Following the release of his self-titled debut, Harry Styles has given fans an inside look at the process of making the record in a new Apple Music documentary titled Harry Styles: Behind the Album. The 50-minute feature shows Styles playing the complete album for the first time in between recording sessions with his band and producer Jeff Bhasker in Jamaica and London. While the 23-year-old has been extremely candid about his life in the year following One Direction’s hiatus, he opens up even further here as he details the process of writing and recording Harry Styles. Here are 10 things we learned from the film.
1. Styles first performed the album all the way through at the legendary Abbey Road Studios.
The live scenes from the film show Styles fronting his new band at rock’s holiest ground: Abbey Road Studios. Not only was it a convenient location since he lives close by, but the site also held a special significance for the lifelong Beatles fan. Styles notes the “aura about the place” that drew him in.
2. He relished the opportunity to live a totally private life for a full year.
For five years, One Direction was the biggest band in the world. They sold out stadiums on their back-to-back tours while fans and tabloids followed their every move. Having spent his teenage years in the harsh spotlight, Styles was able to slip away from the immense fame he experienced – living quietly at home with his family – and retreat to Jamaica to make music. As he put it, he “made myself get bored.”
3. Don’t get it twisted, though: He loved being in One Direction.
“When you leave a band, a boy band, you feel like you have to go the complete other direction and say, ‘Don’t worry everyone, I hated it. It wasn’t me,'” Styles explains before noting that his experience in and out of the group was filled with nothing but real, genuine love and appreciation. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that band.” As positive as the experience was, the young artists felt a lot of pressure to get bigger with each album and tour, and Styles is glad the group’s first phase ended on a high note. Having that experience has allowed him to feel like he can pursue a less intense, maybe even smaller career than what he did with One Direction.
4. Cutting off his long hair helped him to make a fresh start.
For the latter half of his time in 1D, Styles became “the one with the long hair,” as he views it. During their Made in the A.M. era, his long tresses fell below his shoulder and became an important part of his look. In the documentary, cutting off his hair is a symbolic, momentous occasion that helps him enter a new era of his life and career. Still, he tries to not dwell on that too much during the interview scenes. “I was about to personify my hair, but then I decided not to,” he jokes.
5. He gave collaborator Mitch Rowland a handmade guitar.
One of Styles’ main collaborators on the LP is Mitch Rowland, who joined the band by chance. Rowland had been working at a pizza shop before teaming up with Styles, Bhasker and the rest of their crew, and he ended up co-writing every song with Styles. In a tender scene from the documentary, the singer shows his appreciation for the musician by giving him a gorgeous handmade guitar. As his own thank you, Rowland offers Styles the guitar he had been playing throughout the process of creating the album after playing his own “farewell solo” on it.
6. Jeff Bhasker helped Styles grow as a songwriter.
Styles has nothing but compliments for the superstar producer whom he credits with helping him grow as a songwriter. For Styles, Bhasker’s encouragement and support was an integral part of the writing process for his solo debut. According to him, he had written several duds early on, and instead of dismissing the tracks entirely, Bhasker found “the good bits” and they continued on with those.
7. “Carolina” was the last song written for the album.
Bhasker was looking for a rocker with a good melody to round out the album, so Styles served up the riveting, early-Sixties-ish “Carolina” to fulfill the producer’s order. “It was the little bit of fun we had been wanting but didn’t have,” Styles says of the song. It is also the only song in the documentary that Styles confirms to be about a specific person whose name is in the lyrics. Sleuthing fans have connected the song to a fan named Townes whom he had met once when she was 17 years old. According to Styles, he has seen her once since writing the tune though he did not reveal to her that he had written a song about their one-time encounter.
8. He remains diplomatic when it comes to writing songs about other people – and having songs written about him.
“To have been part of a moment that means something to someone enough for them to write a song about it is a huge compliment,” Styles reveals. He is careful not to name names but he is confident that the people he sings about on his debut solo album will be able to connect specific moments mentioned in the lyrics with their personal experiences. Asked about the times when the tables have been turned on him, Styles offers a coy “no comment.”
9. Seeing a gospel choir record backing vocals for “Sign of the Times” made him emotional.
One specific moment during the recording process that left a major impression on Styles was the experience of sitting in the room as a gospel choir recorded massive, angelic harmonies for his first solo single “Sign of the Times.” In footage of Styles experiencing this moment, he clutches his face and even runs up to hug the soloist towards the end of the session.
10. He had to have a prosthetic version of his face made while filming his first music video.
After photos from the set of the “Sign of the Times” video leaked on Twitter, fans shared spooky images of a man wearing a prosthetic version of Styles’ face while flying in the sky. The Michael Myers–esque mask was created in case Styles needed a stuntman for the video, which features him flying through mountains and over the sea while singing the song.