The last of the One Direction lot to release his debut album, Louis Tomlinson took his time making his first full-length.
"It's taken me the best part of four years to finish it, so naturally, you know, there's a lot of heart in it," he considers, "a lot of emotion, a lot of honesty I think. And the most important thing for me, whenever I'm writing a song, is that the lyrics are really important to me. I just want to make people feel something, and through honesty, that becomes a little bit easier, you know? So I feel like, hopefully, I've made an honest and interesting record."
A lot has happened for Louis in the past ten years. He was catapulted into stardom as part of One Direction in 2010, left that group in 2015, returned to The X Factor in 2018 as a judge, became a footballer for a bit, had a child, and sadly lost his mother in 2016 and sister Felicité in 2019. A lot of those themes make it onto 'Walls', the latter forming the lyrics for the record's lead single 'Two Of Us'.
"Honesty and vulnerability at times is relatable, and it's important sometimes talk about certain things. I'm always conscious of being as transparent as I possibly can to my fans and to any listener."
Of course, his first solo ventures, 'Just Hold On' with Steve Aoki and 'Back To You' with Bebe Rexha and Digital Farm Animals, are miles away from the music he returned with in 2019, but he maintains the change of direction was for the best.
"I just don't think that those songs are true to the artist that I want to be. Although they were right to me at the time, if you put them in the middle of this album, they would definitely stand out."
Where Harry's albums channel 70s rock and artsy pop, Niall's debut had the singer/songwriter vibe a la Sheeran and Capaldi, and Liam and Zayn opted for chart-friendly R&B pop, on 'Walls', Louis goes back to his roots, doing his best to emulate the Northern indie rockers he grew up on.
"I feel like a lot of influence happens subconsciously. It's what you're listening to at the time or what you've grown up with. In terms of who I look up to, Alex Turner and the way that he writes as a lyricist is incredible, especially in the early Arctic Monkeys stuff. I always talk about Amy Winehouse's level of detail, again as a lyricist, and how descriptive she was was incredible. Obviously, I'm a massive, massive Oasis fan that goes without saying."
Chatting to Louis, it's easy to forget he was part of one of the biggest groups of all time, because he just comes across as a down to earth and, well, normal bloke. It's like seeing an old school friend in the pub and having a catch-up.
He's never lost his accent, and his dedication to his hometown of Doncaster is unmatched. He's returning to the Doncaster Dome on tour, was signed as a Doncaster Rovers player, and even in his early solo days, took Bebe Rexha to the Keepmoat Stadium for a video shoot.
"I always try and be as true to myself as I can. I've always been very aware of where I've come from, and very proud of where I've come from. I fuckin love Doncaster. My family still live there, I go there all't time, well, not all't time, but as much as I can. Those influences that I've grown up with were vital on my first album, they're definitely part of it's DNA.
"This was always where my heart lies. I mean, I spent most of my youth in Priory, back when it were ten quid all you could drink – which was fucking mint. That really pushed me towards big choruses and guitars, basically - you know, like a Catfish and the Bottlemen kinda record, that's the sound I really love."
Likening his experience of finding his feet after 1D's disbandment ("hiatus") to that of a brand new artist, it took Louis a while to get comfortable with the music he was making.
"A lot of developing artists when they first start their career, they spend two, three, maybe even five years in the background developing and waiting for that one moment, that one song, that one album. And I kind of had to live out that whole development period in the public eye. Naturally, after coming out of One Direction, it was a bit of improvising, a bit of trial and error and working out exactly who I should be as an artist. It took some time, I didn't want to rush it."
He did dip his toe into the songwriting waters during his time in 1D, if getting a writing credit on 37 of their songs counts as dipping a toe, but felt he needed time rediscovering himself.
"It was really important to me; it was only from the third album onwards that we really got trusted with having a real influence on the songwriting. It's something I'm really proud of, and they're definitely skills that have helped me in the solo career."
Funnily enough, One Direction's third album seemed to be the point where their music took a stadium rock-ish turn, which never really let up for the remainder of their career (see: 'Midnight Memories', 'Where Do Broken Hearts Go', 'Drag Me Down'). Maybe Louis always had those big choruses in him after all.
There are plenty of references to walls and fences on (aptly titled) 'Walls', which could easily be read as feeling like he needed to break out, but he says that's not necessarily what he means.
"I normally shy away from metaphor, but it was relevant in the song definitely. I'm sure that's how some people might interpret it. But it's more about general growth in life and any problems or mistakes that you make along the way. It's more about realising that, and I'm very proud of my One Direction roots, massively."
Strangely, he says joining One Direction humbled him. As a cocky teenager, being thrust into the spotlight and feeling like a small fish in a very large, Simon Cowell-controlled pond affected the boys in different ways.
"I was a bit of a show-off, really. I came into One Direction with a bit of an ego; I did think a lot of myself, I'm not gonna lie. It was quite a sobering experience. I was a bit of a show-off when I was a kid to be fair, like I love making people laugh and all that. I wasn't very hardworking. I'd say I'm hardworking now, but I definitely wasn't when I was a young lad."
And does he feel like he's changed much since finishing with the group five years ago?
"It feels like it did in One Direction, just a diluted version really. I'm lucky I still have a certain amount of hardcore fans who follow my every move. So in terms of the difference in like privacy and stuff, that hasn't really changed too much. But, you know, it is what it is. It's what I've signed up for, apparently."
It doesn't come across like the fame gets to him, perhaps in a way it has done in the past. He seems relaxed, confident, more candid than he was on any 1D press run (e.g., he's allowed to swear now), and like genuinely, despite everything, he's in a good place.
"I have the luxury of being a positive person and seeing the glass as half full. Whenever I reflect on those times of me feeling a little bit emotional, I always do see a light at the end of the tunnel. It's just extending that idea that you know, trying to induce hope."
Louis Tomlinson's album 'Walls' is out 31st January.