Louis Tomlinson is ready to find his solo star voice. His second solo album, faith in the future, comes 7 years after the end of One Direction. When he released his excellent first solo Walls in 2020, he was admirably open about the difficulty of making an album on his own. “It took me a second to get here,” Louis told Rolling Stone. “Because there was a lot of standing still.” But this time it’s different for him. As he says now, “I’m just in a more confident place.”
faith in the future looks very different from Walls, which focused on his Oasis-style rock songwriting. He brings to life the dance sound he explored on his early solo singles, when he did collaborations with Steve Aoki and Bebe Rexha. Yet it also has pop ballads like “Chicago” and the northern England hometown tribute “Common People.” (No relation to the classic Pulp song.) Louis took a break to talk to Rolling Stone about the new album, his love of touring, the trust he receives from his fans and his “breaking free” from One Direction.
Did you feel like you had a lot to prove with this record?
Yeah, man, I had a lot to prove myself. And a lot to prove to anyone who listens. But I just wanted to be braver with this record. I think there were times on the first album where I kind of dipped my toe in courage and did exactly what I wanted to do. But this time I just wanted to embrace what I love musically. There’s a different kind of love for every song. It’s not enough to try to be single.
You explore the different facets of your music in this one.
I wanted it to be wide. I was so paranoid about being believable on the first record. So there was an element of me being musically closed-minded. It was important for me, on this record, to be bigger than that. I started my solo career with a hybrid dance-pop thing with Steve Aoki. So for the first album, I didn’t want to get close to that kind of dancing sound. I guess on this record, I’m just in a more confident place, so I’m willing to be braver and do things like that. Or at least what seems bravest to me.
You bring back the elements of dance from the start of your solo career. How did you combine them with the rock guitar of Walls?
I often quote the DMA album they did with Stuart Price. It’s a dance record, but there’s still a lot of guitars spinning in the middle. So that gave me a good inspiration for this album.
The title faith in the future-What does this mean to you?
I guess that’s a bit of a personal reflection. I always had to have “Faith in the Future” in my life, in my career. The first record was really moving. It’s not that this record isn’t, but I want more than anything to have hope. So I wanted to honor it with a really hopeful title.
When we talked for Walls, you said that it took you a long time to make this first solo album. Why did he feel more confident?
I was hoping to have completed a full tour when I was going to write this record. Obviously due to Covid this did not happen. But I was lucky to have the two live shows I had before Covid got in the way. It was fresh in my mind when I was writing this whole record. And that gave me a lot of confidence. I think that really played a part in the album, feeling more confident as well.
You have rock energy on this album, like “Out of My System”.
Yeah man, it sounds like a throwback when I listen to it. I love this song, man. It’s a song I can’t wait to play live. I really like the video. I wanted to do a song like this for a while, it’s cool, isn’t it?
Did playing live have an impact on your songwriting for this album?
Massively. It’s my favorite thing to do. I’m also lucky to have a lot of success on tour. So I wanted to focus this album on those gigs and create as many exciting live moments as possible, because as a music fan, those are the moments I remember. I love to listen to albums, of course I love. But the moments that stick in your memory are the live moments.
You’ve always been the kind of live performer who makes that direct connection with the audience.
I can’t take full credit for that, because I think it’s also about connecting the fans. Absolutely. I feel that from them at every show. And I think that’s what makes us feel connected in that moment.
How did it affect your songwriting to be in your thirties?
I guess you never really know, but I like to think there might be a little more depth, because you think a little deeper as you get older. Maybe the concepts are more mature. But I don’t really feel like I’m 30, to be honest with you.
But you’re an artist who continues to evolve and grow, having done this for so long.
That’s why I feel incredibly lucky, man. I had all my amazing experience in the band [One Direction]. And then now we all have time to express ourselves individually. I’ve been in the industry for over a decade, which is crazy to think, really. But at the same time, my solo career still feels pretty new to me. So it’s lucky to be so excited, after working so many years in the industry. All artists, we want to constantly evolve, improve, etc.
New song “Common People” is a big statement – where did that come from?
I grew up in Doncaster so I have this place to thank for who I am. I’m very aware of it and I love it. So it was important to me to have a song that honors that and gives Doncaster its credit. I dressed it up as a love song. But really, the intention was just to give Donny a moment.
Obviously, you are someone with a truly loyal and passionate following that will follow you everywhere. How does this affect your music?
I never, ever take for granted that I have the chance with this album to be able to express myself in the way that I want, with this album, because it was a change of Walls. Often other artists might fear alienating a fanbase if you take a shift. But I’m so lucky to have such a loyal and passionate fan base, as you say, that I didn’t really have that concern before writing this album. From my own experience, when I’ve followed my heart musically and done what I love, I feel it’s contagious. So it’s amazing to have this kind of fans and to have the confidence to be able to make a record that I want.
Again, I think that’s a testament to both of us. I think of myself and my fans almost as a collective. I can’t take all the credit. I really love the relationship I have with my fans, so I won’t do anything to jeopardize it and I always try to ensure that. Still.
With this album, do you feel there’s a continuity with what you’ve been doing since the beginning? Do you feel like it’s you all along?
Oh yes, I definitely do. It’s kind of a break with who I was in the band [One Direction]. And that’s not to say I wasn’t in the band myself, but when you’re a young boy in a situation like that, I don’t care how tough you are mentally, there’s an element of you trying to adjust to a brief. And some people put that pressure on you. But I would say there was an element of dumbing it down a bit and being one of the four or five. Whereas now, I have the chance to be able to express myself individually. And I think that’s what this album did.
I mean, one thing that doesn’t normally happen in a group – there are normally a few people who do well, but to see *everybody* doing so well is amazing. And I think it’s due to individual identity, and also that we’re quite different. It’s quite interesting, the fact that we’re a band, but when you listen to our own music, it’s quite different.
It was something that was really important to me, because it’s not that the first record lacked an identity – I just think it was a bit confusing at times as to what it was. Where this album, I think it’s pretty clear. I think it’s a good expression of me, what I love musically, who I am as a person. It was sometimes difficult, but I think you have to take everything with a grain of salt. It really is the easiest way to stay sane.
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