5 Seconds of Summer
Back in 2013, 5 Seconds of Summer stepped out onto stadium stages, basking in the glow of a sold-out crowd ready for a One Direction concert. The Australian band was thrilled and grateful to be the opening act for what was arguably the biggest band in the world, playing more than a hundred shows on three different continents before they’d even released their first studio album.
But they also saw what could be. In each stadium they opened for One Direction on that tour, drummer Ashton Irwin would tell the rest of the band they’d be back the next year to headline that same space, selling it out on their own.
“And we did. The places we played with 1D, we came back with our own album and toured the same places,” says frontman Luke Hemmings, who was 16 when the band got its start. “We’re always a bit ambitious, almost delusional. I think you have to be to get where you want to go. And we still are. You always say maybe if you work hard enough, maybe you’ll get there. We’ve always been that way — very ambitious.”
Nowhere is that ambition more easily seen than on Youngblood, their forthcoming third album, out June 22. 5 Seconds of Summer, nicknamed 5SOS and pronounced “Five Sauce,” are shedding their genre labels, from boy band to pop-punk, and reaching for a crossover, pop-rock appeal that could introduce them to a whole new audience.
Indeed, it’s a more grown-up album than their self-titled debut or its follow-up, Sounds Good Feels Good, which featured cheeky hits about putting up with a girlfriend who’s always “bitching” and “screaming” because “she’s kinda hot” — catchy as it was. It was the sound of youth, perfectly captured — utterly smitten by a crush, sneaking out of windows and staying out all night, inevitable heartache. In 2018, it’s the sound of a band that’s still having the time of their lives, but they’re no longer 16.
Youngblood is more mature not only in its storytelling, but also its musical flourishes — or lack thereof. Hemmings calls it “smarter” than Sounds Good Feels Good, which was a more straight-up rock record, written that way partly because they could. The days of throwing more guitars and drums into the mix “because you’re a band and you want to make everything sound like a rock band” are behind them.
Take the title track ‘Youngblood’: One guitar accompanies Hemmings’ voice from the start, followed by touches of percussion. It builds, the bass pulsing with an irresistible, propulsive stomp, finally adding a second guitar. The actual drums don’t hit until the second chorus. The result is more restrained and more focused on Hemmings’ elastic vocals, delicate in the verses and soaring in the chorus, pulling off acrobatics that recall Young the Giant’s Sameer Gadhia. It’s easily one of the band’s best offerings yet.
“It’s very simple, and it’s about stripping back to what the song and melody are without anything behind it, then adding in certain things to serve the song, as opposed to adding in whatever for prideful rock band reasons,” Hemmings says with a laugh. “The third album sounds very different as our band grows and evolves.”
The rest of the album follows suit, musically and lyrically. ‘Want You Back’ has the pop chops to win over a Maroon 5 crowd, and standout track ‘Lie to Me’ sees Hemmings learning to move on from a painful breakup with grace, noting that she looks happy, but lamenting in the chorus, “I know you don’t, but if I ask you if you love me / I hope you lie to me.”
The growth Hemmings describes was hard earned. Catapulting to fame after a series of YouTube covers started turning heads in 2011, 5SOS is a group of friends who met in high school at Norwest Christian College in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia, and cultivated a hardcore global fan base before they’d officially released any studio recordings. Once they did, they barreled forward, their debut album selling millions of copies and storming charts around the world. When their sophomore album also debuted at No. 1 in the United States, they became the first non-vocal group to have its first two studio albums debut at the peak of the Billboard 200.
The four teenagers plunged headfirst into more than five years of recording, promo, arena gigs and the commitment to a good party that is the birthright of every young rock band in the middle of a meteoric rise.
When it was all over, they needed to decompress. Physically, emotionally and creatively drained, they moved to Los Angeles and lived apart — though not far from each other; don’t worry — taking time to reflect on what on earth had happened over the last half a decade.
“It was a weird time, honestly,” he says. “I’m still unraveling what happened in that crazy time. We all tried to have somewhat of a normal home (in Los Angeles).”
After the release of Sounds Good Feels Good, the streaming market exploded, changing the game for a band who’d just figured it out.
“It was kind of like a whole new music industry,” he says. “We were trying to find out what our fans want to hear and what we want to say and how we fit in the music industry at this point in time. That was a lot to figure out, which is why (Youngblood) took so long to make. It was a weird time, but we pushed through it.”
It was a pivotal moment. The longevity of the band depended on a group of songwriters who were in the middle of pressing a creative reset button, trying to sort out normal life for the first time. In the back of their minds, though, they knew they had to get cracking on their third album. Hemmings says they knew whatever they created next “had to be great” — no pressure.
Using their newfound time and space in L.A. to push themselves, each band member explored new instruments and influences: Hemmings learned the piano, immersed himself in more hip-hop and got into The Cure.
Together, they expanded their horizons in the studio, too. On their first two albums, they worked with producer and occasional co-writer John Feldmann of Goldfinger, whose credits with All Time Low, Good Charlotte, Panic! At The Disco, Blink-182 and more made him a perfect fit for 5SOS. His stature in the pop-punk community also lent them the cred they needed to push back against the boy-band label that followed them early on, despite the fact that they played their own instruments with no choreography in sight.
“When people stopped calling us a boy band, I thought maybe we’re in a little bit of trouble now because then we look old and we’re all worn out or something,” Hemmings says with a laugh. The boy-band label still confuses him, but it doesn’t bother him. “It was a little frustrating at the start, but it was cool that people couldn’t quite figure out where we were. Are you a boy band? Are you a rock band? It’s always a good thing to challenge people’s headspace on where music sits. With music the way it is today, it seems almost genre-less.”
Perhaps genre ambiguity and a growing love of hip-hop is what now pushed 5SOS toward producer Mike Elizondo, best known as the right hand man of Dr. Dre and Eminem, working with nearly every household name in hip-hop and co-writing some of their most recognizable hits, such as Eminem’s ‘The Real Slim Shady’ and ‘Just Lose It.’ Elizondo isn’t afraid to branch out, though, also turning out critical hits with Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine, Tegan and Sara’s Heartthrob and, of particular note to the 5SOS guys, Twenty One Pilots’ genre-bending Blurryface.
Behind the scenes, Youngblood features a compendium of hit-making songwriters including Justin Tranter, Andrew Watt and Ali Tamposi, who, among them, have probably had a hand in at least one song on the Top 40 chart at any given point in time — Imagine Dragons, Gwen Stefani, Justin Bieber, Kelly Clarkson, Linkin Park, Cardi B, Camila Cabello, just to start. Swedish songwriters and producers Carl and Rami (Madonna, Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj) played a large part, as did producer Noah Passovoy, known for finessing Maroon 5’s sound, an influence that filters through on Youngblood.
“It took us a minute to get to the point where we could sit in the same room as them and be on par and write something awesome,” Hemmings says. “I think it’s very reflective on our lives and where the band was at that point in time, emotionally, having relationships struggle through touring, then end, then start. They’re all those things a person would go through anyway in their teens and early twenties, amplified by the kind of platform we have.”
So many collaborations during a time of creative transition could have been a disaster. Yet, Youngblood still sounds like one cohesive record, which speaks to 5SOS’s guiding hand over the album as a whole.
“I’m proud that we took a risk and, even though it was really scary, took more time on (the new album),” Hemmings says. “I’m proud of the songs we wrote. Particularly, ‘Youngblood’ and ‘Lie to Me’ are two of my favorites. I’m proud of the songwriting.”
Even as their sound evolves, 5SOS isn’t leaving their existing fan base behind. Their core supporters will always share a connection with them because, although they live on different planes, they’ve grown up together.
“It’s funny. We just went through Europe, the U.K. and America. When I was 16 or 17 playing these venues — we came back to these venues to show our hardcore fans the new songs — I saw the same people outside camping the night before. I saw them four years ago, and they’re still there,” Hemmings says. “It’s a beautiful thing. Our fans are amazing. It was a little crazy at the start, but we see eye to eye; we’re the same age. To have that dedication is hard sought after, and we’re blessed to have that.”
Three albums in, Youngblood is the sound of a band in motion, a group of songwriters and friends leaving youth behind and trying something bold together. It feels ambitious but not foolish, or even as delusional as they may think — it feels like it just might work.
“We pulled through that time in 2017 and came out of it with the best one yet,” Hemmings says. “It’s the best one we have.”
Photographer: Alexandra Gavillet
Stylist: Noah Raf:
Writer: Sonja Singh