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“I’m not going to lie, I was pretty frustrated like anyone else doing projects coming up…,” former One Direction member, Niall Horan, revealed to ICON. I was on a call with the artist on the eve of a national lockdown in London and for the first few minutes of our brief chat, the ongoing health crisis was all we could speak about. The day before, the 26-year-old took to his 23.1 million followers on Instagram for a live session of his new album Heartbreak Weather, where he answered questions and asked for feedback on his already-charting tunes. Like many artists and creatives, it remains the only way to connect fans where touring and global promo trips have been halted indefinitely.

But the unfortunate timing of Horan’s new album is not to be dwelled on. Rather, it provides the perfect uplifting playlist for times of uncertainty. And since his 2017 debut album as a solo artist following the shock dissolution of One Direction, it has been a hotly-anticipated release.

Despite the album cornerstone being of heartbreak, Horan was adamant it would take on many perspectives to avoid the risk of sounding “selfish”, as he describes it. Alternatively, the track list comprises of upbeat tracks and sexy, brooding tunes such as single ‘Nice To Meet Ya’ and ‘No Judgement’, while  ‘Arms Of A Stranger’ and ‘Everywhere’ are teeming with honesty from the chart-topping artist – the perfect additions to a breakup playlist. I avoid asking who the inspiration is but Horan is more than happy to speak on the lessons he took from the experience.

ICON sat down with the artist to candidly chat on evolving creativity, heartbreak and releasing music during uncertain times.

ICON: What was the pressure like to back up your highly successful debut album with Heartbreak Weather?

Niall Horan: “Every time I do something, I try to out-do what I did before. I think that is the pressure for me. The pressure is more in my own head. I’m trying to write better songs than I did before and I feel with the collective of songs that I’ve got, I think I’ve done it.”

Do you find yourself reading reviews and comments?

NH: “I might read a review or something like that, I don’t really take it to heart if it’s a bad one because again, music is so opinion based and generally the people that write these articles are a bit old.”

You’ve always been quite active on social media. Why is it important to connect with your fans?

NH: “I like chatting to them and a lot of the faces I see online, I see all the time and I get to know them. I think it is important. I’m one of the lucky artists that has a career globally and it is the best way to connect to people around the world. Sometimes it has its bad sides but for the most part it is a proper tool and I find it really helpful. I just sit there and chat and get their reactions to music or just life, and ask them how they are.”

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How have you grown since leaving One Direction?

NH: “All-round I’ve grown. The gaps between being 22 and 26 is a lot bigger than ever. Also creatively, I spend more time in writing and I’ve learnt more about myself. There is more to write about. And that accumulates – it’s a natural growth.

“I would definitely say I’ve become a better musician and songwriter.”

As made obvious by the title, your new album charts the feelings from a breakup. What was one major lesson from that experience?

NH: “We tend to be as humans quite selfish and that can be said from both sides. The way I wanted to write this album was trying to write from different angles, instead of it being all about me… you talk about how sad you are instead of anyone else. Off the back of that, [I learnt about] being a little bit less selfish.”

How does that reflect in your music?

NH: “Off the back of the relationship, at certain points you realise maybe you’re selfish or you need patience. When you start to deconstruct something like that you figure stuff out about yourself and then I didn’t really want to write a selfish-sounding album.

“I can sit down and write a billion songs about how sad I am, but you would generally never think about the other person so I tend to write songs from all sorts of angles.”

Is it confronting to put all those feelings out into an album and speak about it so publicly?

NH: “People can take the lyrics with a pinch of salt in terms of what I’ve actually written the song about. I know people like to gossip or whatever and that is pop culture and that’s part of it – things like that, I don’t mind. If anyone asks who the songs are about, I politely tell them that I’m not telling them, that. I find the more vulnerable I get, the more relatable I become, and people attach themselves to lyrics based on something in their life. When I was younger I probably found it harder than I do now, but you’ve got grow up at some time.”

This album has been released in such crazy and uncertain times. What were you feeling in the lead up amid the current chaos?

NH: “I’m not going to lie, I was pretty frustrated like anyone else doing projects coming up or work promotions or new jobs. There is nothing you can do about it, it’s out of your control. I would have loved to have cancelled it but it was a bit too late when I tried to move the date – it was just about to come out in Australia when I found out about the travel bans and how serious it was. It’s been a bit frustrating but I’m promoting it in different ways. I would have preferred to be on television and on radio stations but when it is out of your control, there is nothing you can do about it.”

In past interviews you have already hinted at a One Direction reunion. If this were to happen, how would you envision it?

NH: “I get asked about it so often that I try to come up with a different answer every time. And the truth is, I don’t know. None of us know when that is, what it is, we haven’t even spoken about it. If it’s going to happen, it has to happen naturally – everyone is going to have to want to do it. So to be honest, that is about it.”

Niall Horan’s sophomore album ‘Heartbreak Weather’ is out now. For more information and tour dates, visit the website here.