One Direction’s forthcoming fifth album may be their last — at least for now. The band will take an extended hiatus sometime next year after releasing the collection this fall, but when speaking about the album, longtime One Direction producer and songwriter Julian Bunetta told EW that it features some of the group’s best songwriting and shows how far 1D has come musically in the past five years, even with the departure of Zayn Malik, who left One Direction in March.
Below, is an extended interview with Bunetta, who, in addition to talking about the guys’ “much-deserved break,” explains why “Drag Me Down” was the perfect first single to release, discusses the band’s evolving sound, and reveals how exactly they recorded the album.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How has the band’s sound changed on this record?
The albums I’ve produced [for One Direction] have been pretty diverse, but still had a cohesiveness somehow when they were all put together. I think there will be the same amount of diversity, but it seems to all be coming from the same perspective. We’re experimenting a little with different instrumentation.
What kind of instrumentation?
Just strings and horns. We’re stretching out outside of the perimeters of what a traditional pop boy band would do. We’re just kind of having fun. No rules. That’s what it’s been. We just wanted to make an album that had influences of all the previous albums, but then, an evolved version.
People were really taken with the first single, “Drag Me Down.” Do you think that’s emblematic of what the new album will sound like?
They’re more mature than they were a year ago. To say they’re more mature is a reflection of who they are and where they’re at. So there are songs that aren’t mature. There are songs that are mature. There’s a different mixed bag of emotions. It’s not just one particular thing. I think that the other songs aren’t necessarily like “Drag Me Down.” That was the most appropriate first step to open the doorway for everyone to accept what the rest of the album is.
How much input did the guys have in the songs?
All of it or none of it. There’s no one way. We’ve all done this for three years together now. We all have a lot of trust. So, somebody might be working on an idea and then the person comes in and hears it and says, “Great, I like that.” No one is trying to make a suggestion for their ego’s sake.
Has the mood in the studio changed at all now that there’s just four guys in the band?
Obviously there’s a personality missing, but they’re still the same guys. They still have the same attitudes. It’s not like it’s worse or better. It’s just the same guys, but there’s one missing. It just changes the dynamic regardless.
Can you tell me about collaborators that may be on the record? Any guest spots?
Nope. No guests. Just the band.
You’ve worked with them for so long and you’ve been a big part of so many of the big singles. Is there one single on this album you think may blow the other ones out of the water?
To be honest, I think there are six songs that could be singles on here.
Do you know if this is the last One Direction album?
I know they’re taking a much-deserved break. They’ve been doing something that no band has ever done — five albums, five tours, and a movie in five years. It’s pretty prolific and incredible. It’s up to them. They might take a year off and miss it. They might take a year off and say you know what, I need another year off. I think it’s important for them to have a relationship that isn’t strained by being gone all the time. It’s important for them to do whatever they want as individual men and not have to make a democratic decision for once. I think it’s important for them to do whatever their hearts desire. Maybe their hearts will lead them back together. I hope.
Is there one track that may surprise fans?
At this point, they’re not going to be like… vulgar. They’re not going to do anything like that. I think musically we’ve covered so much ground on the last few albums between something that’s very hard rock and something that’s very sensitive and then more dance-y.
Where was the album recorded?
We were in Japan with the band and talked about everything early this year. We hadn’t started writing yet but it was to sort of regroup and get on the same page with each other. I believe we started [recording] in England and then we went to Los Angeles. Last year it was really fun but really hectic, doing everything [for Four] on the road. This time we made a conscious decision to try to stay put.
Do you think that helped?
It definitely helped in terms of time management. It allowed us to get more done in bigger chunks so that we’re ahead of where we were last year in terms of finishing the record. At this point there were still songs that needed to be finished written. This time it was a bit more efficient of a workflow with bigger chunks of time to work together. We got to get more done in those times as opposed to being really scattered. When you’re going little chunks by little chunks it can be hard to get momentum but this time we had extended periods of time, which really helped.