During a recent interview on New Music Daily with Zane Lowe on Apple Music’s Beats 1, the 25-year-old singer reveals that "it was hard" when Malik left the boy band in 2015, largely because it was unexpected.
"It was kind of like we were sad, obviously, that someone had left, but also sad that he was not enjoying it so much that he had to leave," Styles explains. "Because I think at the time too, the tour and everything was going so well and everyone had kind of got to this place where everyone was kind of living in a way where they I think felt pretty good. It felt like everyone was kind of enjoying it."
"I'd say a big part of it was us kind of being like, 'Wow.' You didn't realize he wasn't enjoying it that much," he adds.
"We were about to start recording a new album and stuff and it was like, 'Are we recording this without him?'" Styles recalls. "But I'd say in the moment, I guess the four of us became closer because we were like, 'OK, this is a hurdle that we weren't expecting.'"
While the guys were sad to see Malik leave, Styles admits that "if someone's not enjoying it, you'd rather they don't do it."
"Why would you want an artist to make stuff for you when they don't want to make it?" Styles questions. "It seems completely counter productive to me."
As for his own decision to split from the group -- he and the remaining One Direction members broke up in 2016 -- Styles says that "the last year of it we all kind of knew we were going to stop at the end of that year."
"We'd sit down and have conversations [asking if] everyone [is] good, everyone wants to keep going and that kind of thing," he says. "There was a part of me where I felt like all of the decisions I'd made as an adult -- that affected my life and what I was doing with my life -- had been made as a group. I think there was a part of me that felt like I wanted to make some decisions for myself... I felt like I needed to make some decisions that just affect me."
"... I didn't really have a plan for when I wanted to make a record," he adds. "... I knew that like maybe one day I'd want to do it, but I wasn't like, 'I can't wait to get out of this thing so I can go and make my own records.' I wouldn't say [it] crept up."
Following the band's split, Styles went on to release his self-titled solo debut in 2017. For his followup, Fine Line, Styles tried to figure out how to make the process -- the writing, recording and touring -- "really fun." One way he accomplished that was by doing mushrooms and drinking during the making of the record, two things he never indulged in during his One Direction days.
"Making this album was all about freedom," he says. " ... I think part of the thing with the mushrooms thing for me is that I never do anything when I'm working... if I'm touring or anything. I don't drink really at all. When I was in the band, to me it felt like it was so much bigger than any of us. I felt like, 'I'm not going to be the one who messes it up.'"
"So I was like, 'Now is the time in my life when you probably go out and experiment, and do this and you take this and you do that. And that's what you do with your friends,'" he continues. "... Making this record felt... so much more joyous."
He began taking the mushrooms while hanging out with his friends in Malibu, a time he "felt so safe."
"It was like, 'I want to take some mushrooms, I'm going to take some. Now's the time to have fun. We're in Malibu. 24,'" he explains. "I'm also in music... I'm not a politician. I don't think it's that crazy. I think my thing with drugs is, if you're taking anything to... try and hide from stuff then you shouldn't even drink. And if you're taking anything to have fun and be creative, then great."
"I was with my friends and making an album, you obviously get so in your head and you get so self conscious about everything and you hit these bumps in the road where you're thinking, 'Is this good enough? Is this enough? Is that enough?'" Styles continues. "There's an after flow of some of that stuff where sometimes you take something, and then for 10 days after you're like, 'Don't worry about it, everything's going to be fine.' It's stress relieving in a sense."
"I think that that's been a big part of this whole thing for me, I'm just trying to go through life being a little less worried about stuff," he adds. "Definitely with working because ultimately it will be okay. If you don't hit the top of the chart, your life doesn't change.... If that was what I was aiming at and then it didn't happen, then I'd feel so much worse. But redefining it for me has been amazing... There's a freedom with that."
Styles also worked through some of his concerns in therapy after initially being skeptical about going.
"I think for a really long time, especially when I started coming to California, there was a big thing for me where I felt like everyone went to therapy," he says. "And I think for a long time I was like, 'I don't need that.' You know, it's very British way of looking at it, I think."
"I think there was a point where I kind of was trying to work out a lot more stuff about myself because obviously then it was just me walking in," Styles continues. "I think it kind of comes with when you're trying to make music... Making an album, I feel like is the most self indulgent time you can think of, really. Because you're just like, 'How do I feel about this?'"
"I think with the therapy thing, I just realized I was just getting in my own way," he adds. "It's been a thing where I've definitely felt it have an impact on my life."
Fine Line is due out on Dec. 13