By Jessica Goodman
December 21, 2016 at 11:00 AM EST
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

After a year on hiatus from One Direction, Niall Horan is ready for the solo spotlight. He signed with Capitol Records in September, released his first single, a tender ballad called “This Town” with Grammy-nominated producer Greg Kurstin, and is currently prepping his first collection to come out in Summer 2017.

Even though Horan spent five years in a beloved pop group, the 23-year-old is leaning into his childhood inspirations — classic rock acts like Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, and Crosby, Stills and Nash—for his solo album. “Whenever I would pick up a guitar, I would always naturally play chords like that, and finger pick a lot and play that folky kind of style,” he says.

Horan began writing the material on piano and guitar this spring, and then worked with sessions musicians to realize his songs and insert funky percussion techniques. One drummer, Aaron Sterling, played around with pseudo-instruments like “a coffee jar full of beans” that can be heard shaking around and “pink twine that was attached to 12 empty cans of Perrier sparkling water.” Horan says, “He would just drop them on the floor next to the mic in time and it would make a crashing marching sound.”

While he says the album will have a “folk-with-pop feel to it,” there are plugged-in moments:  “Some of the songs are heavier than others,” Horan says. “I play a bit of electric on some tracks and we obviously played around a lot with percussion stuff to build up the songs so there was a lot of things going on percussion wise.”

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But when it comes to his vocals, Horan is excited to take on all those duties for the first time in his career. “The biggest challenge of making the album was making sure I could sing for that long,” he says. “I did write the songs in my key so I didn’t try to make it too difficult for myself.”