By Ariana Bacle
September 13, 2017 at 03:48 PM EDT

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Niall Horan has known what his eventual solo album would sound like since he was 10 years old. Now that he’s 24 — and One Direction are on hiatus — we get to hear what it sounds like too when Flicker arrives Oct. 20.

“I wanted to make music that would come really freely to me,” the Ireland native tells EW, adding that he looked to rock & roll legends like Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen for inspiration on his debut, a collection of “relationship-based” songs that includes the folky lead single “This Town,” the funky “Slow Hands,” and the Maren Morris collab “Seeing Blind” — a duet that came together after Horan watched Morris perform with Alicia Keys at this year’s Grammys, where she also won a statue of her own.

“I was just like, ‘This is a no brainer!’ So I got her email address through the label and I just emailed her. I had never met her,” he says, laughing. “I was like, ‘Maren, I’ve got this song, I would really love you to be on it, obviously no pressure. If you don’t want to do it, you’re fine.'” But she did: After hearing the song, which Horan describes as having a “country feel,” Morris was in. “She brought the song to life and sounds amazing on it,” Horan teases.

Richard Dobson/Getty Images

Horan also worked with prolific producers Greg Kurstin (Adele’s 25) and Jacquire King (Kings of Leon’s Only By the Night) on the record, which he notes entailed a much different collaboration process than what he was used to as part of One Direction. This time around, he recorded in studios with a live band and had plenty of time to sit down and talk over decisions with his team — a luxury compared to his days as a boy bander.

“Before, we recorded albums in hotel rooms with mattresses against the wall as we were touring,” he says. “It was really fun, and it was great laughs, but it was sometimes challenging.” Not that a solo career is without difficulties: “I had never really sung on a song for three and a half minutes,” he adds, laughing, referring to the physical demands of singing without his bandmates. “That was different.”

Horan is currently on his Flicker Sessions Tour. See the list of dates here.