5 Seconds Of Summer’s friendship as a band has weathered the making of five albums, multiple year-long tours, and the growing pains of transitioning into adulthood while in the public eye. As NME meets the group in a penthouse suite of a central London hotel to discuss their stellar new record, September’s ‘5SOS5’, a heartwarming supercut of their history begins to materialise as we talk: from their days in the capital as they worked on their 2014 self-titled debut, to the time they busked outside the Royal Albert Hall as bright-eyed teenagers.
Since forming in late 2011 in Sydney, Australia, the group – comprising lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Luke Hemmings, lead guitarist Michael Clifford, bassist Calum Hood and Ashton Irwin on drums – have always thrived on making vibrant, neon-hued pop-rock music together, yet latest offering ‘5SOS5’ is deliberately understated. There’s a lightness in its exploratory guitar parts: the songs combine vivid imagery rooted in intimacy and hope for a brighter future. In its own way, ‘5SOS5’ is an understated reminder of why friendship can be vital when everything else seems to be crumbling.
Sparked by a jam session in late 2020 that felt, in their words, “refreshingly effortless”, the band recorded and produced the majority of ‘5SOS5’ at the world-renowned Joshua Tree Studios in California, which have previously been used by seminal musicians including PJ Harvey and Arctic Monkeys. “We just booked a trip, and decided to hang out and see what happens. There’s no other way to explain it than it just felt right for us,” says Clifford today. The guitarist also took over the reins of production duties on ‘5SOS5’, while the album was released independently through record label BMG – two firsts in the band’s decade-long career.
The day before their recent Royal Albert Hall show, NME sat down with 5 Seconds Of Summer for the latest instalment of our In Conversation series to chat starting over, creating ‘5SOS5’, and what the band’s future looks like.
NME: You’re in London ahead of ‘The Feeling Of Falling Upwards’, a one-off show you’ll perform at Royal Albert Hall in support of ‘5SOS5’. Why did you choose to launch the new album this way?
Calum: “We moved to London in 2012, and learned how to write here – and now, our biggest goal as a band is to progress as songwriters, it’s become a huge part of our identity. A part of us was born here; coming back to London after 10 years completes that special cycle of our band. To be accompanied by an orchestra [at the show] will bring out a different light in both our old and new songs.”
Ashton: “We used to busk outside the Royal Albert Hall, and play some of our early songs that were written in Australia – like ‘Try Hard’, ‘Heartbreak Girl’, and ‘Out Of My Limit’. To play there, in such a space where we’d left a lot of hopeful energy in that space; we hadn’t expected anything. To be going back to those chapters is amazing.”
When you started out as buskers, what was on the bucket list for the band?
Ashton: “We were very simplistic in our thoughts; we were already blown away by the fact that we were in England! We had left our families, homes, and schools [to move here] for good or worse, and we had fully accepted the experience: so much was happening to us in London while we were learning to write songs, and how to communicate what we were to other people. All of those memories have become bookmarks in our story.”
‘5SOS5’ is the first album that you’ve released independently. Why has it been so important for you to gain greater creative control over your music?
Michael: “I think it’s been about the process of exploration, and discovering who we are as fully-grown adults. We’ve changed a lot over the years, and the way we created music needed to change with that as well. This has been the only album where we haven’t premeditated a creation start day: in the past, it’s always been like, ‘So we’ve got this short period to make the album.’ Whereas on this we just booked a trip, and decided to hang out and see what happens. There’s no other way to explain it than it just felt right for us.”
Luke, you previously described the new album as an “exploration of friendship and brotherhood.” How has the band dynamic evolved over time?
Luke: “In many ways, this album feels like the first one to me. The debut was recorded when we were living in London and didn’t really know what we were doing – and this time around, we had this freedom and sense of feeling carefree, in a way that we didn’t really have the last time around. I think that really shines through in the lyrics: everything has changed, and nothing has changed for us. It was nice to feel as though we’re able to do all of this on our own.”
The idea of starting over is a prominent theme on ‘5SOS5’. What has been so powerful about seeing the new album as a clean slate for the band?
Ashton: “We’ve given a lot away in the past without knowing, and I think it takes time, as humans, to learn how to respect yourselves. Recently, we have started to love and respect our band deeper than ever.”
Luke: “Everything shut down for the pandemic, and we were separated [as a band] for a bit, which gave us time to figure ourselves out a little bit more. We realised what a gift it is that we are all still friends, and that people still want meaning from our lyrics and want to see what we have to say still. It’s such a special thing. When you’re in a hamster wheel of tours and albums, you need a second away from it – and you can think, ‘Oh shit, this is amazing.’ There’s people in the music industry that can’t believe we’re still friends, but I think our simple goals come across more clearly than ever on the new album.”
How have you grown to show compassion to your younger selves?
Luke: “We love what we did back then, and you have to trust that you were making the right decisions for yourselves at the time – even in five years’ time, I’d hope that I made the right decisions when it comes to these new songs. I may not even connect to this new album in 10 years’ time, but I’m trying to live in the present a bit more. I don’t dislike our old selves at all… you have feelings about that time, because other people said [negative] things about us: we had simple goals, and what everyone else thought about us at the time, I took on personally – but now, I don’t.”
What have you learned about each other throughout the process of making ‘5SOS5’?
Michael: “Personally, I just really fell in love with the process of working with the rest of the band; I really loved every moment of [creating ‘5SOS5’]. I realised that I really don’t like making music without [the rest of the band] now. It was really awesome.”
Ashton: “Yeah, it is just big ‘mutual respect vibes’ between us all now. Also, you realise that life gets hard… as we get older, we’re like, ‘Oh my god, this [work] is so special and peaceful in comparison to other things that life can throw at you.’ Individually, I think we all really appreciate the support and openness we’ve shown in revisiting ourselves, and our band, together. I don’t know if I would have had any of the experiences I’ve had in life, or the things I’ve seen and done, without the rest of this band. It’s crazy.”