Last week I got a phone call: “Zayn feels like doing an interview.” I’d been waiting for this moment ever since the bad boy of Bradford’s 2015 FADER cover story, his first major press since going solo and one my favorite pieces we’ve put to print. Our original interview was in the lead-up to Zayn’s debut album, Mind of Mine, and this one, done ahead of the Sia-featuring “Dusk Till Dawn,” signals things are finally coming into place for his sophomore LP.
Details are still scant on Z2 — he wouldn’t tell me the title or release date, though “a tour is definitely on the cards” this time. But as is always the case with Zayn, if you read between the lines you can see mountains. He’s sleeping well. He’s gardening. He tells a beautiful story about translating English letters to his immigrant grandfather. Great things are coming “soon.”
Here’s everything Zayn wants you to know.
When I heard we were going to talk again I tweeted “What would you ask Zayn?” and I already got 2,000 replies. So we just have to run through those real quick.
Shit, yeah, I’ve got time for it. Don’t worry about it.
The biggest thing people said is just: Is Zayn happy? Is he healthy? Is he getting his rest?
I am, yeah. Super. I definitely am. I’m going to bed quite early at the minute. I’ve been working in the studio throughout the day and going to bed at a reasonable time, getting up at reasonable times. Eating all my meals. I’ve got a gym at the house, so I’ve starting doing a bit of training. My fans can rest assured everything is under control, haha.
When are you going to quit smoking, Zayn? I see you smoking too much.
I don’t know. I can’t give an answer to that because it would probably be a lie. We’ll just say “soon.”
When you and I last spoke, you were getting a band together to go on tour. Why did that never happen?
We did a few auditions for the band, and we got a band together, but I just wasn’t feeling it. The first record, I didn’t feel like there was enough material to do a proper show. So I just waved it off until the second album, so I can get the best of both. I think my confidence is definitely improved now, so a tour is definitely on the cards. I’m excited to start rehearsing.
When are you coming to Brazil?
I love Brazil. Hopefully as soon as possible.
You didn’t promote the last album for very long. Why did you stop?
To be honest, Duncan, for me I don’t really want to do shitloads of promotion. I’ll do the music interviews and stuff like that, that actually have something to do with what I’m doing. But a lot of public interviews and being on TV, to me, is more about being a social character, about being a — what’s the word for it, when people are on TV but don’t do anything? Reality TV stars? I don’t buy into that side of things. I just want to do my music. If people hear about me from their friend, it’s cooler than me being in their face all the time.
You don’t even tweet anymore, really. You’re closing yourself off, but maybe it’s a good thing for you.
I don’t necessarily look at it as closing myself off. I just view it as something I don’t want to partake in. I just want to do music.
You didn’t even show up to the VMAs this year, where you won. What were you doing that night?
I was in the studio, working. I was writing.
“I don’t really want to do shitloads of promotion. I don’t buy into that side of things. I just want to do my music.”
The award was for your song with Taylor Swift, and a lot of my friends are being really harsh about her new music right now. You’re someone who can relate to her position, both hugely loved and hugely criticized…
To be honest with you, Duncan, when it comes to anything that has to do with trivia about people’s personal lives or things that’s going on in their careers, I don’t necessarily pay too much attention. I don’t pay too much attention to what people even say about me. I just tend to take it for what it is when I meet them people in real life and have a conversation with them. If they’re cool with me, then I base my relationship on that.
In terms of relating to it, of course I relate to things being written about us all the time. But I don’t listen to it. I rate her as an artist, I think she’s cool, I think she’s successful, and I think she deserves her success because she’s worked hard. That’s just how I look at it. I did a song with her, it was fun, she was professional. She gets on with my girlfriend, they’re good friends. I don’t have a bad word to say about her. She’s cool.
Is your second album done?
This record, I’ve kind of finalized it. But there’s always ideas. Every day I find another song that I’m swapping out with another one. That’s why the album date hasn’t really come yet. Even though the album is pretty much there, and I have the material, I’m still changing things here and there. It’s not necessary in my head when I work on a song whether it’s for a new project or whether it’s for this.
How many songs do you think you’ve written since the first record?
I don’t have a specific number. It’s a lot, but I know it’s not as much as the first time around. That’s just showing that I’m more focused on what I’m doing, and each song I’m saying what I want to say. The other record, I was figuring that out still, so there was a lot more material.
What are you hoping for, timing-wise?
I’m looking for pretty soon, man, next couple months. I don’t know. That’s the beauty of the word “soon” — it’s open to interpretation. The pressure is on from the management, haha, but I’m taking my time with it.
Do you have a title picked out?
It does have a name, and I’m really excited about it. It’s kind of going to be something weird with it — I don’t want to say more. It’s not your usual way of putting out an album, let’s say that.
“I have to do something that’s a bit more mainstream because my fans want to listen to some fun stuff, rather than listen to depressing songs all the time. I appreciate that.”
On the first album, you were basically just working with Malay. Are you more open to working with collaborators now?
The thing for me on the first album, I wanted that to stand alone as a body of work that I’d put together, as I said at that time. Before that, I’d put records out with four other guys for five years, and I wanted to do stuff that was solely me. I focused on the stuff I wanted to do with Malay, and put some songwriter stuff on there.
I’ve done that again on this record, but I’ve tried to do more mainstream songs too, because obviously my fans want to listen to something that’s a bit more upbeat and feel-good and not necessarily always as thought-provoking or deep as my shit, haha. I have to do something that’s a bit more mainstream because they want to listen to some fun stuff, rather than listen to depressing songs all the time. I appreciate that. I’ve took that on board. I’m trying to do some more fun stuff for them. I’ve got a few tricks on there.
The Sia song came out incredible. How did that come about?
I didn’t get in the studio with Sia — I did the majority of the song already, and my management played it during a meeting with her. She really liked it, so she basically said, “Can I do something on it?” She did it separately, though, and I’d really like to work with her in a studio. She was probably the person who got it the most, straight away. I just thought she was really cool. She didn’t take much time, she just knew what she was doing.
I know you worked with Timbaland too. What was that like?
He was really fucking cool. I met him, he came down to the studio a couple times, and we did some cool stuff together. The song is really sick. It actually came from a voice note that I had on my phone and I sent it to him. He was like, “OK, let me do something with it.” We sampled the voice note and made a song out of it. He was really cool. He’s hip-hop, man. His drums are always Timbaland drums, so it was definitely in that pocket.
Do you play any instruments on the album?
I played bits here and there. I played a few chords of guitar, a couple keys, piano, some synth, some basic computer-pressing shit, when we try to pretend we’re musicians and press buttons on keyboards, haha. I did a little bit of that. I’ve dabbled.
Whatever happened to “Dragonfly,” the heavy metal song you recorded?
It’s still there. I haven’t put it on this record either. So it’s still in the bank. But there’s some stuff that is like an evolution of that kind of song, and they are on this record. You’ve got to just weigh songs out: Is this one better than that? Ah, yeah, it is, I have to put it on.
Do you play songs to your family? Does your mom have a favorite song off the new album?
Yeah, she does. She loves “Dusk Till Dawn.” She’s seen the video and she really likes it. I play my sisters stuff all the time, and they tell me, “This is cool,” or, “I don’t think you should necessarily be this depressing on this song,” haha. It’s always good to check with people who can be honest with you.
Your willingness to be depressing really resonates with your fans, though, and when you talk about anxiety.
I know. I feel like that’s why they always check, “Is he OK? Is he happy?” Yeah, I’m happy. There’s certain times that we like to take creative source from deep moments where I look for music, but that’s not necessarily how I’m feeling 24 hours a day. I’m all good. I’m chilling.
“There’s certain times that we like to take creative source from deep moments where I look for music, but that’s not necessarily how I’m feeling 24 hours a day.”
I liked seeing you act in the “Dusk Till Dawn” video. It plays off your reserved personality in a compelling way.
That was fun for me. I showed it to my mum and she said to me, “Ah, you look really confident, and it’s really cool to see you like that.” I turned and I said to her, “Well, I’m playing a character, that’s not me.” It’s easy to be confident when you’re being a guy who’s such a badass and doing crazy shit. I’ll tell you now, if that was me in real life with police standing that close to me, I’d be like, “Yo, I didn’t do shit! I do not need you to be that close in my vicinity.” Obviously for the sake of the drama it was fun to do it, and I’d like to do more of it.
Will you have more blockbuster-style videos like that?
I have an idea in my head, and I’m going to be doing a lot more than I did on the last record just ‘cause I feel more at ease, a little bit. I’m more chill this time around. I’m just like, “Alright, cool, let’s do it, whatever.” I’m down. I want my fans to understand that obviously I’m appreciating everything, and I’m thankful for their support, so I’ve got to show my face otherwise they’ll think I don’t really care, which I do. I need to show my face. I’m enjoying acting, so there’s going to be more of that in the videos.
Are you still a big reader?
I am. I read a lot as a kid. I don’t know if I’ve ever said this, but my granddad used to get me to read letters. He’s actually first-generation Pakistani. He was born in India, before India and Pakistan were divided. He came over, and he didn’t speak a lot of English, so he used to get me to read his letters to him when I was, like, 3 or 4. So I developed a real want to read things all the time. I would read books constantly as a child.
I’m still a reader. I’ve read a lot of different kinds of things. At the minute, I probably spend too much time reading conspiracy theory books that give my mind way too much information that I probably don’t need. I like reading books about aliens and space.
Did you see the eclipse?
I did. I didn’t see it too well — it was a bit cloudy where I was.
I want to know, have you been gardening in your backyard? Have you been working the land?
I am, how did you know that? I’ve been gardening a lot. I’ve got cucumber plants, tomato plants, onions, all kinds of crazy things growing. I just went to the local garden shop and bought seeds packets, read the instructions, and tried it at home.
I have a really big garden with my wife, with all these fruit trees.
That’s really cool. We’ve got some trees too — lemon trees and apple trees and grapes.
One fan question was: What does the new album tell us about you that we don’t already know?
I don’t know. I listen to a lot of different types of music, not just R&B, and I appreciate it. I enjoy doing all kinds of different music. I’ve been playing around with different stuff. I like a lot of U.K. garage music, and that was a heavy influence on me as well as the more classic American R&B. Craig David and stuff like that, and I was definitely drawing reference from them. We’ve got more songs like the one with PARTYNEXTDOOR. He’s cool. But there’s nothing that’s really some juicy gossip on there, or anything world-changing, haha. It’s just me.
I could keep inventing questions for you all day, but I feel like you’re in a good place with this album and I’m just happy to hear that. So I’ll let you go eat some fish and chips.
Haha, will do. Thank you, bruh. I’ll send you some donuts.