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Awake In The Dark, A Musician Finds His Muse


Jacob Allen's musical journey has not been out of a dream. The 25-year-old artist, who goes by the name Puma Blue, struggled with insomnia for more than a decade. In his debut album now, he embraces those restless nights, turning them into what some critics are calling a sonic dreamland. It's titled "In Praise Of Shadows."

PUMA BLUE: So my parents put me on some music very early on. They were both musicians. My mom was a flutist, and my dad was a trombonist. And they were just always playing great music in the car and in the house, like Stevie Wonder and Pink Floyd and The Police and just stuff that got me really excited about music very early on. So for my seventh birthday, my parents got me a drum lesson. And overnight, I was just obsessed with the drums.


PUMA BLUE: Sadly, I developed insomnia at, like, age 10. It started with just really late nights, like, playing with my Lego and stuff in my bunk. I kind of would just line up my old teddy bears and make them talk to each other or - I don't know. Like, it was a fun time. It was like playtime for me, in a way. And then it really just took a bit of a dive when I went to university, and I just stopped sleeping altogether sometimes. You know, there'd be nights where the sun would come up, and the birds would start singing, and my whole face would be hurting. And I think it spiraled me into a depression. And I was just suffering from sleep deprivation in a big way.


PUMA BLUE: (Singing) Struggle in these sheets. Oh, I feel I can't breathe. This smoke - it fills my head.

The happy ending to the story, I guess, is I started sleeping again and have been able to sleep really well. It's a bit of a mystery. There's no, like, cure that I can point to and say that was it, other than maybe the appearance of my partner in my life kind of really coincides with that. My theory is she kind of emits some sort of magical sleep energy.


PUMA BLUE: (Singing) Sinking into one, she blossoms between my fingertips.

"Sheets" probably embodies that feeling the most of just finally sleeping better and finally laying in the lap of a lover and looking up at them and feeling so happy and secure. And, yeah, in some ways, I kind of feel like it was the first love song I've ever written.


PUMA BLUE: (Singing) So awake have I been for years that I forgot to rest.

I've written a lot of songs about unrequited love or the end of love. "Sheets" just feels like a pure love song. I love that because I think you're told a lot as an artist that you have to suffer for your art or that good art can only come from pain. But I'm just so glad that I've been able to write music about joy and feel really inspired from health and from happiness.


PUMA BLUE: (Singing) Dream in softest sheets. Lover, sweet.

I just wanted to put out an album that was more balanced and had just as much light as it did dark because I'm kind of just a silly clown (laughter). Like, I'm sort of a joker. You know, I love to just make people laugh. And I'm definitely quite a gentle, sensitive spirit as well. But yet, I'd hear my old stuff and sort of think, well, you sound very serious, Jacob. You sound like a very serious, morbid person.


PUMA BLUE: (Singing) I thought I left you behind. I must be losing my mind. Sleep much longer than I did before, though I wanted our dreams evermore.

That music was coming out at a time where I was maybe withdrawing from my emotions a bit, so it just feels nice to get back to writing music like I would as a kid, which is a lot more emotionally available and more representative of me as a person.

SIMON: Puma Blue - his new album is "In Praise Of Shadows."

(SOUNDBITE OF PUMA BLUE SONG, "OPIATE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.