"Nice To Meet Ya" is Horan's most daring track yet as far as production goes, building a piano-driven melody into a swirling bridge before the electric guitar-driven chorus kicks in. According to Horan, the in-your-face sound is simply a teaser of what's to come: "I like to think I’ve brought the rock side of myself out a little more."
Ahead of releasing "Nice To Meet Ya," Horan filled Billboard in on how the song came together, how he's grown as an artist since his debut album, Flicker, and the wilder side he's diving into on this next set of music.
When you started making music for your next album, did you have any goals in mind for a sound you wanted to achieve and/or any sort of themes you wanted to dive into lyrically?
I have stuff that I want to write about on my mind all the time. I had just gone through a break up, which helps when it comes to writing songs, I guess. It helps vent the emotions.
When I first began writing this album, I was in a really good place -- I was so excited to get down and just write songs, and not worry about what they sounded like afterwards. Just write the song and then dress it up however you want afterwards -- writing good pop songs and not worrying about the content as such. I had days where I sat down and wrote ballads and it was emotional, but for the most part I was having so much fun. I think “Nice To Meet Ya” is a good start, [fans] can tell we had a lot of fun.
You've said writing “Nice to Meet Ya” was particularly special. Why is that?
It was on a writing day when nothing was really happening. We are all just sitting around, nothing was really kicking off, nothing really feels right… and then I picked up the electric guitar and played the big riff in the song, and everyone’s ears perked up. We started writing to it, but I usually write songs from the start and stick to the narrative and go along story by story. With this one, I picked up a microphone and started singing random melodies into it, and then leaving them to decide. And then we made a bit of a jigsaw of what was the best melody.
That’s why it doesn’t sound like your average song. It’s a bit disjointed, but in a really good way. It just felt special as we were writing it -- everyone was getting excited. And I hear some of the voice notes now [from] when we were recording it, and it just sounds like chaos. We were all just screaming lyrics and melodies and what the song should be about. It was a really fun write on a day where things weren’t going our way to start with.
What inspired the lyrics for “Nice to Meet Ya,” and what made it feel like the right kickoff to your next set of music?
The lyrics came about from a half-true story. I was out one night and locked eyes with this girl. We got chatting, and she was with a group of her mates and I was with a group of my mates. It felt like every time I turned around -- like the lyric says -- she just kind of disappeared. But then over the course of the same night, in different bars around that same area, we would bump into each other. It’s a song that is basically like a movie that is based on a true story, and then you start changing stuff that makes the song start to sound a little bit more interesting.
This song felt right. The way I was looking at it -- and I am sure people would agree -- I haven’t released a song in two years, effectively. Apart from doing “What A Time” with Julia Michaels. So I felt like, if you are going to come back, make a bit of noise. There’s no better way than coming in with a song called “Nice to Meet Ya.” My single art is written in big bold writing with a picture of me wearing sunglasses, there’s even a bold video to match. I thought, "Why not -- I am 26, I feel like I am in a good place in my life, and I am just going to go for it."
Have you had any experiences in the past two years that impacted the way you approached creating for this next album?
Going through heartbreak helped write the ballads, even some of the happy songs -- the sad songs that are dressed up as happy songs sometimes. Also, touring. Experiencing touring and being on stage every night, getting that buzz off the crowd and being with fans who have paid their well-earned money to come and watch only you -- you learn a lot about yourself, you learn about what people want to listen to.
I still sometimes feel like that 13-year-old standing in the mirror with a guitar in my hand. You know, I heard Bruce Springsteen say in his Broadway show that he remembers when he got his first guitar when he was 12 or 13 and he went out into the garden and started pretending to be Elvis, dancing around his garden -- I resonate with that so much, because I literally still do that. It's good to feel like you still really enjoy it. It is crazy to think that I have been doing this for nearly 10 years and still want the craziness of it. It is a feeling that is not describable until you have done it. I am one of the lucky ones.
How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist since you made Flicker?
I have definitely grown as an artist. When I did Flicker, I had a feeling we had a fan base and that it was going to do okay, but I didn’t think it was going to go on and stream 4 billion times. [Seeing] an album going No. 1 and people actually attaching themselves to music [like] you didn’t think they would, it’s a good feeling. You get a bit of confidence off the back of that, and know that people want to hear you. So you go in the studio feeling a little bit more confident about things, and wanting to try out different types of music and experiment.
In the last album I kind of half pigeonholed myself, because that was how I was feeling at the time -- I picked up an acoustic guitar and wrote ballads, because that represented me and how I wanted to announce myself on to the music scene. You know we are talking about four years later now. I have grown as a person, and I feel more confident and I am raring to go. I think the music shows that off.
How will your next album differ from Flicker musically?
I had some rock moments on the last album with “Mirrors” and “Slow Hands," but I think this time I have just gone for it more. I’d spent a year on tour and looking out at the crowd every night -- what makes them sad, what makes them happy, what makes them jump around, what makes them want to tear the roof off the place -- and I was just going into this album wanting a little bit more tempo. When I tour this next time, I’ll have an album that is partly slow and then the new album, which is a little bit more up-tempo.
Obviously, it wouldn’t be an album of mine without a few ballads. But for the most part it is upbeat, and I have a good balance now.
What can you tease for what's coming after "Nice to Meet Ya"?
There are some good story lines in the songs -- some hidden ideas of mine. Living in the brain of a songwriter can be sometimes confusing, and I think that is why the average person attaches themselves to it so much, because they can’t understand how we do it. It’s a weird one to have an idea and then write a three-and-a-half minute song about it. It is not a normal thing to do. But I am lucky that I can vent my emotions and have some of my crazy imaginations put pen to paper, and explore them in visuals -- and have a good record label that wants to back me in my craziness.
I am just ready to go! The album is fun. There are some very sad moments, but for the most part it is a fun album. There are some nice melodies in there, some cool guitar riffs. I think my fans are going to enjoy it. It is the next step up from Flicker, it doesn’t feel too crazy. There is nothing worse than when someone feels like they have to completely change everything about themselves to make it work, and I don’t feel like I’ve done [that]. I am just really excited. If you are reading this, GET READY!