Interview: Harry Styles On 'Fine Line,' Stevie Nicks, Life After One Direction NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks to the pop superstar and former One Direction member about the creative and commercial pressure behind making his sophomore album.
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Harry Styles On 'Fine Line,' Stevie Nicks And His Definition Of Success

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Harry Styles On 'Fine Line,' Stevie Nicks And His Definition Of Success

Harry Styles On 'Fine Line,' Stevie Nicks And His Definition Of Success

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Harry Styles has been in the spotlight since he was 16 years old, competing in a British talent competition. He landed in a boy band, a boy band that rocketed him to superstardom. Now wherever he shows up, he turns heads in one direction towards him. Styles recorded his first solo album in 2017. His second is now out. It's called "Fine Line."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CANYON MOON")

HARRY STYLES: (Singing) Sky never looked so blue. So hard to leave it. That's what I always do. So I keep thinking back to a time under the canyon moon.

KELLY: When Harry Styles dropped by our studios this week, he told me, as he wrote his second solo album, he couldn't help but be influenced by the music he grew up with.

STYLES: You know, you grow up listening to, like, what your parents listen to, pretty much.

KELLY: You have no choice to for a while (laughter).

STYLES: Right. And it was - you know, for me, it was, like - it was the Stones, Beatles, Fleetwood, a lot of Queen, Elvis Presley, Shania Twain, Savage Garden, Norah Jones. That was, like, my...

KELLY: You had good parents.

STYLES: Yeah.

KELLY: Yeah.

STYLES: Yeah, I know. I'm pretty thankful for them. But that was kind of, like, the base of what my first experience, I guess, with music was. And I feel like you can't help but have a lot of references from just what you grew up listening to.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CANYON MOON")

STYLES: (Singing) Staring at the ceiling. Two weeks and I'll be home. Carry the feeling through Paris, all through Rome.

KELLY: Speaking of Fleetwood Mac...

STYLES: Yeah.

KELLY: ...I saw you've gotten to know and worked with Stevie Nicks. What's that like to get to know somebody who was the soundtrack of your childhood?

STYLES: It borders on, like, an out-of-body experience. And every time I'm with her, on one hand, I'm just trying to enjoy being with her and kind of soaking in. She has so much amazing advice, so...

KELLY: Would you share one great piece of Stevie Nicks advice?

STYLES: Her thing has always, for me, been just do it your way. You know, you just have to do it and...

KELLY: She wrote a song like that, as I recall.

(LAUGHTER)

STYLES: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. She was like, go your own way.

KELLY: Yeah, there you go (laughter).

STYLES: And I was like, wow. That's crazy. But I think at the same time, while you're in the room with her, like, I'm sitting there thinking about being 10 years old. My favorite moments about - aren't usually the show; it's the practicing. When we first played together, it was at the Troubadour.

KELLY: The famous LA nightclub.

STYLES: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LANDSLIDE")

HARRY STYLES AND STEVIE NICKS: (Singing) But time makes you bolder, even children get older.

STYLES: And it was an amazing moment, but my favorite was sound-checking because it's, like, four people in there and just us singing in this empty Troubadour. And for me, that's like a - you know, a moment that I'll kind of always hold on to.

KELLY: Yeah. Speaking of moments where you wish you could tell your younger self, buddy, like, you have no idea what's coming...

STYLES: (Laughter) Yeah.

KELLY: ...I want to play a tiny bit of you. This is from 10 years ago...

STYLES: Oh, God.

KELLY: ...When you auditioned for the British reality show "X Factor." And the judge, Simon Cowell, was asking you, what are your future plans? Here - this is you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE X FACTOR")

STYLES: So I'm going back to college in September.

SIMON COWELL: And what are you going to study at college?

STYLES: Law, sociology...

(CHEERING)

STYLES: ...Business and something else, but I'm not sure yet.

COWELL: Wow.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: I have to say, I listened to that...

STYLES: (Laughter).

KELLY: ...And I thought, there's a lot of us, you know, who wanted to be a rock star and ended up being lawyers. You have clearly...

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: ...Gone the other path.

STYLES: I sound like I'm 8 years old.

KELLY: Is it funny listening back to that? You were 16, I think, in that.

STYLES: Yeah, I was 16.

KELLY: Yeah. What do you wish you could tell your 16-year-old self?

STYLES: I guess just, like, don't worry. I think a lot of the time - especially in the early years of that stuff, I think I spent a lot of time worrying about getting things wrong and saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing. And I'm trying to, like, let go of the worrying thing.

And that's kind of what I've loved the most about this album rather than the first one, I think. I had a lot of, like, fear almost, whether it was conscious or subconsciously, just about getting it wrong. And I feel like when I listen back to the first album now, although I still love it so much, I feel like I was almost at bowling with the bumpers up a little bit because I can kind of hear places where I was playing it safe and stuff. And I think if you're making what you want to make, then ultimately, no one can tell you you're unsuccessful because you're doing what makes you happy.

KELLY: Any tiny part of you that wants to go back and study sociology or law?

STYLES: I think if I went back to school, I'd want to be a therapist, I think.

KELLY: Heal people.

STYLES: Yeah.

KELLY: Help them get better.

STYLES: Yeah.

KELLY: That's a nice thing. Your clothes - you've gotten, obviously, way more attention for your music than for your fashion choices. But you dress amazingly.

STYLES: Oh, thank you. That's kind.

KELLY: You wear suits, but they're, like, patterned and florals, and you had that blouse that got all the attention at last year's Met Gala, that black sheer blouse you were wearing. Describe for people who can't see you, which is everyone, what you're wearing right now.

STYLES: What I'm wearing right now - I'm wearing a brown-gray pair of trousers, a shirt.

KELLY: Yeah.

STYLES: It's a cream shirt with thin red and blue stripes on it. And then I'm wearing a fluffy light-blue jumper with a picture of a chick hatching out of an egg.

KELLY: Hatching.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: And it's working.

STYLES: Thank you.

KELLY: And you got nail polish on.

STYLES: I have nail polish on, yeah.

KELLY: You do wear stuff that does blur the line between, like, tradition - yeah.

STYLES: I've started to feel naked if I now don't have nail polish on.

KELLY: Me, too.

STYLES: Yeah.

KELLY: And you're making me I think I'm overdue for a manicure. But, I mean, what are you hoping people will take from that? Is this just, this is what I want to wear - deal with it? Are you trying to send any kind of message?

STYLES: No, I don't feel like - for me, it's not, like, doing it to send a message. Part of being on the last tour, when people came to watch the show, I kind of realized, oh, these people just want to see me be myself. And I'm telling them to be themselves. And when I have children, I plan on telling them to be themselves and do whatever they want to do. And I just didn't want to be a hypocrite, really. I probably had a better answer than that, but...

KELLY: That was a good one.

STYLES: ...I guess not (laughter).

KELLY: We've managed to do a whole music interview without actually talking about the songs on your newest album.

STYLES: Yeah. Yeah.

KELLY: Is there one you would send us out on?

STYLES: My two favorite songs on this album are probably "Cherry" and "Fine Line."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FINE LINE")

STYLES: (Singing) We'll be a fine line. We'll be a fine line. We'll be a fine line.

"Fine Line" I wrote in the gap in the tour. It was January 2018. And I was at my friend Tom's house, who I work with. And we just kind of started strumming this thing, and we started layering all these vocals. And it turned into this, like, six-minute thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FINE LINE")

STYLES: (Singing) Test of my patience, there's things that we'll never know.

When we wrote it, I kind of knew it was the last song of an album. And we ended up taking it to Bath in England, where I was making this one for a while. And I wanted it to turn into something else at the end. I wanted, like, a big, you know, kind of crescendo ending. And then while we were in Bath, Sammy Witte started playing this little thing on the piano, and I kind of tweaked it a little bit. And I was like, that has to go at the end of "Fine Line."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FINE LINE")

STYLES: (Singing) Spreading you open is the only way of knowing you.

And now I think when I listen to it, it's one of those where I'm just, like, proud that it's mine, I guess. Like, I'm so happy. It's one of those songs that I've always wanted to make.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FINE LINE")

STYLES: (Singing) We'll be all right.

KELLY: Harry Styles, it's been a great interview.

STYLES: Thank you very much.

KELLY: Thank you.

STYLES: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF HARRY STYLES SONG "FINE LINE")

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