Louis Tomlinson: ‘I Want To Be an Honest and Relatable Songwriter‘
The former One Direction member on his latest single ‘Kill My Mind,’ trusting his gut and finding his place in the industry
It’s Friday evening when Louis Tomlinson greets me with a, “Hi! How’s it going?” on call. The line is plagued by weekend excitement but also jitters. The Doncaster native is not too far from home, rehearsing in rainy London for his upcoming set at the Coca-Cola Music Experience Festival in Madrid next week. Despite the weather, he’s rather cheery and listeners might be able to put their finger on why.
24 hours before our conversation, the British singer-songwriter had released the second single, “Kill My Mind,” off his upcoming debut LP (set to release in 2020). The song has been touted for its distinctive alternative pop-rock sound and is Tomlinson’s nod to finally embracing his own sonic identity.
The single’s release follows his August Teen Choice Award (Choice Song: Male Artist) win for “Two Of Us,” a pop ballad Tomlinson penned to remember his mum who passed away in 2016 after fighting cancer. He says, “I’m really excited to finally have ‘Kill My Mind’ out. It was really important for me [because] when I wrote the last song, it was quite emotionally heavy and I think it was quite important for me to put out a message that was fun, nostalgic and young.”
Life has a way of unearthing sounds from within we didn’t know were ready for the world and a couple of instances led Tomlinson to start making music that was true to him. One of these was meeting London producer Jamie Hartman. “Especially while I was starting my solo career (in 2016, post One Direction’s indefinite hiatus), I spent a lot of time working with different producers and there were a few people that I met that I thought were great, but I didn’t really think they understood me as an artist,” he shares. Tomlinson and Hartman clicked from the very first session. “I wanted to do something that’s fun, juvenile and uplifting, and I think we got that pinned in one night,” he shares.
For the five years (2010 -15) Tomlinson was a member of One Direction, he couldn’t have been more comfortable. But the last two years brought him to a crossroads, steering him on a path to finding his place in the industry as a solo artist. “I like the idea of finally finding my lane and feeling comfortable and confident about what I’m doing,” he says.
The 27-year-old has sure come a long way. From his British pop band days to his experiments with electronica and pop to finally settling into pop-rock with a northern English sound influenced by rock outfits such as Oasis, Arctic Monkeys and The Smiths, to name a few; there have been more than just the numerous world tours, records and awards to introspect on. “What’s being played on American radio at the moment is a little bit different; I don’t really understand some of those references of sound,” he says. He certainly likes what he hears on the radio; the tunes just don’t feel true to him as an artist. “I thought it was important for me to kind of stand strong and do what I love,” he says.
Tomlinson is excited to share his lyrics with the world; speaking on concepts and emanating from themes that we all have at some point voiced or shared. In general, listeners can expect tracks that follow the sonic imprint of the pop-punk “Miss You,” “Two Of Us” and “Kill My Mind.” More than anything, they can expect authenticity. “I just want to be an honest and relatable songwriter,” he says.
The upcoming yet-to-be titled LP is bound to pack quite a punch and will potentially span anywhere between 10 to 14 tracks; the number is nowhere near definite. Tomlinson says with a laugh, “Well, I think I’ve got a bit of a problem because I like value for money. So, I think there should be quite a few tracks on there. But I do think it’s also quality over quantity. So I haven’t quite decided yet.”
Tomlinson is already thinking ahead of the album. There’s a whirlwind of experiences to look forward to, especially with his first solo LP release. He’s teeming with exhilaration as he tells me about the upcoming live shows, the tour and of course, the fans. “When I’m writing the songs, I’m also writing them with the live show in mind, thinking that I need to write songs that are going to transform a live show and be exciting to watch and listen to,” he says. Then there’s the tour which he knows will influence him creatively. “My tour…that’s when I’m finally going to feel like I’ve started my career as a solo artist, when I can finally get on the road and tour those songs and feel the reaction from the fans, watch them singing my lyrics. It’s always very special,” he says. When the road is a silent companion and the grinding of the wheel on the tarmac is the only reminder of the world outside, the different cities, countries and cultures, they all find a home in Tomlinson’s pages. “There are times when you get lonely as well. So, I think it’s a really thought-provoking time and it’s always good for writing content,” he says.
India just might be on the tour map but nothing is set in place yet. “I’ve heard incredible things and the fans in India are incredible. So, I can’t wait to come out there and hopefully do a show. That would be amazing,” says the singer-songwriter with excitement that zaps through the line, palpable in its promise.
If the last nine years have taught the Doncaster-bred musician anything, it has been to pay keen attention to intuition. “What I’ve learned most after being in a job that’s as fast-paced and demanding as this, is to just trust your gut and sometimes, you know, sometimes people around you might not have the same feeling as you do, but you just gotta trust your gut always. Be brave and bold and make the right decisions,” he says.
There’s a method to the legacy he’s building; he just doesn’t know it yet. With him finding his sound and tapping into his faculties as a songwriter, Tomlinson is well on the way to realizing it. His debut album just might be a new beginning. “I don’t want to be defined as the guy who makes sad songs, I want to make people feel good about themselves,” he says.
Stream “Kill My Mind” here.