Francesco Nazardo for FADER

Eight months after departing One Direction, Zayn Malik has opened up for the first time about his decision to leave the group, his standing relationship with the remaining 1D members and his future as a solo artist in the latest Fader cover story.

In one of the engrossing story’s more revealing passages, Malik says that he struggled with his lack of creative input in One Direction’s music. “There was never any room for me to experiment creatively in the band,” Malik says. “If I would sing a hook or a verse slightly R&B, or slightly myself, it would always be recorded 50 times until there was a straight version that was pop, generic as fuck, so they could use that version. Whenever I would suggest something, it was like it didn’t fit us. There was just a general conception that the management already had of what they want for the band, and I just wasn’t convinced with what we were selling. I wasn’t 100 percent behind the music. It wasn’t me. It was music that was already given to us, and we were told this is what is going to sell to these people. As much as we were the biggest, most famous boy band in the world, it felt weird. We were told to be happy about something that we weren’t happy about.”

Meanwhile, Malik is prepping a solo album for an early 2016 release with producer James “Malay” Ho, who worked closely with Frank Ocean on Channel Orange. A few songs are previewed, including one titled “I Got Mine” featuring a garage beat and trumpets, and an untitled track in which Malik’s voice is compared to Miguel’s and the Weeknd’s, “mid-range R&B with a distinct awareness of its own head-nodding flow.”

And fear not, Directioners: Malik is still on good terms with (at least one of) the members of 1D. “I spoke to Liam [Payne] about two weeks ago,” Malik says. “It was the first time I’d spoken to him since I left the band, and I rung him, and he wanted to talk. He said that he didn’t understand it at the time, but he now fully gets why I had to do what I did. He understands that it’s my thing, that I had to do that, and that basically he wants to meet up and sit down and have a good chat in person, and he wants to do some music and work on some stuff aside from being in the band, which we always wanted to do anyway.”

Click above for the full Fader cover, and read our thoughts on the musical legacy of One Direction.