Niall Horan: “The last time I wrote an album I did less thinking”

The Irish singer-songwriter's third record 'The Show' demonstrates a newfound maturity. NME meets him to discuss creating "something that a 30-year-old would release"

Niall Horan’s ‘Heaven’ is a celebration of living life to the fullest. The soaring alt-rock tune – which acts as the lead single from his upcoming album ‘The Show’ – sees him reflect on the pressure society places to live your life in a certain way (“It’s hard to be a human/So much to put an answer to”), ultimately affirming it’s better to ignore the external forces pushing you to do things traditionally (“God only knows, where this could go/And even if our love starts to grow outta control”).

This manifesto is delivered over spiralling, folk-flecked instrumentals. Layers of swooning backing vocals are meshed with ebullient synth licks; and although the chorus’ lilting “God only knows…” refrain isn’t a direct reference to The Beach Boys’ classic, the American rockers have had an enduring impact on the former One Directioner.

“That kind of music is a heavy influence of mine,” Horan explains to NME, discussing his forthcoming record in a spacious West London photo studio. He’s midway through a busy day of press, yet despite the jam-packed schedule he’s eager to discuss new material and the upcoming release of ‘The Show’. “I recorded my first album in the studio they did [‘Pet Sounds’, at EastWest Studios in LA], and I’m obsessed with anything Laurel Canyon and that ‘60s, ‘70s stuff that was going on there. I grew up on that.” He’s quick to add: “I’m not saying I’m writing songs that sound exactly like that, but for instance on the album you hear a lot of backing vocals and I’m big on that because of the stuff that I grew up on.”


‘The Show’, Horan’s third album, is being released in June, and features these nostalgia-flecked sounds through a modern filter. From the cantering pop-rock of ‘Meltdown’, to the psych-laced ‘On a Night Like Tonight’, it’s the sort of music that’s designed to be played live with a roaring band and to a crowd of revellers singing along. This is just as well: later this year Horan will embark on a string of festival shows which includes Isle of Wight Festival and TRNSMT, in what’ll be his live festival debut.

As he gears up for ‘The Show’’s release, Horan sat down with NME for the latest in our In Conversation series to discuss making the record, his summer of festival appearances, and who would be in his dream supergroup.

Hey Niall. Your third record ‘The Show’ is out in a few months. When did work begin on it?

“When the pandemic was going on I just wrote down ‘The Show’ because it felt like we were on some sort of The Truman Show or in some weird reality. In September or October of that first year [of the pandemic] when I actually felt a tiny bit creative, I was like: ‘I should probably start writing’. I just wrote a song, and if it wasn’t any way good, we probably still wouldn’t have an album at any point now. I needed that one to get me out the gate.”

Which song was that?


“‘The Show’. I had that written down as a concept, thinking that would be my album title. The chorus is basically saying if everything was easy and nothing ever broke, would we realise how good we had it all along, and that sort of summed up the pandemic. We lost all our control we like to have as humans. That was going to be the through line [for the album], the show being a metaphor for our lives.”

Niall Horan
Niall Horan ‘The Show’ (CREDIT: Press).

I read somewhere that you described this record as the album of a 30-year-old.

“The last time I wrote an album I did less thinking. You don’t in your early 20s, you don’t think too much at all ­– well I didn’t anyway, probably just immaturity of me. But I think with pandemics and relationships and things like that, you subconsciously grow as a person. And then production wise and what I’m saying [lyrically], it just sounds like something that a 30-year-old would release. Not a youthful version of what I did before.

Were there any tracks you had grand production plans for, but you decided to keep stripped back?

“There’s a couple, but mainly ‘You Could Start a Cult’. That’s very obviously a “me” song. I had all these ideas where I was going to have a full female choir and it was going to have all these strings and loads of backing vocals on what’s effectively a folk song. It was the last song [we made], and at that point we’d dressed up so many songs, and my producer John [Ryan] was just like: ‘no, this is where we have the acoustic moment’. The song says a lot but is a really small song, and that was really sweet.”

‘You Could Start a Cult’ is a great song title as well. What influenced it lyrically?

“I watch a lot of true crime with my girlfriend [laughs]. It’s a lot of that kind of thing, and I just wrote it down one night when we were watching something, because it’s a big thought. I thought it was funny initially: you could literally start a cult, and I’d follow you into the fire. It started as a joke and became this really sweet song, it is funny.”

This summer you’ll be taking the album on tour for your live festival debut. How are you preparing?

“I go to so many festivals and go to Glastonbury every year, and I just get so jealous watching it. Knowing what that must look like to look out and see the big field of people. I guess one of the main reasons I wanted to do them was to try and get newer fans onboard. I’ve been that fella who’s been hammered walking around a field in my wellies going to the bar and then stopped at a band I’ve never heard of, or seen an artist for the first time I’ve never heard of, and then being a big fan in the end. I want some of those drunk people to walk past and think ‘I’d listen to that album again’.”

Do you relish the challenge of having to win people over?

“Yeah kinda. Because you know what it’s like at a festival, all the big fans are down the front and they’re in the first 200 deep. So you’re playing to them, but you’re also playing to the wider audience who are not necessarily there for you. I’m excited about that. We’ll have fun on stage, and we’ll be playing the new record so it’ll be exciting anyway; we’re playing live for the first time in years. Playing for the fans and seeing them, and hopefully a few more people get an album or something like that [or] come to a gig further down the line.”

You mentioned Glastonbury – is playing there on your bucket list?

“At some point I’d absolutely love to, yeah. I won’t be doing it this year, but yeah if the Eavis family are listening out, give me a shout.”

Recently your pal Lewis Capaldi said that his dream supergroup would be you, Ed Sheeran, Elton John and himself.

“That’s some group!”

Who would be in yours?

“Well now I have to put him in it. Me and him, with…that’s a great question. Elton’s a legend to be fair. In all senses of the word. Lewis and I have got to know Elton a bit, and he’s so funny. And Dave Grohl. Dave Grohl, myself, Elton John and Lewis Capaldi. What a line-up!”

Niall Horan’s ‘The Show’ is out June 9 via Capitol Records