For some pop stars, tour burnout is an increasing problem, with Justin Bieber, Sam Fender and Shawn Mendes cancelling concerts for the sake of their mental and physical health. Despite a major tour this year, former One Direction star Louis Tomlinson has avoided the curse.Tomlinson says he’s never happier than when he’s on the road.”I just love the lifestyle,” he says. “Maybe a little bit too much.”
The former boy band member can sympathise with those who find the late nights, constant travel and feelings of dislocation playing havoc with their body’s chemistry, and having an impact on their strength and resilience.He’s seen up close the toll that touring took on his old bandmate Zayn Malik, whose panic attacks eventually forced him to stop playing live.But the secret to staying on an even keel, Tomlinson believes, is avoiding hotel rooms. “Eventually, you lose the feeling of home.”
Instead, he sleeps on the tour bus with his band, settling into a bunk “that stays the same every day”.I’m not one of those people who demands a master bedroom at the back of the bus,” he says. “As if I’m going to climb into my double bed and say goodnight to the band as they crawl into tiny bunks. No.
“My bunk is like all of the others. And it’s the best night’s sleep you can get. Once you’ve shut that curtain and all the lights are off, it’s pitch black and the noise of the engine just lulls you to sleep. It’s dead nice, man.”The singer has spent the best part of 2022 on tour, playing 80 shows to more than half a million fans in countries including America, Iceland, Argentina, Australia, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Chile and the UK, amongst others.
“Without being too grumpy about all the other sides of my job, touring is the truest form of what I do,” he says. “Radio, press interviews, record labels… there’s so much mystery within that. You know, ‘I hope that if I do this, it means this is going to happen’.On tour, what you see is what you get. People have paid money to come and watch your show and you get an instant reaction. There’s no complication in the middle. You’re not trying to read between the lines.”
The star’s avid fanbase are nicknamed Louies We meet in a London recording studio in August, where Tomlinson is enthusiastic and earnest, offering cups of tea and shrugging off his reputation for giving interviewers a hard time. “Just to clarify on that, I never mind getting asked about One Direction,” he says. “I loved my time in that band.”He says he only bites back, as he did after a previous BBC interview, “when people are divisive and I feel they’re trying to get a headline out of me”.
He’s keen to talk about his tour – which seems to have been a vindication of sorts. Although he was the most active songwriter in One Direction, with credits on hits like Story Of My Life and Drag Me Down, Tomlinson’s solo career hasn’t quite gone the way he might have hoped. On Spotify, he has five million monthly listeners – a figure most artists would kill for, but one that’s dwarfed by his former bandmates (Harry Styles, the most successful of the quintet, is on 70 million).
In 2019, after Tomlinson’s third solo single, Miss You, entered the charts at a lowly number 39, he declared that he wanted to stop concentrating on chart positions and rethink “what success means to me”. “I won’t say it was a daily struggle, but maybe a weekly struggle,” he says of that period. “Obviously my experience in One Direction is the pinnacle. We got played on radio all the time but my last album didn’t. Not really.
“To be fair, there wasn’t really a song that would fit that well on radio. But what I find interesting is that I’m lucky enough to have the ability to tour globally, but I might not get the support I need on radio. That feels like a slight contradiction to me.” Tomlinson is hoping his second album will change that. His comeback single Bigger Than Me mixes old school guitar-pop with an anthemic chorus that breaks like a wave.”I wanted my first single to feel ambitious and to have a certain scale, hence the big chorus,” he smiles.
So far, it’s done moderately well in the US, entering at number 38 in the airplay charts. In the UK, however, it fell out of rotation when radio stations switched to more sombre music in the wake of the Queen’s death. Lyrically, Bigger Than Me is about letting go of self-doubt and shutting out negative voices. It’s a topic that the star, who turned 30 last year, kept revisiting in the studio. “For a while, even the idea of getting older was really scary to me, because I spent my youth in the band and I still felt very youthful,” he says.
Even becoming a father to his first son, Freddie, in 2016 didn’t force him into adulthood. “There was always an element of, when I was with Freddie, I’d put my adult dad hat on. And then, when I was doing my work or when I was with my mates, I’d be in a kind of limbo, really. “I suppose lockdown was the first time when I just embraced everything and [stopped] resisting those changes.” Coming of age is a theme that surfaces throughout his new album, Faith In The Future.
On Face The Music, he philosophises that “good and bad and right and wrong are stories made up when we are young to scare us”. Common People (not a cover of the Pulp classic) is about reconnecting with his roots in Doncaster. “When I get lost, I go back to where I started,” he sings. “That song’s just trying to capture how amazing the people are there. If you’re one of us, we’ll hold out our arms and we’ll embrace you.”
Faith In The Future is dedicated to his avid fanbase. The propulsive opening track, The Greatest, is a celebration of their relationship. He acknowledges that he may have tested their loyalty on his first album, Walls. The first few singles were dance-pop crossovers with Steve Aoki and Bebe Rexha that represented “what I thought I should be doing, as opposed to what I really wanted”. The rest of the album was overshadowed – understandably – by the death of his mother from cancer, followed in quick succession by his younger sister, Felicite, from an accidental overdose.
“There’s a weight to that record emotionally, and I needed to go through that process,” he says. “But it’s not really how I carry myself as a person. “In terms of the my professional life, outside of the band, there’s been an element of me constantly picking myself up and going, ‘No, let’s go again, you can do this’. “I’ve had to have faith in the future, be it personal or professional – and, actually, there’s something really beautiful about that idea.”
Tomlinson played Wembley earlier this year with his arm in a sling after breaking his elbow during a running race
Tomlinson’s new album has more potential future singles. Written All Over Your Face has a slick, funky guitar groove, and two songs – Silver Tongues and She Is Beauty, We Are World Class – see him dipping his toes back into dance music. “On the first record, I didn’t want any electronic sounds. No trap drums that were really popular at the time, or any stuff like that,” he says. He relaxed that policy after falling in love with The Glow, an album of hyper-charged indie-disco by Aussie band DMA’s.
“It gave me real food for thought, because they use those sounds, but not in a way where it feels contrived.” Given that his early experiments in dance-pop remain Tomlinson’s biggest-selling songs, could these two new tracks signpost his way back to the mainstream? “Listen, I would love some commercial success on this record, don’t get me wrong,” he says. “Will it get played on radio? I have no idea. But if it doesn’t it won’t be the end…”I love my tour bus, I love my fans, I love travelling the world.” Louis Tomlinson’s second album, Faith In The Future, will be released on 11 November.