut album Nine Track Mind through Atlantic Records on Nov. 6. We caught up with him for a Q&A below:

When did you start writing "Marvin Gaye"?

"Marvin Gaye" came about my first day in L.A. It was kind of crazy that that’s my first song that I wrote and it blew up that much. What’s crazy is the next day I wrote “See You Again,” so that’s pretty interesting. I was trying to prove myself as a songwriter. I was just having fun, and I was surrounded by all these pretty women -- in general in L.A., there’s a lot of pretty women. I don’t know why I said it like that. Pure human emotion is how “Marvin Gaye” happened. I just said the line “let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on” -- I don’t know where it came from. 

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What’s the first Marvin song you ever heard?

Probably “Heaven Must Have Sent Us From Above” with Tammi Terrell. And soon after, all the hits: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t Nothing But a Real Thing,” “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” I’m a huge Marvin Gaye fan.

What do you find so great about Marvin Gaye?

He makes music sound like sex. He can jump genres -- he’s so ambidextrous in the way that he created music. When he was done making Motown records and he wanted to take a political stance, he did it and it didn’t seem like it was forced. He’s so talented that it was a really smooth transition. And after that he became a sex icon -- so it’s very inspiring for me.

Do you have a favorite Marvin Gaye song?

The classics will always be my favorite. But I think the duets with Tammi Terrell were some of the first music my mom showed me so those will always have a special place in my heart.

When you wrote “Marvin Gaye,” were you hoping to do a duet in the Marvin & Tammi style?

That came about separately. I wasn’t even thinking of myself as an artist when I wrote “Marvin Gaye,” I was just trying to think of like a fun song. It wasn’t until my soon-to-be manager called me up and was like, "Hey, I really think that you should sing that song." And it was right after that I met Meghan at this party, and she expressed interest in being on it. And I was like, "Oh, well, I guess we have to find the artist to do it with Meghan." And my manager was like, "Stop looking for the artist; you’re the artist. You sing it with Meghan."

On "Marvin Gaye," you sing to a love interest that you should "Marvin Gaye and get it on." Have you ever said that in real life?

Of course, brother. Now I say it ironically, because a lot of people know the song and they’re like, "You’re the one who sings that." [The song is] a musical icebreaker for any guy who wants to go up to a girl at a bar and that’s playing on the radio. How can you not have a conversation about that song?

Have you gotten letters from fans thanking you for helping them meet women?

Yes, and they also ask me who Marvin Gaye is because my fanbase is very young too.

Is that your go-to pickup line?

I can’t always use that, even though I made it. My other go-to line, if it’s like a big crowd and I just want to talk to her one-on-one, my go-to line is, "Hey, can you help me with something? Can I show you something?"

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When you play this song live, what’s the reception like? Does it end up like in the music video, where everyone is making out with everyone else?

Well no. I was out on the Meghan Trainor tour, so I would hope that no one that young would be that rambunctious. Everybody did sing along and knew all the words, which is pretty tight.

So what about the new album -- it’s all finished up now?

I think it’s done. We’re just putting the mastering touches on it. I’m very excited for everybody to hear songs that don’t all sound like “Marvin Gaye.” Everyone’s like, “'Marvin Gaye' is such a huge smash, you have to do another 'Marvin Gaye.'" “'See You Again' was such a huge smash, you have to do songs like 'See You Again.'” If you listen from the beginning of the album to the end of the album, it will all make sense, the message I’m trying to portray. It’s just like, here’s a bunch of singles we put together and we’re going to call it an album.

Can you say any more about what unifies it?

I want it to be kind of a surprise. But it’s just about my life. Moving to L.A., making rash decisions to come out here on my own.

How do you deal with that pressure as a songwriter -- you have two big singles and people want you to make more of the same thing?

I just don’t listen. I realize that I wrote the songs and the reason that they’re popular is they’re conversational and everyone can grasp on to it. They’re popular because they came true from my heart. All I have to worry about is doing that again.

You’ve also worked with Trey Songz -- you have a throwback quality to the EP, but will there be more contemporary-sounding tracks on the new album?

I grew up listening to hip-hop, so every record -- it’s in the drums, the breakbeat, the rhythmic patterns. Every record on here has a hip-hop influence. The throwback style was specifically for the EP. But what the EP had was the soul, and the album has that throughout as well.

What about your latest song, “One Call Away” -- there’s almost a gospel flavor to it.

Yeah, man! I grew up playing in a church. This is a pretty funny story. I have perfect pitch. I’d go to church every Sunday and hear the same songs. When the church organist didn’t show up, I played the whole mass from memory, and they all praised me for it, and I realized, "Oh, shit, I know how to play piano, and I can probably write songs."

You’ve been working with some other songwriters on the new stuff -- do you like that process?

Love it. I used to be opposed to collaboration, and that’s probably why the music in the past wasn’t as good. Writing with other people, especially the great writers that I’ve had the privilege to write with, it activates something in your mind that you wouldn’t use alone.

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Last question: What happened with the butt picture?

Oh damn! I saw y’all put that beautiful article up. So the story around the butt picture: I was in Newport Beach two years ago and I didn’t know that I would be famous. Instagram had just become a thing and I was obsessed with the filters on Instagram. I didn’t know it was a sharing program, I just thought it was like, ‘color your picture up.’ I was playing a prank on my friend -- I broke into his house and jumped into his saltwater pool and skinny dipped. And I was like, "Hey, Mike, I’m definitely 100 percent not swimming in your pool right now completely naked." And I was like, "That’s funny, I’m going to put that up on the Internet because I’m not going to be famous one day and no one’s going to care about that."

This story originally appeared in the Sept. 19 issue of Billboard.

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