In One Direction’s fifth year, the ever-maturing boy band endured the most drama and chaos of their career, following the loss of original member Zayn Malik and the announcement of a hiatus to follow the release of fifth album, Made in the A.M. The album, out on November 13th, follows in the vein of the classic rock and folk influences that have pervaded the pop group’s sound since they became more proactive songwriters on 2013’s Midnight Memories.
“I’d like to think, at least for me, that these songs are not one dimensional, lyrically and sonically,” says Julian Bunetta, who has written for and with One Direction since 2012’s Take Me Home. “I’ve listened to this album more than you ever will. I can guarantee that. There are still elements that continue to surprise me and little things I notice, little sounds I hear and little entendres that make me go, ‘Huh, did he mean to say that? Did he slip that by me? How did I not notice that the first time?'”
Bunetta spoke in-depth with Rolling Stone about what listeners can look forward to on their newest collection.
When did you start writing and recording Made in the A.M.?
We started in March in London. John [Ryan, co-writer and co-producer] and I flew to Japan before that in February to talk about shit, hang out, see where we’re all at because the boys were on tour during the first little bit of the writing. After that, we came to London and the boys met us there.
Bunetta (center) with members of the band at YouTube Space LA in 2013. Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
They have such a hectic touring schedule. How did you and John write and record with them around that schedule?
You don’t write around it because you can’t. You have to write in the middle of it. Just get in the middle of it and write. It’s absolute chaos and wonderful. They’re all just having fun and writing songs and flying around. No one goes into the place with a spreadsheet, a ruler, a compass and a protractor to write a song. … Some of the best times in my whole entire life have been with these guys. Whether it’s talking, writing, partying or eating, we just have the best time and a song is bound to be written when we’re doing all those things.
How have they developed and grown as songwriters since 2012?
They’ve all just gotten more confident. Their style of writing reflects who they are, but they’ve just gotten more confident. … They’ve had to go under the process of becoming songwriters under a microscope, which has made them grow exponentially because there’s so much pressure. Everything is compounded in the situation they’re in, but they know what they like and they know what they don’t like. They’re more confident than they were, in a way. But also we all just sit around and go “Is this great? I don’t know! Who knows?”
Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson seem to have morphed into the most regular writing partnership from the group.
They’ve written a few classics, those boys. The process is interesting because there’s a lot of people in the room. You have me, Louis, Liam, Jamie [Scott, co-writer] and John. Or you have Ed [Drewett] and Wayne [Hector] in place of Jamie. Everyone is very headstrong and very, very talented, so it’s a fight, a lot of the times. Sometimes it takes days before we all agree on something. It’s a good fight!
What can we expect on the album?
“History.” … “The End of the Day.” “I Love You Goodbye.” “Hey Angel.” All these songs will make for great five-paragraph essays, that’s for sure.
You can take them in so many [ways]. We all know what we’re going through; what Louis is going through, what Harry’s going through, what Niall’s going through, what Liam’s going through. We’re all going through the same emotion but in different context. One might be heartbreak. One might be the loss of a family member. One might be the loss of a dog. We’re all simultaneously experiencing a lot of the same emotions together, like a new girlfriend or a new adventure or a new house or confusion. There are so many emotions, and we’re all experiencing them. I’m a 33-year-old guy. The band is 21 to 23. All these songs are taking everyone’s experiences and we’re trying to say what we’re feeling but also give it a broad enough feel for whatever anyone else is experiencing. … There’s a lot of love and loss and success and failure crammed into this, and we just had the most fun you can ever have doing it. That’s the truth.
When people talk about boy bands, there’s this stigma surrounding them and the machine of pop music. Did you feel that stigma before writing for them?
Yeah! Before I ever met them and before I ever heard anything or knew any of them … and Savan [Kotecha, songwriter] played me “What Makes You Beautiful,” I remember exactly what I told him after that. Immediately. Hopefully he remembers, too.
What did you tell him?
It’s between us.
Not even a hint?
Look, have you ever heard “What Makes You Beautiful”? What do you think of that song?
I think it’s catchy and fun.
There’s nothing really more to say about it then. [I wonder] who are the people who create that cloud of stigma? Why do we listen to them? I think I know who those people are, but I don’t know if those people can sit and have a discussion about music. How is it that the people who have the loudest voice … are usually the ones who can’t talk as much music as me and all my friends? It’s so odd. Whether it’s jazz or classical or R&B or hip-hop or pop or indie, it’s so interesting how the ones who create the stigma of what is or what isn’t “good” or “right” actually don’t know that much about all the rest of everything.
Their fan base is largely teenage girls, and people don’t always want to validate music that young women enjoy.
Yeah! Again, why is that? Why would people not approve of what young women enjoy? Why would people not want young women to be happy and dancing and smiling? Who are the people that say that whatever all these young girls are enjoying and living and dancing to — which is the fucking light of the world — who is the person who is say that that’s not cool? Who is that person? Who is that voice? What a dickhead that voice is! Why would you wanna squash someone’s fuckin’ smile?
One Direction fans at Soldier Field on August 23, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Daniel Boczarski/WireImage
What was your experience of seeing One Direction in concert and seeing all these young, female fans bond over this group of boys?
It’s really, really powerful. My first concert was before I ever met them. I believe it was at Royal Albert Hall. I remember I was sitting there with John. The difference was that as a guy, traditionally you would sit there and make fun of the guys onstage. When I was young and there were the ‘N Syncs and the other ones, you’d try to marginalize them so you look cool and so that girls would think you’re cooler than [the boys on stage]. You couldn’t do that to [One Direction] because they were just kind of hangin’ out on stage. They weren’t trying to be anything other than themselves. They’d sing their parts, make some jokes. They were just fuckin’ around, and it made you feel like, “Man, it would be fun to be on stage with these guys.” Rather than “Oh, look at them, just learning choreography.” I didn’t know what I was expecting, but I definitely was not expecting the unexpected. It seems so simple in hindsight. It’s not rocket science. Just guys on stage fuckin’ around, havin’ fun. More like a rock band.
With how massive 1D are, do you and the boys worry that listeners will spend too much time trying to decode things, like whether or not the songs are about Zayn or a tabloid story?
People look at things in a temporary way rather than on a broad scale. Besides, whatever people get from it, they get from it. If all you want to do is hate on One Direction, then you can listen to this album and hate on One Direction. If all you want to do is love One Direction, you can listen to this album and love One Direction. It’s there to be had for whatever you need, whenever you need it. The one thing I do not worry about it is listening to these songs many, many years from now because I know that I’ll be doing that.
Do you think this is their best album?
Of course, not! The best is yet to come.