“We Were Determined To Play On” 5 Seconds Of Summer Is An Eternal Brotherhood

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It’s not a nostalgia trip. Pop-punk and emo music have never been just a phase. It’s been proven on more than one occasion that the style surrounding the genres and the ridiculously tongue-in-cheek choruses, which were highly celebrated back in 2014, have returned to mainstream music and culture; for a band who partook in cashing in on that in all its glory, 5 Seconds of Summer – comprised of Luke Hemmings, Calum Hood, Ashton Irwin, and Michael Clifford – couldn’t be further away from the space they once dominated. 

While the world’s love affair with the band who became known for singing about American Apparel underwear has only intensified over the years, proving time and time again that they’re not merely a nostalgia band for those in their teens, 5 Seconds of Summer have defied generational borders, switching up their sound with each record, and to this day, continue to grow an insanely loyal fanbase. Making sense of their humble beginnings – though it includes a rollercoaster of events including One Direction and, at times, some stereotypical fangirl behaviour – doesn’t require much work as the band are always more than happy to take you down memory lane given the chance. Over their ten years together, theirs is a story of teenage dreams, unbelievable heights, and an extensive use of the word ‘soon’. And with music and a fanbase like theirs, it’s no wonder they’re still around. 

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You could say that their story starts in 2013, back when they opened for One Direction on their Take Me Home tour, but really, it starts a bit before that. Having had three out of four members (Hemmings, Clifford, and Hood) attend the same high school, it was only a matter of time before they joined forces, and began posting covers of themselves on Hemmings’ YouTube channel, kickstarting what was evidently their calling in life. Growing into a strong group of brothers, all of whom were bonded by their shared passion for music, they couldn’t find a drummer fast enough and that’s where Irwin comes into the picture. Fast forward to the present, five records down the line (eight if you include their live albums), the Australian quartet have spent their career relentlessly proving their worth and have immortalised everything that they are in their most recent project ‘The Feeling of Falling Upwards’ – a live album recorded at their one-off show at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Serving as a geographical signifier of their growth, as the foursome used to busk and host fan meet-ups across the street from the iconic venue in their earlier days, lead vocalist and guitarist Luke Hemmings shares how they wanted to stamp those milestones in their lives. “Having been a band for over ten years, we had sort of done the same thing every time,” he begins, referring to each album cycle release. “You know, you go and see everyone, you do this and that, you change it up a little each time but for this one, we wanted to do something special” he continues. “Five albums, ten years, that landmark is thought to be really special so we wanted to set a celebration and do it in a different way,” he emphasises before moving on to discuss how it all came together. “We’ve always wanted to do a big show with a choir and strings,” he’s quick to admit. “I think a lot of our songs, especially on the fifth album, sort of made sense for us to do that,” he notes.

“Even on our second album, there are songs we never got to play this way before,” he points out. “It was a bit of a mad time trying to pull it all together but it worked out in the end. I think wanting to do something different and realising that there are these milestones in our lives as a band, we really wanted to stamp that somehow and it’s a really beautiful memory. I’m so glad we recorded it,” he finishes before letting guitarist/vocalist, and now producer, Michael Clifford swoop in. “London was a place that we were based out of for so long and it’s always been really special to us,” adds Clifford. “We played, well busked, outside of that venue [the Royal Albert Hall] back when we were like 15 so it’s a full circle moment for us,” he continues. “That venue is so iconic and legendary too that you only dream of playing something like that.”

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Although they’re separated for this interview – Hemmings and Clifford in one chat, Hood in another, and Irwin giving his input via email – they’re shockingly in tune with each other in terms of how they speak about everything. Continuing to reflect on choosing London as the location, bassist/vocalist Calum Hood and drummer/vocalist Ashton Irwin both credit the bands sheer determination. “We had a lot of ambition, especially as a young band, and we still do,” Hood informs us. “A lot of the credit for that goes to how we were raised and where we come from because what are the odds that we’re still together?” he questions. “I think for that time, being in London and writing our first album, it was about being super present. We were just enjoying creating together and living together,” he adds. “All we wanted to do was write great songs and we were sure everything else would follow if the music was incredible,” he finishes before Irwin perfectly picks up where he left off, touching on the times they busked outside the venue they had recently sold out. “It’s a strange feeling that’s both sad and existentially challenging because the nature of those times we were busking outside the Royal Albert Hall were legitimately really tough for us,” he openly admits. “We were just kids on the other side of the planet hoping it would all work out and that we wouldn’t have to return to Australia with nothing,” he remarks. “We were determined to play on and on, and we did.”

After finishing the Royal Albert Hall show, the questions about how they adjusted to an orchestra as a band who are cemented to their rockish roots were endless. How did they pick the setlist? How did they turn guitar-heavy and drum-driven tracks into stripped-back, orchestral masterpieces? And obviously, how did they approach the idea as a whole? People wanted to know it all. “When we were planning the show, we knew we wanted to play a bunch of new songs but then, having such an incredible opportunity like this, we also really wanted to be able to go back to our roots,” starts Clifford. “It was tough figuring out what songs worked and what ones we wanted to represent from the new album because nobody knew them yet. No one had heard them until we played them and that was the fun part of picking the new songs,” he beams proudly. “We have also always envisioned playing ‘Outer Space’ with an orchestra and a choir. It’s the way the younger versions of us had imagined it”.

“It’s not something that would traditionally make a setlist because nobody really knows it. It’s a very deep cut on our second album but we felt like we owed it to ourselves and to the people who have been around for a long time to play it,” he continues. “It was sort of like an ode to those versions of ourselves and something for the fans,” he wraps up, allowing Hemmings time to have his say in which he spoke of ‘Outer Space’. “We’ve never been able to play it to the standard we did that night and we probably won’t play it ever again unless we have another orchestra or choir with us,” Hemmings painfully admits. “It’ll just be really tough to beat. It sounded too good at the Royal Albert Hall.”

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Expanding on Clifford’s line – the one about the one-off show being an incredible opportunity – as if they were sat next to each other, Hood touches on trusting and respecting both his bandmates and the team surrounding them. “We’re very lucky that we work with a lot of amazing people because this show wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible team that we have,” he proclaims. “We put a lot of trust in people to help guide that show since we’ve never done anything like it before and it was interesting listening to your peers and respecting their musical opinions because we’ve never played with anyone else on stage before besides each other,” he adds. “Having a string section and other musicians on stage was definitely a big shock to us but, in saying that, it added a different side to some of our older songs,” he reflects. “I kind of fell in love with ‘She Looks So Perfect’ all over again when I heard that being played. I’d never heard it like that before, with the way Luke delivers that vocal, and we’ve played it a million times,” he exclaims. “For me, it was a time of reflection where I just felt super lucky to be in a band where, you know, years later I’m still super stoked to hear the songs that we’ve played for years.”

When making the first tentative steps towards conceptualising the show, Irwin gives the impression that they were made for this. “The preparation has been a decade-long pursuit of challenging the extent of the bands live show,” he says. “We’ve always rehearsed hard and committed to hundreds of hours of practice weekly to creatively construct the live show,” he continues. “In many ways, I hope our fans know that the live albums are actually much more of a creative high sometimes than the records and you can hear that in the recordings. You’re hearing the living soul of the band and that’s what we wanted to preserve and immortalise.”

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Part of the real magic of 5 Seconds Of Summer, however, is the friendship and brotherhood between them that’s proven to be incredibly strong. Whether they’re on stage throwing their instruments around, in the studio creating bangers or casually hanging out, their bond is undeniable and their chemistry constantly radiates between them. “We grew up as such a tight-knitted group. We lived with each other for years,” Hemmings tells us. “The whole waking moment for us was to get the band going and before we knew it, we were all busy. We were flying everywhere and it consumed our whole lives,” he vulnerably opens up, giving us a glimpse of how hard life in the limelight can be. “I think now, we’re in this place where we all have our own individual lives but still have the same brotherly dynamic,” he notes confidently. “We’re in such a good place as humans, and as a band, that when we play a show like that, I think it’s the emotional lead on some of those songs that have been out for years that get us through. You know, not all bands, or even friendships, last that long and we’re lucky to still have both,” he acknowledges. “That’s what you see when we’re on stage. It’s like a family get-together and honestly, it makes me feel really lucky in those moments.”

There’s a very obvious amount of love and dedication the foursome have for one another that not only shines through multiple times during our chat but also through their music – take ‘Best Friends’ from 2022’s 5SOS5 as an example, a track that employs a pop-punk melody, somewhat nodding back to their roots, whilst the band sing about loving each other and the memories they’ve shared – and though, sonically, the band have evolved from their first album to their most recent, you can still hear that closeness in 2014’s self-titled, a record that Hood declares to be a “time stamp for a lot of people’s youth.” “You come across a lot of people who kind of say the same thing about our first record,” he says. “You know, it’s a time stamp for a lot of people’s youth; it’s a huge one in mine as well,” he exclaims. “The type of music we were playing back then was super impulsive and everything was kind of derivative of the spirit of 5 Seconds of Summer at that time,” he shares. “I think that’s what resonated with a lot of people. I mean, we were just having fun.”

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It’s an enviable space that the quartet occupy. Having had a breakthrough in the mainstream music world less than a decade ago with their pop-punk soundscape, they have somehow mastered the idea of reinventing themselves across each project; rather than sticking with a formula they had perfected, they began adding new stylistic hues to their sonic palette, making them even harder to forget. “Throughout the years, we’ve tried to keep that consistency of creating things that feel like they just flow out of you,” Hood begins. “It has to feel natural and that’s on not creating anything that feels super rigid or feels like you’ve been in the studio for months,” he admits. “You know, you’re always changing, you’re always growing, so I think it’s important for the music to represent that as well,” he continues. “It’s important for us to put into perspective that the people who listen to our music were 13 or 14 when they first heard us and now they’re in their 20s. It’s important for those evolutionary changes in music and for those things to be relevant to the people who have grown up with us. That’s why we’ve made sonic changes and I think it’s super important for us to speak about that.”

While they were dealing with withdrawal from being unable to tour, the pandemic forcing their hand in the matter, that creatively fertile period proved to the band that being on stage is all they ever needed. “Getting back on stage was pretty glorifying,” Hood remarks. ”You could really tell that people had missed live music and that they missed being in an environment that made them feel free,” he notes. “That kind of transpired over to the band so, yet again, I was reminded of how loyal the fanbase has been to wait that long and to still be so receptive of us,” he continues. “There are definitely parts of that tour that were extremely hard, especially after not touring for two years, but at the end of the day, when you get on stage and feel what the crowd is feeling, it’s more than worth it,” he beams. “It’s amazing to hear the catalog that we have after five albums because those shows were a journey.”

It’s a great time to be 5 Seconds of Summer and this time, they really mean it. It’s not a paper-thin sentiment said through gritted teeth and fake smiles, it’s one delivered with a mature patience between them, a genuine sense of admiration and reflection, something that they’re keen on celebrating later this year. “The 5SOS Show is going to be a big celebration to say the least,” states Hood. “I think it’s going to be liberating and it’s going to feel free,” he adds. “A lot of it will see us going back to our musical roots as a band and I think we’re just ready to tackle the year as a big party,” he laughs. “Our intentions are to be able to see as many people as we can and to celebrate with as many people as we can,” he says before, yet again, having Irwin perfectly pick up where he left off. “The next tour will be mind-blowing in every corner of the 5SOS dimension,” Irwin expresses. “We will choose the set wisely to deliver a phenomenal evening of deep cuts, massive bangers and fan classics,” he promises. “We’re celebrating the whole 5SOS community and the whole history of making music as a band. It should be a really good time.”

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‘The Feeling of Falling Upwards’ is out now.

Words: Shannon Garner
Photograph: Andy Deluca