Sat around a nondescript table in a Stoke Newington cafe, the enigmatically named Puzzle and I are ignoring all responsibility. We’re here to talk about the Brazilian-born musician’s work, but we’re locked in a (friendly) debate about which superpower we’d most like to have. I’m going down the rational route with teleportation, no more sweaty mornings on the Central line for me, thanks. Puzzle on the other hand picks the rather grander immortality.
“It probably would be a blessing and a curse,” he laughs, referencing Dorian Grey. “Seeing how society develops, what the future looks like, that would be something very exciting.” We somehow meandered onto this topic after discovering Puzzle is a serious gamer. I can’t help but wonder if in the couple of weeks passed since we met, he’s as hooked to Pokémon Go as the rest of the world. “I read a lot of fantasy books too, so things like Game Of Thrones,” he grins sheepishly. “I love it and I love the series, but I just really love escapism and to zone out and be somewhere and be someone else to a certain extent, be whoever you want to be, have superpowers, progress, get stronger and stronger and you have control over them. It’s this sense of going to this parallel dimension and just… anything is possible! I try to do that with the visuals, that’s something that’s very present in what I’m trying to do.”
This obsession with a mixture of fantasy, fiction and the unknown has infiltrated his music and beyond. The first thing you’ll notice about Puzzle is the singular line of angular makeup he wears on his face. “I’m not necessarily trying to hide my identity; it’s more bringing an element of mystery,” he explains when I quiz him about the pale streak he’s just removed post shoot. “Not revealing everything at once. I think the idea is to progressively reveal more and more, while trying to bring people in. Everything nowadays is so instant and everyone knows everything. It lacks that excitement of not knowing and having to build the layers.” Slowly, Puzzle is enticing listeners, creating his own sonic world powered by glittering synth pulses on tracks like “Comedown” and ceremonious vocal harmonies.
Puzzle first came to London on a trip to Europe as member of a gospel choir. Brought up by Protestant parents at home in Belo Horizonte, the soul music he was exposed to as a child is evident in everything from his emotive lyrics to his decorative vocal arrangements. Knowing he wanted to take a step towards synth-pop, the vibrancy of London captivated Puzzle upon arrival. “We spent 12 days in London and I just fell in love with the place,” he remembers fondly. “It just felt like I had found my place in the world. Everything was just so new and fresh and really resonated with me as a person.”
As soon as he hit 18, he said goodbye to Brazil and found himself in high demand for collaborative work in the English capital, navigating the London music scene through session work and as a backing singer for Michelle Williams. “I think it was vital for me to become the artist I’ve become,” Puzzle reflects. “It wasn’t necessarily, ‘okay I’m doing this for the meantime’, it was building up my journey and through there, it just got to a point where I felt, ‘I love doing other people’s material and I love singing with different artists and supporting that, but I’d like to have more of a voice,’ and just own what I was doing. That led me to start writing and ask myself, ‘what am I trying to say?’ On an artistic level, and that’s when Puzzle started really.”
Since the inception of his musical alias, Puzzle’s been working towards his debut album (fingers crossed we can expect its release next year), unveiling slithers of his style on singles and remixes, allowing us listeners a glimpse into the personalised universe he’s developing. Most recent track, “Comedown” reveals innermost feelings most artist would never dare to bare. “The song is about fractured love, about relationships,” Puzzle explains earnestly. “A lot of time we get into very intense relationships where the person you’re with is your world and being with them is such a high. All you think about is them and they mean everything to you. When you’re in there it’s great because it’s all consuming and it really gives you oxygen and then for whatever reason it comes to an end. Either they leave you or it’s just not functional. God knows what. That’s what the song is about. It’s about that place, that void that you’re suddenly thrown into. You crave for the high but the high’s not there anymore. They’re not there, so how do you cope with that?”
A question for the ages, Puzzle tackles the subject matter head on with a song fit for Drive‘s soundtrack, stuttering synths dressed with melancholia and smoothened with unfaltering vocals. “The easiest analogy to use is a drug comedown,” Puzzle continues to explain. “Some sort of chemical, addictive substance that you really crave… If it’s not there anymore how do you cope with that? And even in the production and the melody I never wanted it to hit a high point because the high is gone. It’s very cyclical, but that’s the meaning behind it.”