"The madness has happened around me" - Niall Horan in conversation

Or, if you prefer, a Flicker.


2017 saw the arrival of his debut album, itself mostly characterised by straightforward enough singer-songwriter conceits. Horan, one of many writers in the mix throughout, was clearly keen to prove himself. The end product varied, though languid outlier 'Slow Hands' revealed itself as a rather glorious bit of business, embracing a bright future with a respectful nod to the past.


"I love songwriting," he nods, reflecting on that first proper solo shot in anger.


"I feel like over the years I’ve gotten better at it. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the greatest songwriters and producers of our generation, learning off them every day and just really thinking about songwriting more than I probably used to.


"Especially now, because if I’m a solo artist and I want to put out music I just can’t release other people’s songs. I’ve been offered songs but there’s no point in releasing a hit song that you have to go into an interview trying to explain and it doesn’t come from you. You’d see it all over people’s faces. I wouldn’t be able to do it. That’s why a lot of my music is guitar-based. I’m no rebel to pop music or whatever but I do try to put my own spin on it.


"Obviously right now it’s very much a hip-hop/R’n’B-prominent scene, which is great. It’s the same with anything; it has cycles. Things come back around. Pop was big six or seven years ago and now R’n’B is having its time. It will probably be rock next and we’ll be back into the emo influence and it’ll be great — My Chemical Romance making a resurgence…"


Let's stop him there for just a second. Was young Niall Horan an emo kid?


"I didn’t look like one, but I was madly into the tunes," he smiles.


"Yeah, I was, definitely. Yeah, and it kind of goes in cycles; there could have been a very on-the-nose way of me going for this but I was like, I can’t, I just can’t do it. I have to do it my way. That’s why the hit I did have in ‘Slow Hands’, it kind of stood out because it was so different to everything else; it was basically an ‘80s jam with a pop twinge to it. That stood out in a very R’n’B hip-hop chart, I suppose."


New album Heartbreak Weather expands on a more buoyant palette via efforts like strutting lead single 'Nice to Meet Ya' and a sun-kissed title track. There's plenty of room for sensitive introspection, too, of course, hewn by raw life experience, determined to draw a positive.


"I went through a break-up there last year or the year before but I didn’t want to dwell on it too long," Horan notes.


"I’ve been through break-ups before where it’s dragging you down for such a long time. So, in terms of the songs, I wanted to make them up-tempo and maybe if they were sad songs I could kind of dress them up and be happy about it. I tried to just go and not… the last time I just sat there and everything was like six-eight and strummy and picky and very Damien Rice and people like that, that I love.


"That was the way I wanted to announce myself onto the scene," he continues.


"Now that I’ve done that and I’ve toured a bit, I’d seen a bit more of the world, I know what the fans are looking for from me now. Having spent all that time onstage, you get to see their faces every night of the week and know what they crave. I feel like I just needed a bit more energy in the music.


"Some people, friends of mine or whatever, would say, ‘My favourite part of the show was this song…’ and it would be something up-tempo that really raises the roof towards the end of the show. So I just felt like — I love live music, I love doing live gigs with a bit more tempo and in addition to the sad stuff, it’ll be a nice little blend for when I go on tour again.


"I felt happier in 2019. You know when you’re 25, over that brow of the early twenties thing. It just kind of felt different for some reason. I don’t even know why."