20 Questions With Louis Tomlinson: How ‘Faith in the Future’ Built His Confidence and Showed Who He Truly Is
Louis Tomlinson finally feels two steps ahead of himself after years of playing catch-up.
He has been a solo musician since leaving One Direction. He has used a trial-and error approach to finding the right formula that would bring out his best as a leader musician. He tried out the post-band waters with collaborations that were less than he expected. Then he compiled his knowledge of grief, resilience and romance into his self-reflective debut album Walls .. He only got to perform two live shows after the record’s January 2020 release before the pandemic sent him packing, but those stops in Barcelona and Madrid were enough for him to realize that was the secret ingredient: the fans, the volume, the energy.
While Tomlinson had the goal of presenting Faith in The Future to an audience in mind, he also allowed the record to flow to him in creative waves rather than racing to the finish line. He didn’t have to catch up to anyone else. It was more about understanding a clear, coherent goal and creating a blueprint to get there.
The result of Tomlinson’s intuitive writing and recording process was a pop/rock-oriented set of songs. Tomlinson says that it refueled his confidence as well as added depth to the musical presentation about his inner workings. With the sophomore solo set arriving today (Nov. 11), the singer-songwriter answered Billboard‘s 20 questions about communicating his creative vision to new collaborators, maintaining an authentic connection with his fans, and leaving ego out of his songwriting and live shows.
They’ve done at least two or three of these, but there’s an incredible Red Hot Chili Peppers one that you can find on YouTube. They are currently working on one of the albums. It’s a fascinating experience for music fans to see the process. And, especially, for a band that is very different from anything I’ve ever seen. It was so inspiring and fascinating.
2. How does the process for capturing your life on film help you to reflect on your growth?
It’s actually quite funny because I’ve seen different edits of it and you view it in a very clinical way. It’s you, and it’s your story. You’re seeing things with different eyes at the moment because it’s not quite finished. It will be fascinating, I am sure, once it’s done and I have taken all the emotions in, At the moment, I am a little more clinical trying to figure out how to mold it.
3. How have emotion and honesty helped you write songs like “Chicago” or “That’s the Way Love Goes.”
It’s been like bread and butter for me, in a way – honesty within the lyric. It’s a phrase I’ve used in many different ways over the years. I don’t think it was my intention to make everything feel romantic, especially this record. There’s a way to talk about love without being so romantic and soppy.
It was me trying to express myself and think more deeply. It’s probably the easiest concept to think of – love songs. But I felt I needed to say more on this record. I wanted to add more. I wanted to hear more. But honesty is something that has always come naturally to me. What I did differently on this record was to try to think outside of myself, looking at other people’s situations or imagining a completely different situation. I tried to be more broad with this record, not just writing from my own experience.
4. What was the experience of creating Faith in the Future like in comparison to Walls?
It was a lot of me trying to figure out who I was as a member of the band. It’s not that I wasn’t truthful to myself in the band. But I was in that group and I was part – it wasn’t just me. It took me a while to get that development stage done, but I think I had a better picture of the record. Writing the first album was difficult. I don’t recall the time period, but I do remember that it took me a while to get the songs out.
Although I am proud of these songs, I sometimes feel that the album lacks consistency and fluidity. It’s because I spent a lot of my life writing those songs. There was a lot of stuff going on in my life. It was sometimes moving conceptually. This record is different from the others because each song is unique. But I believe there’s something, there’s always the element of change that keeps returning. There is definitely a lot nostalgia there. I have been thinking about getting older and all of that stuff. If you don’t know what I mean, I believe there is an invisible concept that ties everything together.
5. Who is your dream collaborator?
It wouldn’t likely be a traditional collaboration. Maybe a cool guitarist or a co-producer. I love some of the albums that he produced. Mike Crossey was one of those guys. He produced “Bigger Than Me” as well as a few songs. He’s also worked with many of the bands I grew to love. Collaborations are something I haven’t really considered, I think, because I did a little at the beginning of my career. It’s more about me being who I am now. I’m certain I’ll get back to that, but right now my brain isn’t really on that wave.
6. Please tell me how you selected your collaborators for this album. What is the most important aspect in a producer-artist relationship?
First, I wanted to work alongside people who make music I love listening to. That hasn’t always been possible. I haven’t had the opportunity to be in those rooms since before this album. It’s obvious that it is easier to work with producers and artists who work in the same space as me. It builds confidence, and you can even get in the same room with them. You feel proud of what you do. It wasn’t as structured this time.
It took us three to four days to write “She Is Beauty We Are World Class,” “Saturdays,” and “Silver Tongues” There was no rush to do anything. We wrote when we wanted to. Because it’s difficult sometimes when you sit down in a session and you’re working from 9: 00 til 5: 00 and you think, “I need a song by the end of the day.” It kind of stains the air creatively. It was great to be able to take your time and let the songs flow naturally.
7. Did you ever have those trial and error moments when you tried something that didn’t work out as well as you expected?
It was more in the reverse. It was about taking a musical risk, listening back to it, and then deciding that I could go further and further. That’s how I worked with this album. There wasn’t anything we tried that didn’t work out. It’s something I haven’t really considered, but I think I’m quite lucky.
It could be that there was some trial and error, but it was more difficult to record the first record. This was different. I had a clear vision of what I wanted and I had the live show fresh in mind so I am trying to create interesting live moments. So now I had a clearer picture of what I wanted.
8. How do you communicate the idea of a live show to those you are in the studio?
Another benefit to working with artists is the ability to share your experience. They understand what it’s like to be on stage. They understand the importance of that connection. They understand setlists, they understand different moments in a show, and so on. You also know that even though we are not artists, many of us have had great experiences watching live music. It’s all about drawing on all those experiences and trying to capitalize upon the incredible atmosphere at every show. The crowd. I feel so lucky to have such a great audience at every show. I wanted to create a record to match that.
9. Is this a more live-oriented, industrial-sounding Brit-rock sound that communicates something through the music?
It all comes back to the music I grew up listening too and still enjoy today. My first records were a bit closed-minded when it came to the sounds I used. It was important to me that this record be more interesting sonically. You also know that this serves the live show and will give the show more depth. It was a conscious decision, but it was also necessary to preserve the identity that runs through the record.
10. What was the last song that you listened?
Let me take a look. I think you have a history these day, don’t ya? What’s your Apple Music? This should be f-king good right now. Oh, “Notion,” Kings and Leon.
11. Which album is your favorite to listen to from top-to-bottom?
AM [by] Arctic Monkeys must be up there. It’s probably [their] Favourite Worst Nightmare ,, too. Those two albums were huge for me growing up. Let’s just say that they were massive. I’m trying to think of a recent one. I loved The Snuts’ debut album. Their follow-up album was also a great success.
12. You’ve gotten some pushback a couple of times from bands and artists in the more “alternative” or “indie” space for championing that music and trying to make space for those artists where you can while coming from a pop background. What role does ego play in such an industry?
Perhaps that’s just the nature and character of the beast. It’s possible to sit there and say “I wish it wasn’t there”, but I believe it’s always going to exist, to a certain extent. It frustrates me at times, but it also motivates me. This gives me something to work towards in dispelling preconceived notions and perceptions that people have. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m the same person today as I was in a band when I was there. You know what? There are times when it is hard on my head, but I enjoy the challenge.
13. What does authenticity look like for you? And what does it mean for your audience?
It would be difficult to pin it down musically. It’s easier to see authenticity when it’s not. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what that is. It’s a collective intention, you know. It’s in the lyrics, in your concepts, and it’s in the way you dress. This image is built up. I would even go as far to say that authenticity extends as far as my relationship and friendship with the fans. It’s authentic and incredibly rewarding for both of us.
It would be difficult to explain it in just one way, but I don’t know any other ways. It’s almost like if you are brave enough, it’s probably the easiest way to do things. It can be challenging at times. There are days when you’re really tested. You just have to be strong-willed, authentic and remain strong-willed. That’s what I consider the most important thing about being a musician.
14. What is at the top of your professional bucket-list?
Most definitely [playing] festivals. As a music lover, I have many great memories there. I love spending time there.
15. Faith in the Future feels very conversational at times, while also maintaining a sense of introspection. How can you create a space for yourself and allow your fans to find their own music?
This was very important to me. Conversational lyrics – honest and conversational — is what I do best lyrically. Sometimes I wanted to write more metaphorically. There are definitely lyrics in “Silver tongues” which I think sound a bit random but that meant something to us at that time. In my first record, I explained the whole thing. But it was also about me and my personal experiences. Just like you said, I wanted to give room to the fans within these concepts that I can relate too. But so they can, too, and it doesn’t become entirely autobiographical. It’s not a bad idea, but it is a bit ego-driven.
16. How are you approaching blending the worlds of Walls and Faith in the Future for the live shows next year?
Speculatively thinking about what this set might look like, I imagine it’ll be about 70% new songs, 30% Walls. It could even include more new songs and less Walls .. Although I prefer to do a long set, I will still perform a One Direction song. Recently, we did a different version “Night Changes”. It’s fun to remake those songs and make them more in line with my musical tastes.
The show is a lot more fun for me because the crowd does the heavy lifting. I just have to sing a little and enjoy it as much. It’s my favorite thing. The next tour will feel like a step up in terms of show quality. It’s going to sound better musically. The show lives with me, the fans, and that connection. If I were a friend, or a parent, I imagine that’s what they would think after seeing one of the shows. That makes me very proud.
17. Would you like to see live any artists, alive or dead?
It’s a very generic statement that I find obvious, but I was never able to see Oasis with my friends. That would have been amazing.
18. If you look backwards, you will see regrets, grief, and memories. If you look forward, there is a lot of uncertainty but also optimism, hopefully. What keeps you from looking in too many directions?
I would say that I am optimistic. My optimism may help with that. Because even though we may get emotional with this record, I believe there will be something in the production that will inspire hope. Even when things get a little darker emotionally, there’s still hope at the end. This was a crucial point for me throughout this record. I have a great group of people who help me stay grounded. That’s what I am grateful for. It makes life a little easier.
19. When you think about legacy, impact – and look back at your career years and years later – what do YOU want to be the most defining aspect of all you’ve done?
I think that this album is as much about the fans as it is about the live moments. But when I listen to this album today, what makes my proud is that this is the record I want and always wanted to make. If I feel that same feeling in two years, as I believe I will, then that’s how I want it to be remembered individually. This will give me confidence for the rest my career. It has already worked. I feel very comfortable doing what I do and it all comes down to my fanbase. They allow me to do the things I want.
20. You have a 31st birthday coming up soon. What have your thirties taught me about myself?
F-king hell, I’ve been thirty for a few months. What has it taught me about myself? Perhaps I need to mature a bit.
I have been writing professionally for over 20 years and have a deep understanding of the psychological and emotional elements that affect people. I’m an experienced ghostwriter and editor, as well as an award-winning author of five novels.