Last April, Louis Tomlinson took to Instagram to announce that he was “turning a page” creatively, declaring that his new focus was to make music for himself and his fans rather than commercial success. Today (Oct. 24), another page is turned, as the 27-year-old singer releases his latest single, “We Made It.”
Tomlinson actually wrote the song two years ago, long before publicly sharing his musical awakening. But as the “We Made It” lyrics indicate, the sentiment has been on his mind for a while: “Don’t need to say no more / Nothing in the world that I would change it for / Singing something poppy on the same four chords/ Used to worry ’bout it but I don’t no more.”
While those particular verses nod to Tomlinson’s One Direction days, Tomlinson suggests that they also stemmed from his feelings on his first two solo releases, Steve Aoki’s 2016 track “Just Hold On” and his 2017 Bebe Rexha team-up “Back To You.” “I’m really happy with the collaborations I released, but as I look back, I don’t think those songs sonically were as true to me as they could be,” he admits. “I was making music for other people, as opposed to making the music I love.”
The rest of “We Made It” — which features acoustic guitar and a beat drop on the chorus — encompasses Tomlinson’s relationship with on-again girlfriend Eleanor Calder as well as with his fans. He announced his debut solo album, titled Walls and due Jan. 31, 2020, the day before dropping the song, giving the song’s title even more meaning. “I’m really relieved to finally be here,” Tomlinson said in his reveal.
Billboard caught up with Tomlinson ahead of the “We Made It” release to hear about the song’s inspiration and what else fans can expect from Walls next year.
You first teased “We Made It” in February of last year. Is there a reason it’s just coming out now, especially since you’ve released “Two of Us” and “Kill My Mind” in between?
There was a group of songs that I wrote maybe about six months ago, including “Kill My Mind” and “Walls,” which is another single and the title of the album. I knew I wanted to get an album out as soon as possible, but I wanted to be really confident with the body of work that I had. I think there wasn’t enough songs on the album that I was really super proud of. Once I’d written “Kill My Mind,” I felt a little bit better about things, which is why I’m now releasing music more frequently.
What inspired you to write “We Made It”?
It kind of has two meanings. The verses are written about the early times of me and my girlfriend, me going to visit her at university and stuff. But the sentiment of the chorus is a message that is something I know I’m going to feel on my first tour dates, for example. That feeling of achievement — I want it to feel collective, because the fans have been really patient with me. I’ve gone through a bit, and they were super supportive. It was kind of just a message to them, really.
The chorus talks about being underestimated. How does that relate to the message to fans?
I think that’s a general message of “We Made It” when I’m referencing the fans. There’s lyrics in there that relate to me personally — I’ve spoken about times in the past, especially in those first 18 months of One Direction, I struggled to find my place. It’s kind of just reflecting on those times. Also, like many songs, rooting for the underdog. Trying to capture all of that.
Have you had any other experiences over the past two years that have impacted the way you approach songwriting?
When I grew up, I was quite reliant on radio for discovering new songs. And what was on the radio at the time in England was Oasis, Amy Winehouse, Arctic Monkeys. In more recent years, radio has taken a slightly urban shift, and to a certain degree, for a short period of time, I kind of fell out of love with music. One day I went through YouTube and Spotify and found bands and songs that I really love, started discovering music that way. Artists like Sam Fender, Catfish and the Bottlemen.
It’s funny that you mention Oasis — the guitar on “We Made It” sounds very Oasis-esque. Were they a big influence on the record?
I mean, of course! Oasis is the best band in the world. They’re definitely [my] favorite band, so naturally their influence is woven in there.
I love everything about the ‘90s. I certainly love the fucking clothes as well, I wear a lot of that kind of stuff. I was born in ‘91, I just really identify with it. Bands like Oasis, they were so big growing up where I was — they have a real effect on me.
The songs you’ve released so far each have a slightly different feel to them. Is there one that feels the most like you lyrically and/or musically?
My favorite lyric is a song that isn’t out yet called “Walls.” That’s a lyric I’m really proud of, it kind of showcases me as a lyricist. In terms of sound, I just absolutely fucking love “Kill My Mind.” I’m really proud of being able to release something like that. It feels really good to perform it.
What other topics and sounds do you explore on the album?
There’s a little bit more emotional stuff. In general, I’m just wearing my heart on my sleeve, and being honest, reflecting on a breakup. As a lyricist, I always try to be as honest as possible. Once fans have heard the album, they will see a slightly different side of me.
I’m always striving for the most organic, live, real sounds as possible. Sometimes that feels like you’re fighting against the tides, because radio leans quite urban, especially mainstream radio, in the U.K. as well. We worked on a lot of different mixes to [“We Made It”]. It started out a little bit more electronic, especially in the chorus and the drop. So we just put it more in line with the album — I wanted to make it feel a little bit more live and authentic.
You can feel a pop-punk influence in “Miss You” and a little bit in “Kill My Mind.” How much has that type of music impacted the creation of the album?
When I was about 14 I bought a live Green Day DVD, and I was pretty amazed. It kind of gave me the bug. I was singing Green Day songs when I first started, so naturally my voice was molded to that kind of sound and especially that kind of chorus. It’s always something that I’m conscious of. The most important thing for me is that I don’t have too many programmed sounds on the record. I want to be able to feel the guitars and feel the atmosphere of the track.
How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist over the past few years?
It’s just been a massive learning process. The experience that I had in One Direction was absolutely fucking incredible. But it’s a very different kind of experience. For the music industry, that’s not a real-life example. There were conversations before that I never had to get involved with before when I was in the band — I’ve had to think on my feet and learn on the job. It’s all part of making you a better person, better artist, better businessman, all that. I feel like I’ve learned a lot.
It sounds like this year has been formative for you, as far as being confident that what you’re making is what you should be making.
Definitely. My biggest goal is to get out on the road as soon as possible — I’ve got tour dates penciled in. I’m just looking towards that now. I miss it.