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How Zayn Drew Inspiration From Chris Stapleton and Embraced Honesty on New Single ‘Alienated’

Zayn could have easily wrapped his real-life experiences around convoluted metaphors and hidden messages on his latest single, “Alienated.” And he might have on previous records, but as the musician explained on the latest episode of Rolling Stone‘s The Breakdown: he isn’t trying to trick you.

“I feel like the whole intention behind this record is I’ve sang a lot of stuff in there that’s real straightforward. There’s not too many mind games going on. So I’m hoping people will understand the concept themselves and get with it,” Zayn said. “It’s a special song, in that sense, because it really solidified that I could do something in this space for myself.”

“Alienated” marked a significant starting point for his upcoming album Room Under the Stairs (out May 17), which Zayn wrote and produced with a technician before bringing on Dave Cobb as co-producer. It puts aside the glossy R&B of his earlier releases in favor of a more rustic and soulful sound inspired by the likes of Chris Stapleton and Willie Nelson.

“First idea for this song came to me maybe about five or six years ago now, when I was living in [Pennsylvania] and just in a place where felt like I wanted to write something that was a little bit more elevated, and a little bit more insightful than the music that I’d been putting out at that point,” Zayn explained. “I just got in the studio and kind of felt it. I was just feeling alienated at the time in certain situations. That was kind of the sentiment behind the whole idea of the song, so that’s why I felt it fit as the title. And I explain in the song exactly why I’m feeling that way, how I have dealt with those situations, and how it’s felt in that place.”

Zayn sums up “Alienated” with an equally straightforward description: “It’s fucking honest.” And that descriptor extends beyond the songwriting, influencing his approach to the record’s production as well. “Everything that was in there from the beginning stayed to the end. I didn’t feel myself having to censor anything,” he shared. “And that was obviously another great thing about making music like this, you know, all the imperfections and all the things that are in there are intentional and genuine. I kept them in for that reason, I wanted it to feel that way.”

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He added: “Obviously, Dave Cobb just elevated it, made it sound way better because that’s what he does. We brought him on to to bring the final magic to the song, but the original production was just me and my technician. I think the main focus on this record for the instruments was always guitar. It was always going to be that. Originally it was gonna be just an acoustic-sounding record where it was just gonna be guitars and maybe drums. And then eventually, as the idea developed more and built more identity, we started to figure out homes for other instruments that could be used on that, too.”

Speaking about collaborating with Zayn in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Cobb praised his approach to retaining the raw emotions in his performances. “What got me about Zayn was his voice, you can hear love, loss, pain, triumph and humanity in it. I feel as if this record is removing the glass from his spirit directly to his fans,” he said. “Zayn has really created his own universe on this record, he really has no fear and is speaking straight from his soul.”

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