One Direction’s Liam Payne talks solo album ‘LP1,’ going to AA meetings with Russell Brand

Liam Payne is ready to reintroduce himself. 

The hunky One Direction singer-turned-underwear model is following in the footsteps of former bandmates Harry Styles, Zayn Malik and Niall Horan with the release of his long-awaited debut solo album “LP1,” out Friday. The hip-hop and R&B-flavored set is a mix of confessional ballads and bedroom anthems, including hit Quavo collaboration “Strip That Down.” It also features catchy co-writes with Ed Sheeran (“Stack It Up”) and OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder (“Say It All”), and guest spots from Zedd (“Get Low”), Rita Ora (“For You”) and J Balvin (“Familiar”). 

USA TODAY chats with Payne, 26, about his personal new album, past struggles with alcohol and One Direction fame. 

Liam Payne, 26, will release his solo debut "LP1" on Friday.

Question: This album has been a few years in the making. How does it feel to finally put it out into the world? 

Liam Payne: It’s really great. It took a long time to finish off – not because it was hard to make, but we were having so much luck with the singles that we didn’t need to focus on making the album at that moment in time. I was just kind of finding myself and finding my sound. And also in the band, we made albums really quickly: like two weeks’ worth of writing and then a month of recording. So I wanted to enjoy this experience a bit more. 

Q: You released the first single, “Strip That Down,” back in May 2017, which peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Was it a big confidence boost to have a hit right out of the gate? 

Payne: Oh, definitely. It was crazy; I didn’t really expect it. I knew it was great, and obviously having Ed Sheeran writing you songs is never a bad thing. So I had an inkling it’d do OK, but not as well as it’s done. I mean, it has over a billion streams now. I couldn’t have asked for a better start. 

Q: How did that song shape your approach to the rest of the album? 

Payne:It just helped me a lot to know that I could take my sound that direction – excuse the pun. Coming out of a band that did soft pop-rock music, it was a completely new thing for me. So it was important just figuring out that it was possible for me to do the music I really enjoy. 

Q: Is there a new song you’re most excited for fans to hear, whether because it’s especially personal or unexpected?

Payne: The most personal song on the album out of all of them would be “Weekend.” It kind of outlines my struggle with mental health and different things that I had (experienced) living my life the way I used to. It’s probably something I’ll never talk about fully, but there are a couple situations for me that I highlight in that. 

Q: On “Live Forever,” you sing about self-medicating with alcohol and wanting “to slow down when you came along.” Was that in any way inspired by your son (Bear, 2, with ex-partner/singer Cheryl Cole)?  

Payne: That was actually written about a good friend of mine who had a really severe accident that nearly killed him. He was living life in the fast lane and had this “live fast die young” (mentality), and it was time for him to wake up a little bit. 

Q: You’ve been open about your own past struggles with drinking and your choice to go sober for a year. Was there a certain moment when you realized you needed to make a change and do that for yourself? 

Payne: I think so. It was just a case of growing up, really. Luckily for me at those times, I had the best people around me to make me realize different points in my life where I could be better. And obviously, having kids completely changes the mindset around everything you do. I’m still quite young – I’d like to think so at least – so I still have a lot of learning left to go. I’m still very much finding myself as a person. 

Q: How do you maintain that balance now, of being able to go out and drink with your friends, but also do so in moderation? 

Payne: I think for everybody, it’s a constant learning curve. As you get older, hangovers become a completely different thing. There’s that age-old saying, “I’ll just have one,” but you never really know. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you do make a mistake or the night does go a little too far. As long as I can get my job done the next day at a capable level I’m happy with, I can just write that one off as a lesson and go, “I won’t do that again.” I still like to go out and enjoy myself. 

Louis Tomlinson, left, Niall Horan, Harry Styles and Liam Payne of One Direction. The popular British band went on an indefinite hiatus in early 2016.

Q: Was therapy helpful in finding a healthy relationship with alcohol? 

A: Yeah, definitely. I was helped to get sober by a (therapist) named Chip Somers, who also got Russell Brand through sobriety. I actually went to a meeting with Russell, where you recount stories and talk about different situations. It’s nice finding people who are going through the same (expletive) as you are. For me personally, it was nice going with Russell because obviously my life is constantly documented and privacy is a huge deal for me, so (it was good) seeing that I could be open in a room sometimes. But it was also a little bit of a problem for me because I still couldn’t be as open as I wanted to, just with the worry that somebody would tell somebody or might say something (to the media) when it was supposed to be anonymous. So I could never really be anonymous. 

Q: Do you still get the sort of crazy attention from fans that you did with One Direction, or are you able to go out without being recognized? 

A: It’s died down. I actually think because everybody’s grown up, a lot of the fans don’t have time to spend outside hotels waiting for us and everything. The level of hysteria changes as your fans grow with you. I still get recognized quite a lot, especially in the U.K., but sometimes I manage to go out under the radar. 

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