EYears since four Australian schoolboys were spotted performing songs by Bruno Mars and Justin Bieber on YouTube, plucked from obscurity and planted on some of the world’s biggest stages, 5 Seconds of Summer starts fresh. A few months before performing two sold-out homecoming shows in the Sydney Opera House forecourt, they are celebrating the release of 5SOS5, their (appropriately titled) fifth studio record – and their first to be released independently. They seize control, in more ways than one.
But first Luke Hemmings (vocals/guitar), Ashton Irwin (vocals/drums), Michael Clifford (vocals/guitar) and Calum Hood (vocals/bass) face another monumental creative task: an album release show at the Royal Albert Hall in London. . It is not only a location of global significance, but also of personal significance: they once drove outside the concert hall while traveling to London in their early years. This time they are inside, and accompanied by an orchestra.
“I think when” [the shows] Come on, I’m going to be very stressed and I’m going to try to enjoy it and not just focus on how stressed I am,” Hemmings says, sitting with Irwin in a studio in Eagle Rock, California. “I want to enjoy it and be able to fully remember it because there are parts of our career that I don’t remember just because of the volume and not being there.”
To fully understand the band’s meteoric rise over the past 11 years would be an incredible achievement for anyone, let alone a teenager. Barely a year after 5SOS’ first show in 2011, to a dozen people at the Annandale hotel in Sydney, they embarked on a nearly 100-date world tour supporting One Direction. By then they played in front of more than 80,000 people for four nights at the Allphones Arena in Sydney.
When the popularity of boy bands like One Direction and BTS rose to levels that threatened the sound barrier, 5SOS took a different kind of path. They had a fresh, dynamic quality, like they did on the pop punk they grew up with. All four were born in the shadow of Green Day’s 1994 breakthrough Dookie (Irwin, now 28, is the oldest member of 5SOS), and they repackaged that chart-topper punk for a new generation. Within a few years, 5SOS became the only band in history to reach #1 on the Billboard 200 with each of their first three studio albums.
Since then, they’ve racked up five Aria awards at home, along with a lot of hardware abroad, and outlived the band that gave them that early lead (One Direction has been on hiatus since 2015). Their 2018 song Youngblood became the best-selling single in Australia that year, then the country’s eleventh best-selling single of all time, ranking 5SOS among AC/DC, Vance Joy and the Kid Laroi. They have sold more than 12 million albums worldwide.
As one of the most successful musical acts in Australian history, it would have been easy for 5SOS to just stick with what worked. They had perfected a formula and were enjoying the loot. But when pop started to shift into something akin to emo influences — Olivia Rodrigo and Machine Gun Kelly were credited with “saving” pop punk — 5SOS stepped back and switched.
What does it look like for this band to have to take a break in a way they haven’t done in ten years?
“You suddenly stop and you realize… uh, I’m sick right now and I want to move all the time, no matter what,” Irwin says. “And I Don’t Know How To” not Action.”
The pace of life on the road manifested itself in physical and emotional illness. In June, Irwin was hospitalized due to extreme heat exhaustion during a show in Texas. He has been sober since 2019 and suffers from body dysmorphism – something he wrote about on his song Skinny Skinny, from his debut solo album. Spending a decade under the glare of cameras and fame also contribute to their own kind of spiritual illness.
The pandemic was a “forced stop” for the entire band, and one that created a kind of enlightening freedom. They left for Joshua Tree to think and write together, without the same cycle of promotion and touring that they had come to associate with making music. When a producer’s planned visit to their makeshift studio was derailed by a flat tire, Clifford stepped in and set the sonic direction for 5SOS5, producing much of the record himself.
“We had a little more time to think about everything that had happened to us – unlike the years before that, when we were just writing an album, going on tour, writing an album and going on tour,” says Irwin. “It was an endless loop in a way.”
They reflected on how their meteoric rise, Irwin says, “affected us personally, mentally, physically and philosophically. So we just dived into that feeling and rode into the sunset with it.
In one of the first singles from the new album, Me, Myself and I, Hemmings sings that he is a pit of distress; get what he wants, but still not be satisfied. “A lot of [the new album] is about romantic relationships and friendships,” he says. “But it’s more about realizing that you may not have that many emotional tools in the tool belt to figure out why they’re affecting you.”
Just a few albums into their career, the sassy upstarts from Sydney were barely in their twenties when they began to experience the downside of their overnight success. On More they sang about “a house that’s full of everything we wanted/but it’s an empty house”. “A band is often a traumatic bond because you’ve been through so much together,” Irwin told NME in 2020.
Just a few years earlier, a Rolling Stone cover story depicted 5SOS as riotous kids who make the most of the good: partying hard and burning, but destined to be extinguished. The people in that story couldn’t seem more different from the ones standing in front of me now. Hemmings seems intent on questioning the emotional root of his songwriting; like Irwin, he released a solo album last year. And Irwin pursues all kinds of creativity, in the candid way that countless newcomers to LA have done before him. They are still young adults – yet adults, confronted with what it means to be “on the other side of 24”, watching scenes change and people disappear from view.
In the press biography for the new album, Irwin tells how he and his bandmates made a conscious and active choice to appear, to be in the band for another day. Nothing about the band, or their new album or where they end up, will be standard.
“When we decided to write together [in 2020], we had started to heal ourselves by moving so much and at such a fast pace,” says Irwin. “And that, in turn, started to heal our creative relationship together.”
“Healthy” is a word that often comes up in our conversation; Hemmings and Irwin talk about having healthy goals and patterns, making their health a priority, having their own life outside the band — “in a healthy way,” Hemmings clarifies. Getting out of each other’s pockets allowed them to find a new way forward together.
“It’s almost like going back to the basics of the band,” Hemmings says. And after an era marked by a heavy and heavy feeling, he says that today “we’re trying to convey that light.”