Niall Horan Talks "Too Much To Ask," Maren Morris Duet & Harry Styles
These are exciting times for Niall Horan.
The One Direction alumnus is readying his debut studio album, Flicker, for release on Oct. 20. Featuring collaborations with producer/songwriter Greg Kurstin, the LP has been preceded by a trio of singles, including "Too Much To Ask" and "This Town," which in Horan's words, gives fans an "idea of where I'm headed."
In this exclusive interview, the Irish singer/songwriter opens up about the biggest hurdle he overcame with his debut album, how "Too Much To Ask" and "Seeing Blind" materialized, what he thinks of Harry Styles' debut album, and what he misses the most about his days in 1D.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered with making your first solo album?
Trying to get people to bring the songs to life in the way that I pictured them. Explaining it to people was obviously harder than I thought. I wanted to make the album with a live band; that was a big thing for me. I had some people that I really wanted to [collaborate] with and with the help of my A&R I got the chance to work with some great people. But I think, initially for me, [the biggest challenge was] trying to get people to understand how I wanted it to sound.
What was the inspiration for the single "Too Much To Ask"?
There's obviously a lot of autobiographical stuff. And it was kind of from the heart. It actually took me probably three or four [tries] at it to actually write the song. It had been a line here or there for a while, and musically it wasn't really coming together. And one day I just sat down at the piano with a friend of mine [Jamie Scott] and sometimes you just need a second mind to bring [a song] to life. And he helped big time. Actually, I wrote "This Town" with him as well. Musically, we work well together. It's another special song for me and, with the three songs that I've released, it's kind of starting to sum up the album. I think people are starting to get the idea of where I'm headed.
What was it about Maren Morris that led you to want to collaborate with her on the track "Seeing Blind"?
With "Seeing Blind," I had written the song with a friend of mine, who is a female singer as well. And literally after the first couple of lines I was like, "This has to be a duet." She sung on the demo and then I was like, "Alright, I want to find someone to sing on this." I was going through the motions in my head and picking people out ... I really wanted the song to come to life because it was another personal one to me. … I had heard a lot about Maren and she was making a lot of noise clearly with her album. And I watched the GRAMMYs, she performs with Alicia Keys, she wins a GRAMMY. I'm like, "That is right up my street there." I literally don't know how I didn't think of it before. This song is kind of country based so it makes sense.
I got her email address and sent her the song. We'd never met before or anything. I was like, "Listen, no pressure. If you don't want to do it, it's completely fine. But just let me know what you think." And she was like, "Yeah, it's right up my street." So she recorded it. And we've met a couple of times, now that I've been to Nashville. She's great and I look forward to hopefully performing with her — she's coming on tour with me next year. I'm sure we'll be onstage every night singing it. I can't wait.
You worked with GRAMMY winner Greg Kurstin on the album. What did you learn from collaborating with him?
First of all, I couldn't believe I got in the door with Greg. He just finished the Foo Fighters record. And he's worked with Paul McCartney and Beck and me. I'm like, "Are you for real?" Even just to spend 20 minutes talking to him would have been enough for me. I just think the guy is a musical genius, watching him in action. To meet Greg, you wouldn't even think he worked in music. He's very calm — you know, everyone in music seems to be mad. But he's very calm, collected, goes about his business. He can play every instrument under the sun.
I wrote a song called "Since We're Alone" for my album and I was leaving the studio at 5 p.m. and it was like 10 minutes to 5. I'd been doing a session there all day with another writer and I didn't feel like it was going anywhere or whatever. And Greg sat down at the piano and he started playing these few chords. I said, "Greg, could you just put the mic on? I'll go in there and just let me sing over what you're playing." And I just started mumbling stuff, random melodies and within four or five hours Greg had created a full-on track, played every instrument and just sent me all the best bits of what he thought were good melodies. And off the back of those melodies, it's a song on my album.
I don't know anyone that could curate just me mumbling — it was incredible to be in touch with that. He produced "Too Much To Ask," he's produced "This Town" and he produced "Since We're Alone." So I worked with him on a few songs on the record and it's just been an amazing experience.
Harry Styles released his first solo album in May. Have you had a chance to chat with Harry and compare first-album notes?
Harry's album is great. … Harry [and I] would have — out of all the boys — the closest taste in music. We would always be passing around different bands that we found or just share old classics together. So I'd say that, just in general, we would be fans of each other's music. I love Harry's rockier stuff.
One Direction is currently on a hiatus. What's the one thing you miss most about being in the band?
The day-to-day general madness of One Direction [I] miss. I guess, in a way, it's been quite calm for me. It's been quite chilled-out, a kind of normal life at some level. The whole idea of anytime we rolled into town, everyone knew we were there. It was a lot of screaming people everywhere. It was all kind of high-energy stuff. But I gave myself a year and a half, basically, to make an album and really hone in on everything music, which has been great.