It has been a remarkably swift and assured journey to the upper echelons of stardom for Louis Tomlinson. As a member of the cultural juggernaut that is One Direction, he was a crux of what is inarguably the defining 'boy-band' of a generation. Of course, they would go on to challenge and redefine our previous notions of that artistic mould, but that is a tale worth another, entirely separate tome.
Tomlinson is no longer a boy, aided in no small part by the fact that he himself is now a father to a boy of his own. But growing up for him now means establishing his artistry on his own terms, no longer tethered to a group of his peers. Our first taste of things to come came at the tail-end of last year with "Just Hold On," a collaborative single with Steve Aoki that debuted at number two on the charts in his native UK.
This was followed by "Back to You," a single featuring Bebe Rexha and Digital Farm Animals that arrived just a few weeks ago. It is set to appear on his forthcoming debut solo album, one that he has said culls inspiration from the likes of his musical forebears Oasis and Arctic Monkeys.
We caught up with Louis to discuss this crucial stage in his career, to assess his time with One Direction in the wake of their hiatus and the international stardom that now marks his life, all while shooting an evocative editorial.
How do you think you've evolved as an artist compared to where you first started?
I’m constantly learning as a songwriter, so naturally that makes you grow as an artist. But I also think the more time I spend in music the more time I feel I understand it; or at least I understand where I stand amongst the industry and my identity within it all.
What can we expect from your first solo album?
The album is very honest and very real. A frustration that I’ve had recently is that a lot of songs that I listen to draw on scenarios that aren’t very realistic, so I just wanted to do something that was more down to earth. And I think my fans, who already know a lot about me, will learn something new.
What sneakers do you have in high rotation?
The most versatile pair of trainers that I have are my all plain white Reebok Classics.
What was it like working with Steve Aoki?
Working with Steve was amazing. He’s a very inspiring person and artist. It was really great getting to know him. And he has a great team, everyone made me feel really comfortable. It was also really nice to experience what it was like in the dance world that Steve operates in.
What prompted you to start your record label imprint with Sony Music?
I’ve been told throughout my career that I have good instincts, and the idea of discovery and development in terms of a new artist is so exciting to me. Being only 25 and in a position where I might be able to grant opportunities is really cool.
What do you listen to when you need a morale boost?
Some of Steve’s music, because I’ve had a lot of great club nights and heard of a lot of his sets. Either that or the first Artic Monkeys album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.
Would you rather travel into the past or the future? Why?
I would go back to the past and watch one of the early Beatles shows, because they were such a massive part of cultural history. As a younger person, you feel you missed out on that.
What's been one of the most difficult points of your career? One of the most rewarding?
I think in general, doing The X-Factor with the Steve Aoki song was the most difficult time, but also weirdly the most rewarding as well. I definitely felt like I couldn’t do it, and then I definitely felt the support from everyone around me, the friends and family but also the fans and people outside of that.
Now that One Direction are on a break, how do you feel about the band's legacy? Do you ever think about its cultural impact? If so, how would you describe your thoughts on it?
I do think about it, and I’m still blown away by what we achieved. But also what the fans helped us achieve in such a short space of time. I can only speak for what we were, and what I see more of now in the industry, but boy bands in particular had a certain stereotype – sync’ed dance routines, all wearing the same clothes, people hiding that they had girlfriends and pretending to be single etc.
From day one we tried to be very honest and not take ourselves too seriously. I think we demonstrated that as a band you don’t have to do everything by the book and hopefully, to a certain degree, that takes away some of the pressure for new artists. That was what was endearing about 1D, especially as we were surrounded by an industry full of “perfect” model people.
With such a huge spotlight drawn on you at most all times, how do you reckon with such intense scrutiny in your personal life?
To a certain degree, the scrutiny is irrelevant. A lot of people might get caught up on what people are talking about on Twitter or not looking perfect in a specific photo. But in reality, the only thing that matters is that the people who do like it actually like it, and that you’re getting good feedback from them. Scrutiny is also going to be part of the job, and it kind of is what it is. You can also use scrutiny to inspire and propel you forward.
Is there anything in your career you wish you had done or handled differently? If so, how would you have changed it?
I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
For more of our interview features, revisit our chat with the incomparable Jamiroquai from our last print issue right here.