With “Strip That Down,” his Quavo-featuring debut single released on Friday (May 19), Liam Payne has become the final member of One Direction to officially go solo — although the singer tells Billboard that he was close to forgoing the solo artist route and deferring to his group mates.
“To be honest with you, I wasn’t going to do a solo venture,” says Payne, who co-wrote songs on each of One Direction’s five albums. “I was just going to go into songwriting and carry on and do that. But then I was like, ‘You’ve been trying to do this since you were 14 years old. You would be ridiculously stupid to turn down the option to have a deal.’ Coming out of the band, we had some pretty good opportunities around us. I had to do something.”
After One Direction released their final pre-hiatus album, Made In The A.M., in November 2015, Payne says that he was “in the middle of just finding our feet” when the opportunity to record “Strip That Down” presented itself. Written by Payne, Ed Sheeran (who had a hand in multiple 1D hits) and Steve Mac, the first single from Payne’s upcoming solo project was sparked by an unexpected call from Sheeran late last summer.
“I was in a gym in L.A., and I got a call that said ‘You have to get to London now,’” Payne recalls. “And we had literally just gotten to L.A., so we U-turned straight back to London — which of course you do for Mr. Ed Sheeran, because I’d do anything for the man. We went in, sat around and discussed a bunch of things about life, and [the song] basically just came together.”
After working with Sheeran and Mac, Payne decided to add Migos star Quavo into the mix as the song’s featured artist. “Quavo is the man!” he exclaims. “He turned the rap around in like 24 hours. … It’s taken them a long time to get to the point where the Migos are now, with ’T-Shirt’ and ‘Bad and Boujee.’ I feel like they’re very well-structured men to take on this task, because if you accelerate too quickly into what fame is, it’ll mess with your head. They’ve had a lovely rise, and they can carry on doing this for many years.”
In the days since “Strip That Down” was released, 1D fans have understandably focused on the line “You know, I used to be in 1D (now I’m out, free),” which Payne has said represents more of his desire to make music on his own terms rather than dismiss the mega-selling pop group. He’s had to sit on “Strip That Down” for months, but couldn’t be more grateful for the release of his debut solo track.
“If you’ve listened to a demo too many times, one thing can change your whole perception of a song,” he explains. “I left it alone for a while, and then when it finally got around to this place where it is right now, I was like… right, then. I believed!
“It was such an edgy, different song for me to do,” Payne continues, “with [that 1D lyric] in it as well, and the way that was written. It was quite an experience.”