Louis Tomlinson and Steve Aoki both took sharp left turns with their music when the pair joined forces to create the empowering hit “Just Hold On.” For Tomlinson, he shed the folkier, classic-rock-leaning sounds of his boy band One Direction, while for EDM god Aoki, the track represented a move toward the pop mainstream.
“I was on holiday with my friends in Vegas, and we were meant to see Calvin Harris’ show,” Tomlinson recalled in an interview with Rolling Stone about what led to his first experience seeing Aoki live. Harris had to cancel that night, but luckily for the venue and the singer, Aoki was in town and able to fill in for him. “[My friends and I] had an incredible night. It was really, really fun. The show was amazing.”
After connecting personally, the two hopped in the studio to craft what would be Tomlinson’s first solo single following the announcement that One Direction would go on hiatus. “I didn’t want to make an EDM record with an EDM arrangement,” Aoki explained. His composition and Tomlinson’s lyrics were created from scratch, as the pair sought to launch their process with a “blank slate.”
“It was really about the lyrics, how to make the lyrics stand out musically on my part,” Aoki continues. “When we started out, it was really more of sad, slow song. We needed it more uplifting. We needed to speed it up. We needed more energy to the song.”
In the end, the pair produced an anthemic, festival- or arena-ready tune appropriate for their respective touring histories. “It’s the most human song I’ve produced,” Aoki says.
After making the television rounds, including the track’s X-Factor debut in December and a recent appearance on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, the pair plan on hitting Ultra Music Festival, old stomping grounds for Aoki that will be a new setting for Tomlinson.
Each artist had been exposed to the other’s music before they met. Aoki remembered seeing One Direction on television and being impressed, but the song that stuck with him remains “Story of My Life,” a track he had mentioned in interviews years ago. Tomlinson had received an early remix of My Chemical Romance’s “The Black Parade” from Aoki, a track that spoke to his formative influences. “I grew up listening to that sound anyway,” he explained of his emo and pop-punk roots. “I grew up loving Green Day. That definitely resonated with me.”
As for the question of trading places, neither thinks they could do the other’s job. “I don’t have the the skills to be a DJ,” Tomlinson says. “I’ve also not got the hair.” In a boy band, Aoki would rather be the back-up dancer or hypeman instead of a singer. “Count me in for the yelling.”