EVEN Niall Horan had a wry laugh when he saw how the cover of his debut album Flicker had been tweaked online.
The capital ‘L’ and capital ‘I’ to make the album’s title rhyme with pucker.
The former One Directioner admits that even as an Irish man who has the word on speed dial in his vocabulary he didn’t see that one coming.
“We were just looking at calligraphy and thought ‘Yeah, that letter looks good on its own’,” Horan says. “Little did I know that pushing those two letters together would make it look like ‘F—-’. It is quite funny. It has got people talking. I hope the music gets them talking as well.”
Flicker has also given Horan another first — the F bomb in single Too Much to Ask has seen him get warning stickers on physical copies of his album.
“When you look at the song on Spotify it says ‘explicit’ next to it,” Horan laughs. “I think that’s funny on a Niall Horan song, you’d expect it from rappers or whatever but not me. When you’re listening to it you’re probably like ‘Oh, what a rebel’ but sometimes there’s no better word. We did a version that says ‘messed up’ for the radio.”
When the song, about a bitter break up, was released defensive Horan fans demanded to know who hurt him.
“Don’t worry about me,” Horan says. “I got what I wanted to say out and it’s finished now.”
Flicker’s folk-tinged, Americana-influenced guitar popwas seen as the most natural transition to a solo career from any One Direction member.
Horan’s song Slow Hands also became one of the biggest solo 1D hits last year, while he’ll spend much of this year touring the album globally.
His former bandmate Louis Tomlinson (along with Liam Payne the only members not to release solo albums yet) said being a solo act was more difficult than being in a band.
“I’m sure it is,” Horan says. “The day to day interviews and photo shoots, that’s when I notice it the most. You’re in a photo shoot and you don’t have someone to bounce off any more. Or you can get another lad to answer a question in an interview. Everything’s on you now.
“The day-to-day banter right now would be crazy if this was a One Direction interview. But for the most part I’ve really enjoyed it. I love making music, writing music and I feel my most comfortable standing on stage with a guitar in me hand. That’s in my blood. I’m not going to be scared of that.”
Horan admits being in the studio recording vocals for a whole song, not just part, was an instant reality check.
“I’d never thought about that part of it until I went to the vocals for a whole song and I was like ‘Jesus!’. I did find my best vocals came out in the first couple of takes. A lot of what was used on the record was from either take one or two. The more you sing it the more tired your voice gets and you overthink stuff. I wanted the album to be organic.
“For this record I could pick the producer, record with a full live band in a studio and go through every drum sound and guitar sound in detail. It was great. In a weird way it felt that’s how an album should be made. That was the best part of the whole thing for me.”
In One Direction, the band had strict deadlines to make albums in time for Christmas, often recording on tour buses with members woken up in the middle of the night to record their parts.
“It was nice to take my time on this album,” Horan says. “That’s what I had in my sight. When you’ve got time you’ve got time to make mistakes. I was able to write bad songs, and obviously had the good ones as well.”
The 24-year-old says five albums with One Direction (in as many years) was like going to songwriting university.
“I’d write songs when I was younger without a clue how to structure them. I’ve learnt so much over the last six or so years. I’ve worked with some great writers. You don’t realise how much you’re learning until you sit down and try to write on your own, and it’s a case of ‘Oh, remember that time Dan Wilson told me to put that in that place’.”
Horan admits he channelled Fleetwood Mac for Flicker’s On the Loose.
“You can hear the ‘Mac in that. Everyone’s always trying to write their own Dreams. I’m only 24, Fleetwood Mac is the music I’ve listened to since I was four years old. I listen to a lot of other types of music but that’s the stuff that always stuck around with me. I was going through a punk rock phase when I was 15, I like punk rock now but I wouldn’t pick up my iPod and go straight to it, I’d probably go to the ‘Mac and Crosby Stills and Nash and Jackson Browne and Tom Petty. They’re the artists in my head, you can hear that on the album I think.”
The Eagles are his favourite band — he’s befriended Don Henley through meeting the rocker’s daughter Annabel. “I’m like the family’s adopted son,” Horan jokes.
Henley did an interview for an Apple documentary on Flicker.
“He hardly ever does interviews. For him to say yes to doing an interview for me was good enough. He could have done the worst interview of all time and I wouldn’t have given a sh–! Don agreed to do that for me.”
Both men have discussed writing songs together — Horan is hoping his next visit to Henley in Texas may bear musical fruit.
“Imagine that. There would be nothing better than to be sitting in a room with my guitar in my hand with Don Henley, writing a song together. I’d probably forget how to play guitar. Just to have a jam with him would be enough, but imagine being on a song with Don Henley. That’s the dream.”
Horan says seeing Henley and his email buddy Elton John still passionate about music after decades in the game is inspiring.
“They could easily just concentrate on their own fortune and legacy, but they still have time to help younger acts,” he says. “It’s incredible. What I’ve noticed over the years, and I keep this in my head all the time, is that the bigger the star the nicer they are. From Johnny Depp to Ellen DeGeneres to the Obamas to Don Henley and Elton — they are all so lovely. It’s always the smaller people who are the biggest dickheads.”
Flicker (EMI) out now. Niall Horan, Brisbane Entertainment Centre June 3, Qudos Bank Arena June 5, Margaret Court Arena June 7.