Louis Tomlinson Revisits Past Challenges, Celebrates Hard-Won Success in ‘All of Those Voices’ Documentary

·12 min read
Louis Tomlinson docu - Credit: Jun Sato/WireImage/Getty Images
Louis Tomlinson docu - Credit: Jun Sato/WireImage/Getty Images

Backstage in London at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Louis Tomlinson threw his hands into the center of a huddle with his bandmates before the show. There was a familiarity to the moment, which was captured in December 2022 and opens the new documentary All of Those Voices, directed by Charlie Lightning. The only differences? He was surrounded by five other bandmates instead of four, and the 2,000-capacity venue was a fraction of the size of the stadiums he had grown accustomed to playing with One Direction — or the still-major rooms of 10,000 or more that he’ll be playing this summer on tour in support of his second solo album, Faith in the Future, his second tour of that size.

For a while after One Direction ended in December 2015, Tomlinson wasn’t certain he would ever be able to perform in front of an audience of any size again. When he reassured fans that same month that the band wouldn’t be gone for longer than a year and a half, he didn’t realize that the break would actually be a full stop. The confusion was compounded by the fact that — as he reveals in the new film — he had only found his place in the band a few years earlier, falling in as a songwriter where he couldn’t initially make his mark as a lead vocalist. Tomlinson was starting from scratch, or as much as he could be with a holdover of fans from his time in the biggest boy band in the world.

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But as soon as he could pick himself up to rebuild his sense of artistic self-worth, he was knocked down — first by the death of his mother days before his debut solo television performance, and then by the death of his younger sister less than two years later. Throughout All of Those Voices, narration from Tomlinson is paired with archival footage from the past 12 years as he navigates grief, parenthood, and relighting his creative spark after the smoke cleared. Here are six key takeaways from the film, now playing in theaters.

Tomlinson didn’t know his vocals were cut from One Direction’s earliest singles.

One Direction fans launched a number of campaigns throughout the time the band was together. They once tried to crowdsource money to buy the band out of their management contract, and they famously attempted to promote “No Control” as a single without the help of the band or their label. In the earliest days, they loudly campaigned for Tomlinson and Niall Horan to get more solo vocals. Behind the scenes, Tomlinson was fighting for that, too.

“I didn’t know at the start who I was within One Direction,” he says in the new film. “I can remember singing a couple of different verses on the first single [‘What Makes You Beautiful’] — there’s a lot of pressure on this. I remember the first time we listened to it and I wasn’t on it. So then when we got a song that we thought could be our second single, I went in with a producer. All I want is to sing a bit of this next song, and we’re just going to stay here until I get it right.” Tomlinson recalls spending hours in the studio, only to listen to the song and hear Harry Styles’ voice on the verse where he had expected to hear his own.

“There was an element of me feeling that it doesn’t matter what I do, I’m not really in control here and I don’t see where I fit within this band,” he continues. That feeling lasted for the first two and a half years of 1D; the solos would eventually come later, but by then he found his place as a songwriter. Across four albums, he racked up more than 35 writing credits that include underrated cuts like “No Control,” “Better Than Words,” and “What a Feeling.”

“That was the first moment in my One Direction career that I felt ownership in what we were doing,” he says in the film. “It almost felt more powerful than I might have felt had I sang that verse on that single back in the day… When I think about how proud I am of One Direction, I think of us as a collective. But if I think about what makes me the most proud as me, as an individual in that band, it’s definitely having the most writing credits.”

Tomlinson felt unprepared when One Direction ended.

One Direction delivered their final performance on stage at The X Factor, right back where they started. It was December 2015, about a month after they released their fifth album in as many years. But unlike their prior albums, there was no world tour on the horizon to keep the cycle going. Instead, they would be embarking on a much-needed hiatus. “Let’s give it 18 months,” Tomlinson said on Alan Carr’s Chatty Man a few days before that performance. It’s been more than seven years now, but he seems to have genuinely believed it was only a break at the time.

“Even right up until we went on the break, there was still really no closure on that idea,” Tomlinson says in the documentary. “You didn’t really, or at least I didn’t, understand what it was going to be. I think the feeling I remember the most is a little bit of anger, because I didn’t want to go on a break. It didn’t just upset me, it shocked me. I wasn’t prepared for it. I thought for me, it was the band or nothing.”

Zayn Malik released his first solo album within a year of leaving the band earlier in 2015. Styles and Horan both followed in 2017, then Liam Payne in 2019. Tomlinson was the last to unveil a debut solo record, with Walls arriving in 2020.

“It was not as if in the five years I was in the band that I’d ever dreamt about being a solo artist,” he says. “Not once, because I was so obsessed with us moving as a unit and being part of this team. I’ve spent all my years doing this, I don’t really see myself doing anything else … It was very easy for me to imagine Harry having a solo career, Liam having a solo career. It was harder for me to imagine myself doing that. It was like, what the fuck am I going to do?”

Watching his One Direction bandmates perform solo felt like an “out-of-body” experience.

At this point, One Direction have been broken up for longer than they were together. Still, the spirit of the band lives on, not just in its everlasting fandom, but also through the members themselves. On tour, Tomlinson works their 2014 single “Night Changes” into his setlist with a guitar-heavy rock twist. Horan often opts to revamp “Fools Gold” or “Drag Me Down,” while Payne’s earliest solo appearances featured the Ed Sheeran-penned single “Little Things” — and even Styles won’t end a show without having played their first hit, “What Makes You Beautiful.”

In September 2019, Tomlinson and Payne were both booked a night apart from each other at the CCME Festival in Madrid. “I didn’t actually know he was going to do some One Direction songs,” Tomlinson recalls in the film. “When it came to my part that he was singing [in ‘Little Things’], it just left me feeling a mixture of proud — because normally I’d been part of that song and part of that experience, and I’d be stood next to Liam. And there was an element, I’m sure when I listened back to it, like, ‘Can we not just rewind the clock and get back in that band and carry on singing as we were?’”

Tomlinson came close to that reunion when he was linked up with Horan at a festival in Mexico later that year to soundcheck “Little Black Dress,” though they didn’t actually end up sharing the stage together during either of their actual sets. “It’s only weird when it comes to life and I’m stood side of the stage [watching a One Direction song],” Tomlinson told Horan backstage. “That’s when it’s weird. It’s like, fucking, out-of-body or something.”

The resilience that Tomlinson learned from his mother kept him from stalling his career.

The only thing Tomlinson can remember coming even close to the news that he had been invited to audition in-person for The X Factor in 2010 was when he auditioned for a production of Grease at his high school in Doncaster, England. At that time, he had been resolved not to show up, but his mother, Johannah Deakin, drove him there herself. “I’d be allowed to feel sorry for myself, but not in such a way where I’d bury my head in the sand,” Tomlinson says in the film of her approach to parenting. Then he landed the lead role of Danny Zuko. “That was the moment that maybe I allowed myself to start dreaming.”

In December 2016, Tomlinson took the stage at The X Factor final for his debut solo television performance. There was a mix of uncertainty and nerves in his voice as he ran through “Just Hold On” with Steve Aoki. Three days prior, Deakin had died from cancer at the age of 43. “The bottom line is, I didn’t want me mum feeling like what happened to her was going to jeopardize my career,” he recalls. “I had just got this feeling from her and the things that she was saying that I was just to keep doing what I’m doing, trying to keep strong. I got up on that day for her more than I did me.”

Tomlinson’s sister Lottie, now 24, echoes that sentiment: “She would not have allowed us to kind of sit and let stuff take over our life or let anything ruin our life,” she says in the film. “She brought us up to be strong and she brought us up to look after each other and just to get on with things.” Even his two youngest siblings, twins Daisy and Phoebe, now 18, knew “there was no chance he wasn’t doing that performance,” even if they couldn’t wrap their minds around where he found the strength to get through it.

Tomlinson saw being an older brother as a crash course in fatherhood.

In 2016, Tomlinson became the first One Direction member to welcome a child. His son Freddie, born that January, now resides in California full-time with his mother, but the singer felt prepared to be a parent as the older brother to four sisters. “I’ve never feared being a dad,” he says in the documentary. “I kind of played that role anyway as big brother. And then once me mum passed, between me and me grandparents, we kind of sit in this hybrid as parents to my sisters.”

Less than two years after the death of his mother, Tomlinson’s younger sister Félicité died at 18 from an accidental drug overdose. “We did a lot, me and Louis, working together to try and help Fizz,” Lottie says in the documentary. “Obviously, it didn’t work. I felt that, kind of, how could we not get her out of this? I can only imagine how he felt. I’m sure it was heightened, one because he’s a brother and two because he probably felt the responsibility from our mum.”

“Life always throws shit at you,” Tomlinson says. “Yes, I’ve had maybe more to deal with than most people my age. But then when the natural things happen in life, where things weren’t going my way, I couldn’t deal with it. It was like, but I’ve already had so much to deal with. When am I going to start winning?”

Tomlinson feels indebted to his audience for giving him a second chance.

Two albums in, Tomlinson’s solo career is beginning to recall some of the pandemonium of One Direction. Some fans camp out for months at a time for a good spot at his shows, particularly when he plays South America. They hold up signs that say “You Saved Me” and photoshop his face onto Jesus. They write letters begging their parents to allow them to sleep on the street to see him up close. They show up in droves to shows that promoters told him he couldn’t sell out. When he stands on barricades, they pull at his shirt, ears, and whatever else they can get their hands on.

“Those are the kinds of things that I’ve had to digest because I feel the importance of those shows to some people,” Tomlinson says in the film. “Just the idea of finally getting to what I worked for, it just eliminated any doubt. I’m like, I can definitely do this. I’m supposed to do this. All these people are here to see me.” In those instances, he adds, he needs the fans just as much as they need him.

“When you’re ambitious, you’re always thinking about the next thing and it means you don’t always have time to actually take everything in,” Tomlinson adds. “I’ve had it taken away a few times in me career, as well … but I’m really enjoying this momentum at the moment.” His options are to keep it going or risk losing it — so when one tour ends, work on the next album begins. He’s back in the cycle One Direction spent their entire career locked in, only with a healthier mindset and a new set of bandmates.

“That’s all I’ve been waiting for really, to have these moments — and it does kind of feel like finally the stars might be aligning for me,” he says. “Now if I told myself five years ago that I was going to play 80-plus shows globally, bigger venues than I’ve ever imagined, I swear I wouldn’t believe you. That’s where I feel like in the last 12 months, I finally feel worthy of where I am, what I’m doing, and the success that I’m having throughout this … I do feel like I deserve this, and that’s probably the first time I’ve said that out loud.”

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