PREMIERE: PUCK “DREAMS”
PUCK Goes From DIY to SZA to Fleetwood Mac In Perfect Tempo
by AUBREY PRIMER
photos by JOULE SEVENTEEN
Living life on the road as SZA’s touring keyboardist for the past five years has set the stage for the first solo release of Kaley Puckett’s’ artist project, PUCK, but the story doesn’t start there.
Growing up under the languid, yet vital influence of Seattle’s DIY scene inspired Puckett to view music craftsmanship through a lens of viability. She started middle school in 2003, right as Pacific Northwestern bands like Death Cab For Cutie and Modest Mouse were experiencing critical acclaim that served as a promising litmus test for aspiring musicians in the region.
The homegrown success of these bands was made highly-visible to Puckett by local independent news circulation from outlets like KEXP and The Stranger. Not to mention, Seattle’s hometown hero indie-label, Sub Pop was hitting the scene hard in the early-2000s after inking a joint-venture with Warner Bros. Records in 1995 that ushered out releases from artists like The Shins, Hot Hot Heat, Iron & Wine and The Postal Service into the mainstream with a subtle vengeance.
“Because Seattle in general has always had a strong DIY culture, and knowing at a young age that there was a large community going to shows, attending festivals and supporting local record stores, making and releasing a record seemed accessible to me,” Puckett said.
Puckett started playing the piano when she was six years old and in middle school she continued developing her artistic practice through the piano chair in jazz band. Puckett performed through publicly funded music programs throughout most of her adolescence and attributes these initiatives and her parents’ encouragement to much of her early musical exposure and ambition.
“I was lucky to come up during a time when more public schools had funding for music programs,” she said.
After incubating in Seattle’s music scene for eighteen years, Puckett knew she wanted to be a musician and the natural progression following years of jazz band camps in Washington state and piano lessons from her friend’s older brother and jazz educator, Orlando Morales, seemed like enrolling in jazz school.
In 2009, Puckett moved to New York to study jazz at New York University where she quickly started experiencing new genres and crossovers that hadn’t yet reached her in Washington.
“Moving to New York in 2009 definitely opened me up to new music,” she said. “NYU is in downtown Manhattan, near all these places in The Village where jazz records were recorded, folk and soul musicians would hang out, where the eighties downtown art scene had been and where nineties rock clubs were; being in the same place music history happened as a West Coast kid from the suburbs made everything really real.”
Through her evolving NYU community, Puckett became exposed to the music of Nas, Black Star, J Dilla and the Soulquarians. “Everything came to an apex when I found out about musicians like Thundercat and Karriem Riggins,” Puckett said. “For the first time, I saw modern musicians who had solo careers, were virtuosic improvisers, instrumentalists, produced, wrote songs, toured with major artists; everything I admired about older musicians like Herbie Hancock.”
During the New York nights, Puckett snuck into jam sessions at jazz club staples like ZINC. Through these explorations of the city and its culture, she learned about an open jam session called The Lesson at Bamboo in Manhattan’s Lower Eastside where she met SZA’s keyboardist and musical director, Paul Wilson a.k.a. Bae Bro.
In summer 2014, Wilson was embarking on a European tour that conflicted with a couple SZA shows and asked Puckett to sub for him.
“My first SZA show was at the House of Blues in New Orleans, opening for Common during Essence Fest,” Puckett said. “The second show was an AFROPUNK night at Rough Trade. After the show, President Punch and SZA asked me to join the band.”
Over the past five years touring with SZA, Puckett has seen the crowds grow from a couple hundred to tens-of-thousands of people. “I think Coachella was 100,000,” she said.
“Watching SZA’s journey showed me that it’s not really about being this fully formed thing, more about creating as you go,” Puckett said. “When I came home from the CTRL tour, I reached this point where I knew it was time to play my own shows and make records.”
While the culture of NYU jazz school in 2009 opened her up to new sounds, Puckett always remained grounded in the familial music that started her journey. After moving to New York, she started delving deeper into the artists her parents played back home in Seattle like Joni Mitchell, Sly Stone, Three Dog Night, Paul Simon and Fleetwood Mac in a more serious way. “I started going through Marvin Gaye and Paul McCartney’s catalogues among others,” she said. “I think I really got major lessons on songwriting from sixties and seventies folk, funk and soul musicians.”
These musings inspired her first PUCK release, a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 song, “Dreams.”
She notes the rich lyrics, attuned storytelling and experimental arrangements as her inspiration behind covering the seventies masterpiece.
“‘Dreams’ is one of those songs that a lot of people really love, Puckett said. “People live to that song.”
“Covering the song was a really cool challenge, because the song was hitting my heart so deeply, but I also felt I had to honor the original because it’s so incredible,” she said. “I didn’t want to get too experimental with everyone’s favorite song.
PUCK is currently writing original music and playing shows. Her next performance will be at Elsewhere in Brooklyn on June 4 where her experiences touring the world with SZA will surely glimmer through on stage.
“I used to think you had to adjust the way you performed based on the situation, but now I’m starting to think it’s all kind of the same,” Puckett said.
“I think people want space to feel something, so if you can get to a place where you’re comfortable feeling something in front of other people, that’s all you really need to do.”
Listen to “Dreams” below: