In 2016, Liam Payne met with Capitol to play his first solo songs. The one everyone most gravitated toward was “Both Ways,” a midtempo track about a threesome. “It was testing the waters of what we could write about and could say,” says Payne, adding with a laugh, “Going into a meeting and playing a song about threesomes is an interesting place to be, let me tell you.”
“Both Ways” also informed how Payne approached his debut album, LP1, which arrived Dec. 6. The 17-track project includes all six of the singles Payne has released since 2017’s “Strip That Down,” and establishes his sound as a modern update to the rhythmic pop of Usher and Justin Timberlake. Though fans have been eagerly awaiting the LP for the past two and a half years, the former One Direction member felt it was important to take time to sit with his music before sharing it with the world.
“This album has grown with me over the last two years — honestly, some of the hardest I’ve spent on this planet,” says Payne, 26, who endured a breakup, welcomed his first child and fell in love again. “[LP1] is about my audience getting to know me.”
Below, Payne details why his album is just now arriving, One Direction’s impact on his solo artistry, and the song he feels does the best job at giving a glimpse at who Liam Payne is.
What contributed to the delay in releasing your debut full-length?
It was about finding the right records; I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so that caused a lot of delays. Also, there was one day where I wasn’t very famous, and then there was a day where I suddenly became ultra-famous — and the transition of that is a bit of a headf–k, really. I never predicted that I was going to be part of the biggest boy band in the world, and that it would be a huge thing that would go on for many years and take my life in a completely different [direction].
When we were in the band, we were literally writing an album in two weeks, and then it’d take a month to record. Finding your sound was a bit of a tricky thing to do; you didn’t really know what the audience wanted from you. There’s always that internal fear that you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into.
How did the reaction to “Strip That Down” help guide the rest of the album?
Going from being in a soft-pop-rock band, and also the weight of the One Direction success on top of you — and working with a new team and label — it was difficult to know if people were alright with me moving into the hip-hop lane. [“Strip That Down”] let me let loose a little bit, and push the boundaries as much as I could.
Why did you feel the need to put out an album at all, after having success with your singles?
Obviously it’s a different game these days with streaming, but the problem is, [in order] to tour, you need a songbook, and the quickest way to get that songbook out there is an album. The singles I put out so far are very happy-go-lucky, but didn’t really give you an in-depth look at what I’m about. It was a chance for me to get a few things out that I’ve not really said before.
Some of the different struggles and things I’ve been through, I’ve kept quiet to myself and dealt with by myself. My life’s very heavily monitored through tabloids and whatever else, and people get to know me through other people — which is quite a different experience, not being able to fully say your side of the story. “Weekend,” for example, is about a really dark experience that I had that I’ll probably never actually talk about publicly, but it’s in the song for people to make what they will of it.
Is there a song you feel best represents you?
“Live Forever” is a really good representation of me. It’s written by a good friend of mine who [reached] a point where he had to make a choice for himself, when you get to that age when you realize you’re not invincible anymore. I think I had been quietly struggling with that the whole time that [my career] has been going on, really, because life got so crazy so quick it just kind of puts you in a very strange frame of mind.
The “Live fast, die young” sort of scenario, a lot of artists go through that kind of thing, and it’s not really true. It’s all about how you want to live your life, really, but finding that one person you can lean on through this experience that kind of gets you through and makes you realize “I do want this forever.” That was a real strong message for me, not even through the live or die aspect, but the “to be an artist or to not be an artist” [aspect].
Are there any artists that have inspired you as you developed your own artistry?
I love Billie Eilish’s attitude around the whole idea of what her brand is. Post Malone does a similar thing — he is who he is, and that’s what you get. He seems like he’s having fun doing what he’s doing, but there’s also a real dark side to his music. I used to speak to him before he was super massive, and obviously we’ve changed our phone numbers, like, 50 million times, but he randomly Instagram DMed me at 3 in the morning saying, “Love you, Busta.”
Anyone you worked with behind the scenes who was particularly impactful to you?
One of the most random ones was Rami Yacoub, who wrote “What Makes You Beautiful.” He doesn’t have any songs [he co-wrote] on the album, but we went into a deep conversation, and I’ve got some songs that I kind of held back because I thought there might [involve] a bit more growth than this album was. The relationship with Rami and One Direction wasn’t always straightforward — at points it was quite complicated, in a sense. But it makes you feel like you’re still quite grounded, if you still hold the same people around you that you did. I’m definitely going to work with him again.
So now that LP1 is done, how does it compare to what you thought you’d be releasing as a solo artist?
It’s exactly what I wanted to release. There was a time in the band when I was labeled “Mr. Boring,” and now I find myself naked on the side of a bus in London [for a Hugo Boss ad campaign]. In a band, you become one of something and it’s very easy to lose yourself within that, and I think we all had to get that back once we left. You can see that now — look at the way Harry [Styles] dresses, the music he puts out and the message that he sends. It’s a completely different thing. Same for all of us; everybody branched out and went, “I want to be me!” straight away.