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Back in July, when Zayn Malik announced his new deal RCA Records, he called it an opportunity to make “#realmusic” and show his fans the “#realme.” And now, eight months after his sudden and, to many, devastating departure from One Direction, the 22-year-old is opening up at length for the first time about what exactly he meant by it.

Inviting The Fader writer Duncan Cooper to his home north of London — where you can find, among other things, a pirate-themed bar, a giant teepee, and a go-kart with a Superman-style “Z” on it — Malik talked about what exactly motivated him to pick up and leave on that day in March, what’s next for his career, and, yes, whether Larry Stylinson was ever or will ever be a thing.

And while he made the decision rather quickly — “I woke up on that morning, if I’m being completely honest with you, and was like, ‘I need to go home,'” he said — it was something he was thinking about “from the beginning.”

“There was never any room for me to experiment creatively in the band,” he said. “If I would sing a hook or a verse slightly R&B, or slightly myself, it would always be recorded 50 times until there was a straight version that was pop, generic as f—, so they could use that version. Whenever I would suggest something, it was like it didn’t fit us. There was just a general conception that the management already had of what they want for the band, and I just wasn’t convinced with what we were selling. I wasn’t 100 percent behind the music. It wasn’t me.”

Malik went on to say that the music he made with One Direction is “not music that I would listen to,” and now that he’s solo, he has one goal: “I want to make music that I think is cool s—.”

“To me, it’s like I stood in front of a canvas for about five years, and someone said like, ‘You’re not allowed to paint on this canvas.’ I’ve got the paint, I’ve got the f—ing brushes, and I can’t get it on there,” he said. “Now someone removed the plastic and was like, ‘Alright, you can now paint.’”

So what’s he painting now? For his upcoming solo debut, he’s working closely with Malay, the producer who worked with Frank Ocean on Channel Orange, to create something that isn’t defined by one genre. “[The tracks] don’t really fit a specific type of music. They’re not like, ‘This is funk, this is soul, this is upbeat, this is a dance tune.’ Nothing is like that. I don’t really know what my style is yet. I’m kind of just showing what my influences are.”

To read more, head to The Fader.