Below are some highlights from our interview with Tomlinson. They include: why his previous singles gave him “the courage now to just be brave” with his new music, his thoughts on “We Made It” and how it’s a song for both him and his fans, how he’s “gone through every emotion” in getting his album made, and what we might expect from his tour.
On how his latest song "We Made It" came together:
This song is like two-and-a-half years old. The reason we kind of sat on the song for so long is [because] I wanted to be further on in the writing process so I could release a lot of songs in a short space of time. There's like another single coming in like six weeks, and so on. The song… it started off as just the title. As a concept, really. 'We made it,' what does that mean to me. And again, my first thought was 'that first tour show.' I always like to write things that where the fans feel they're included, and that moment of me playing my first tour show and thinking to myself, 'alright, we've done alright!' That's collective. That's not just on my own. You know what I mean? Because these people have been patient with me, really patient. And you know, I've got a really loyal fan base, so that's going to be a moment of success -- mutually, you know what I mean?
On the meaning behind the "We Made It" lyric, 'singing something poppy on the same four chords / used to worry about it but I don't no more,' and how he got the "courage" to make the music he wanted to on the upcoming album:
It's funny, because I wrote that song maybe 12 months before I put this statement out on my Instagram and essentially I had just kind of come to this conclusion that I was making music for everyone else and I was worrying too much about other opinions. And kind of based on where I came from with One Direction, that those expectations, I suppose, to a certain degree, are natural. But I had to go through that experience, really, and understand what it was I was doing on my own now. And how important it was to just kind of follow my heart and do what I love. Because, you know… I work quite a few hours doing this job. It's busy, it's busy, so I gotta be loving it. I gotta be loving it. And it doesn't feel like a job when I'm doing what I love, you know what I mean? Whereas, I think, look, there's been singles in the past, where, in hindsight, I feel like, I don't necessarily identify with those sounds … but in terms of when I look back, I'm glad I had the experience, but it's kind of given me the courage now to just be brave and be like, 'alright, I'm gonna do what I wanna do' basically.
Is the whole album locked, done and finished? Or is he still making tweaks?
There's a couple more [songs] that are going to master, but I approved the final two songs, maybe like a day ago or two days ago. So, it's all fully done. I've not heard every master yet, but I'm sure it'll be f---ing good. [Laughs.]
Is that a relief?
Oh, definitely! I think [for] most new artists, this is a pretty normal amount of time to make an album. But again, what I was used to, being in a band like One Direction, was: tour every year, album every year. As I said, I've been writing for like three years, so in One Direction, I could have had three albums out by now [laughs], you know what I mean? So it feels like a relief to finally be here, yeah, definitely.
Is there an overarching theme to the album?
Without getting too deep… I think just honesty. I mean the lyrics, naturally, my style, are quite autobiographical anyway. So, I think in terms of a theme, I go in writing every song, trying to be as honest and as real as possible, really. So, I think there's … different moments in my life, different emotions, but overall, I hope it's honest … I'm always trying to humanize myself as much as possible and make myself relatable to fans, and I think with honesty, you can do that, you know what I mean? Because there's a lot of Hollywood lyrics out there, there's a lot of lyrics that feel a little make believe to me. So, I think being honest, it can pull on the heartstrings then, you know what I mean?
Now that he's going into releasing his first album, which of these emotions is he feeling more right now? Excitement, joy, or nervousness?
I feel like because, as I said before, personally I feel like I've been writing this album for a while, I feel like I've kind of gone through every emotion. Honestly. I've had moments of frustration, because it's taken a second to release. I've had moments where I'm nervous and I hope people like it and whatever. But I feel like I just got to that stage now where I've been sitting on it for a while, I believe they're good songs. I'm confident in the album. So, I'm just excited for people to hear it as this stage. That's all it is. Eager. I'm eager and excited for people to hear it.
Was he putting pressure on himself, or was there any pressure externally, around getting an album done?
If I'm being honest, with the greatest… without like… I think they'll understand this, but to be honest, and for the right reasons, the pressure comes from the fan base. And that's because I owe them, I owe them. You know what I mean? To a certain degree. They're incredible people, super dedicated when I was in the band, and it's carried on throughout. There will be different awards that I get nominated for and, again, I've not had an album out, and they'll just vote super hard! They're just incredible people, so I feel like, I owe it to them to make the best album I can and to get it out at some point. And now we're there!
Has he started prepping for the tour?
I've started thinking roughly about set lists. It's a bit easier when you don't have as many songs in a first tour, you know? … In terms of creative [aspects of the show], to be honest, I haven't really given it too much thought. But instinctively, it won't be bells and whistles. It'll just be a good light show focusing on the music, you know what I mean?
So, not so much on pyro and lasers?
I mean, I like a bit of pyro. And I also like a bit of lasers! So maybe a few bells, few whistles. But not too many, yeah! [Laughs.]
The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard's weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard's senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and deputy editor, digital Katie Atkinson every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)