He also started, as he puts it, "super-starring out a little too much." Working with Wiz Khalifa, he says, "I’d never seen so much marijuana in my life," and by 2014, when Jason Derulo took him along on his tour bus and introduced Puth to JKash, Puth himself was "out-smoking some rappers," he says. One day, after eating "like, a pound of marijuana cookies," Puth experienced a six-hour freakout. "I should have been sedated," he says. "I think I almost died." He hasn't touched it since, and today shivers remembering those days. "I thought I had to party and date a lot of girls and just go crazy," he says. "I thought it was what was expected of me as a musician. My mom was the one who was like, 'You’re losing touch with why you got here.'"
The only song from Nine Track Mind that Puth says makes the album "bearable" for him is "We Don’t Talk Anymore," a breathy duet with Selena Gomez. "It’s about a particular moment in my life, when someone very close to me wanted the attention of somebody else. When I found that out and we ended it, I might have done some shady things too, and she might have asked me, 'How long has this been going on?'" Later, he delves a bit deeper. "I don’t kiss and tell, but the only way a song like that can come across as real is if there’s something else going on behind the scenes," he says. "And that’s what was happening [with Gomez]. Very short-lived, very small, but very impactful. And it really messed me up. I’m trying to put this the best way possible: It wasn’t like I was the only person on her mind. And I think I knew that going in -- what I was getting myself into."
Puth takes a deep breath and slumps down. "You gather up a bunch of emotion with the life shovel, throw it in the life bucket, mix it up," he says with a shrug. "And she evoked such good emotion on that song, it was a pleasure working with her. That’s why I’m always happy to sing it, even though it came from a dark point in my life."
"That was Jennifer Lopez."
Puth’s gaze darts toward the entrance of the Hotel Bel-Air, where we -- and, apparently, Lopez and Alex Rodriguez -- have come for lunch. "I love J.Lo, but I don’t give a shit." Puth’s driver, an elderly man named Bela, whisked us here after Puth declared "I’m hungies!" Now, Puth zeroes in on his meal: two plates of hamachi sashimi, black truffle-dusted roast chicken and some charred broccolini he dutifully munches to satisfy Pasternak, his trainer. "Oh, my God, I care more about the truffles on my chicken. Fucking delicious."
Celebrity has never fazed Puth. Take the way he calmed James Taylor, who appears on VoiceNotes. "He was texting me, like, 'This is a really high song. How am I going to be able to sing this?'" recalls Puth. "I was like, 'No. 1, you’re James Taylor. No. 2, I have it in my head exactly how you’re going to sing it; I can just hear it.' Lo and behold, that’s how it happened. We didn’t even have to change keys." Or Boyz II Men, who loved Puth’s arrangement for his recent collaboration with them, "If You Leave Me Now," which, he says, references the trio’s 1991 classic "It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday." "He’s very intuitive," says Boyz II Men’s Nathan Morris. "To have that musicality at 26 years old in this era, he’s a fish swimming upstream, but he’s swimming upstream pretty strong."