The 'Treat You Better' singer will release 'Illuminate' on Sept. 23

By Nolan Feeney
July 07, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT
George Pimentel/WireImage

It was only a few months ago that Shawn Mendes’ breakout hit “Stitches” was scaling the charts around the world, but the 17-year-old is already moving on to bigger things—like his new single, “Treat You Better,” which he’ll bring to the TODAY show on Friday as he readies his second album, Illuminate, due Sept. 23.

With a Taylor Swift tour under his belt, the former Vine sensation is ready to show a more grown-up side of himself on his new LP. “I’ve had a crazy two years where the most inspiring things happened to me,” he tells EW. “I feel like there’s so much to talk about, and I’m able to go into more detail with certain things in a more mature way, which is really exciting. You’re going to be able to hear that on the album.” Below, Mendes dishes on what to expect from his new record.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You recorded your new album in peaceful upstate New York. Why did you want to get away from big cities like New York or L.A.?

SHAWN MENDES: We recorded at the Clubhouse near Woodstock, and it’s the coolest. It’s gorgeous and has everything you could ever ask for, and it was connected to where we would sleep and live up there. We would go up there for weeks at a time. I just wanted to be with my favorite writers and producers and be very consistent from the first song we did to the last song. I just wanted to make sure every single time we went up we had the same vibe so we could have a whole cohesive album.

Was the album totally written when you started recording, or were you bringing your guitar out into the woods looking for inspiration?

We were writing on the hills, it was exactly that. We’d wake up and go for a run, go to the gym, then write till 9 o’clock at night. We’d take a break, eat dinner, then write till 3 a.m. producing and writing on repeat.

You were working on your debut album, Handwritten, when you were 15, 16 years old. Now that you’re a few years older, what are you writing about that’s new for you?

It’s two things: from 15 to 18, your whole view on life changes. Every single thing changes. And that’s just what happens to everybody during that age gap. But also I’ve had a crazy two years where the most inspiring things happened to me. I feel like there’s so much to talk about, and I’m able to go into more detail with certain things in a more mature way, which is really exciting. You’re going to be able to hear that on the album.

What will surprise your fans the most?

I think people will be surprised by how edgy we get with the lyrics and the concepts. Vocally, this album demolishes Handwritten, so people are not going to be ready for some of the songs in that sense.

Wait, edgy lyrics? What does that look like for you?

It’s more about getting deeper, getting into actual real life and what happened to me [in my life].

You’ve been performing new songs like “Ruin” for a while now. Is that officially on the album, and what’s it been like road-testing new material?

“Ruin” will be released as an instant grat track soon. But being able to play new songs after a year and a half of playing the same ones is the best feeling ever because, believe it or not, we do get sick of playing the same songs. It’s my first song ever on electric guitar, I’m going to have a solo and everything. It’s a really good feeling, and the fan reaction to it has been so amazing.

That song has a bit of an R&B-soul vibe to it. Are you branching out a lot in terms of your sound on this record?

Definitely, in every way. I’m kind of still learning my voice and learning my style. But yeah, it’s has a lot more soulful and R&B vibes while also still being super singer-songwriter-y and still pop. There are a lot of different aspects to the album. Some of the songs are like, “Wow, this is so John Mayer,” and some are straight-up pop records.

You opened for Taylor Swift last summer. What did you take away from being on the road with her?

The biggest thing I learned from Taylor is that there’s no amount of success that allows you to not work hard. She was just working her ass off every day, it was crazy to see. You think someone at that level would just show up and go on stage, but no, it’s not that. It was really inspiring for me to see that. The people who are No. 1 are No. 1 for a reason.

You’ve talked about looking up to Ed Sheeran and John Mayer, but after being on the road with Taylor, is there some part of you that’s ever considered pulling a 1989 and doing a big flashy pop album?

Nah, I don’t really ever plan on putting down the guitar, to be honest with you.

After working with Fifth Harmony’s Camila Cabello on last year’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” who’s on your dream list right now for duets and collaborations?

I’d love to work with Bruno Mars and Ryan Tedder. And obviously Ed Sheeran. I think they’re all phenomenal songwriters, so as soon as I get a chance, that’d be awesome.

Do you think about writing for other artists? You must have plenty of songs lying around that didn’t make the album.

Absolutely. I wrote a few tracks I just haven’t pitched to anyone yet. My album was obviously the first thing that we needed to get done, but there are a lot of tracks that I know aren’t for me but would suit other people really well.

I think it’s really sweet that you’ve been shouting-out Drake and Justin Trudeau on your Twitter account. Are you overflowing with Canadian pride right now?

Yeah. Canadians are kicking ass right now, so I have to show it.

America is kind of crushing on your prime minister right now. Are you guys as obsessed with him as we are?

Oh yeah, we love him. We’re obsessed. Everyone is so stoked about him.

The TODAY show is teaming up with EW for a backstage pass to the “Citi Concert Series on TODAY” with exclusive Q&A’s in the magazine and on EW.com. Tune in to Mendes’ performance July 8 on NBC.

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