In the midst of a sea of screaming girls and iPhones dancing in the air, I find myself at a 5 Seconds of Summer
gig at Heaven, London. A high energy experience, leaving me with catchy chorus after catchy chorus stuck in my head that simply won’t leave. Fast forward one day and I’m chilling with the boys - Luke Hemmings, Calum Hood, Ashton Irwin, and Michael Clifford - in a hotel room. The crowds of girls have shifted from the full venue of last night to the streets outside the London Edition Hotel - patiently waiting, just in case they get a glimpse of the Australian pop-punk band. I admire the positivity and don’t dear tell them the likelihood of seeing the guys is slim, as I know they have a hectic day of back-to-back interviews and are already running behind schedule. When I walk into the hotel room, I see the guys laying flat on the sofa and large bed in the suite. This is chilled attitude at its finest. I like them immediately.
They’ve grown up. No longer teenage boys, but young men in their twenties. After a couple of years away, the band is now back with their third album, Youngblood'. Having had some time to settle in new homes, time away from life on the road and time to live a little - they've had a chance to mature and develop personally as well as musically. They explain that this third album is the most accurate and vulnerable version of 5 Seconds of Summer their audience have been able to see yet, and are excited to share it and for people to hear it.
The band's new look and attitude is more mature and they seem comfortable in their own skin, having learned a lesson or two from last round. Allowing themselves to take some time to live a little and embrace a few life experiences and challenges, the lyrics we are served in this album go a little deeper and feel even more honest. And although we’re still given a high energy experience with 'Youngblood’, songs like ‘Ghost of You’ really tickles the curiosity in a wonderfully cinematic way, and ‘Why Won’t You Love Me’ surprisingly understands the broken heart in you. If their first single release from the album 'Want You Back’ is anything to go by, their audience really does want them back - having already received millions of streams across online platforms. And my ears still ringing from all the screaming experienced during last night’s gig also support this.
”Come to bed”, Luke signals to Calum, as we prepare to capture the second setup of images. I didn’t expect the guys to be so honest, but within the hour I have with them, there is authenticity, honesty and vulnerability. And it is this authenticity and honest experience of life that makes ‘Youngblood’ an exciting release.
I’ve been pondering over what your band name means.
Luke: Let me guess. Does the first one relate to English summers?
Yes, but I have a few theories I'd love to throw at you. Is it that summers are really short here or perhaps on a deeper level that life is really short? Or it is basically just a big cry for help... five times?
Calum: haha yes, definitely the last one!
I knew it. You guys, you broke up with us a few years ago, and now you want us back?!?
Calum: Yep. Very much so…. (laughs)
Luke: You know, it’s been a rough break-up, I think it’s the time where exes can get back together and we can be happy. We’ll be good together.
Calum: At the end of 2016 after we had toured our second album around the world, we took a couple of months to ourselves and regathered everything, we built personal lives for ourselves and found homes. Then we wrote the third album, so that’s where we’ve been, really.
You’ve had a chance to spend some time doing separate things in Los Angeles, simply living and finding new creative inspiration so you can come back with something new and exciting. Now, three years after your last album release, you are finally releasing a new album ‘Youngblood’ 22nd of June. Tell me a little bit about what you have been up to and how this album feels different for you guys?
Luke: The third album is different, because it feels like the first album for us where we have our own stamp musically, lyrically, and aesthetically - we are totally 100% us. We are now in our twenties and have been doing this for almost seven years, and this is our third album. Not to discredit the first two, but we were 16 when we wrote the first album and 18-19 on the second album, which is when you’re figuring yourself out. We were all songwriting on those albums as well, but I think we really concentrated on the songwriting in this third album. Also living in separate places in Los Angeles, where we are based now, this made it quite different, as well as with the added experience of being in and out of relationships, coming off five years of touring and figuring all that out. Based on all that we wrote a new album.
Calum: I think for me, it’s just more relative. During this album, I fell in love with a different dimension of music, and as Luke said, we really took time to really immerse ourselves into our personal lives, so we could create something that was special for us and special for other people. Which is kind of so personal to have something so broad.
Luke: Yeah, it felt like we were starting again when we went to make the third album.
Was that a good feeling or a scary feeling?
Luke: It was terrifying at the start, 'cause you have to go in and try a bunch of new stuff. Most of the time it doesn’t work, or you’ll get glimpses of; ‘oh, this is really cool, and then the next week you think it doesn’t sound quite right anymore. And it was actually how we found a direction where we felt it was exactly where we wanted to go. So it was scary for a while, and then rewarding, as things are when you take a bunch of risks.
Calum: There were a bunch of failed attempts. They are almost heartbreaking, 'cause you put so much energy and emotional property into something - and to see if not make sense or not connect with you as you as much as you thought it would is tough. There was a lot of starting again.
I think art in itself is all about failing, trying things, growing, and finding your path.
You guys had an intimate gig at Heaven, London yesterday, which had a lot of energy. I had a listen to your new album, 'Youngblood', this morning, and although it’s still very feel-good and catchy chorus after catchy chorus - it feels like you guys are in a different and more mature space?
Michael: I think it’s in a different space, but it also remains true to where we’ve been. It’s a departure in a sense, and it feels like a new band, but if you’ve been a fan of our band for a while, you’ll be able to hear it as the same band. It’s been an awesome process of finding different ways to make it feel super fresh, but to also make it feel like it’s still true to the music we’ve made before.
In ‘Young Blood’ the songs still centre around love, but this time it feels like the lyrics go a little deeper and more mature, having experienced that love, perhaps, is not always that easy. So for me, as a more mature audience, it felt like I could connect with the songs in a different way.
Michael: We were young and so full of energy - we were so excited, which really translated into our music. The type of bands we looked up to were bands that made you feel good when you listened to them. and I think it took us a while to figure out how to translate that energy of feeling good into music where we could sing about real things and stuff that isn’t always positive - but it still has the essence of what makes you feel good. Like crying, crying feels fucking great!
Yes, do you guys cry?
Michael: I do, I’m a cryer.
Luke: In the first album, as well as now, that’s still our thing - that it’s an escape for people, and it’s always a good time at our show. You can only write about what’s happening to you. With the first album, we were young and didn’t have much life experience, and in this third album, it shows growth as you try to find yourself.
Calum: For five years we didn’t have a home and there was no sense of reality, so when we took a break, it was hard for us 'cause we had no life, really. It was just the band on the road, so when we stopped in one place it was almost like a rude awakening for us.
Luke: It also gives you more perspective doing that, cause in the second album, like Calum said, at the end of the day what we did for all that time is a beautiful thing, and we’d never have it any other way. You look back and you wonder how it’s even possible. But when you’re in the middle of it, lyrics like in “I’ve Got A Jet-black Heart” on the second album, that’s a very confused man. And then you stop somewhere like we did, and you go write an album again, there is always a lot of melancholy, and I feel like especially on this album it’s very light and dark. It has the darkness, but with a realistic approach, like you mentioned before, the lyrics.
Michael: Yeah, and I think we figured out how to write lyrics that you personally could connect with and lyrics that could be more ambiguous. I don’t like questions like; ‘who is this song about’, 'cause I feel like it ruins the whole mystery of what a song is.
The first two albums you were teenagers and you’re now in your twenties. What have you learned during these years since we last saw you on stage, and have you become men yet?
Calum: If that’s referring to me having chest hair now, then yes. We’ve become men in that way, haha.
Luke: It’s lovely, I think you just get better at it as you go. This has been a pretty gruelling five weeks, but you learn that you can’t go out and drink every night and then get up and do twelve hours of promo and then play a show. We learned that pretty quickly.
Haha, well done, well learned.
Luke: I mean, taking care of yourself and knowing why maybe sometimes you are not feeling good and like you just want to tell everyone in the room to fuck off, and knowing why that is a feeling you’re having, that’s important. Otherwise, you’re just very confused and you write lyrics like 'Jet-black Heat, I supposed.
Calum: It’s a slippery slope, haha. Since the last album, I think, as a band we have learned self-worth. We’ve learned confidence in our ability, we’ve learned to trust our own judgement, and I think we’ve learned responsibility as well. We really took this album, drove it ourselves and we made it what it is.
The lead single, ‘Want You Back’, from the new album has had over 55 million streams worldwide since released in February this year. If that’s an indicator of how people feel about the new release, how do you feel about that?
Luke: I think it’s one bagillion maybe?
Calum: Us releasing new music has made people be really interested in it, 'cause I think people were wondering what we were going to do next. Our fans and also people in the music industry, everyone was curious about why we took such a long break and what we were gonna come back with. I think 'I Want You Back' is not really what people were expecting, but what you are hearing is the most honest version of 5 Seconds of Summer.
Michael: Lyrically it feels like we’ve found our place. Melodically it feels like we’re sitting right in the pocket of where 5 Seconds of Summer was meant to be.
With such vulnerability, is that scary or exciting having added more of yourself into this new album?
Luke: I think the second album was the same level of vulnerability, the third album is just more personable where it’s about very every day things. I guess what I’m trying to say is that all of our stuff feels very vulnerable to me, but the third album is more about everyday things - more life things. Comfortability and vulnerability. It’s like we’re not whining about it as much, haha.
Michael: Every album we’ve put out we have put our hearts and souls into and made it exactly what we want it to be, and I feel that we were quite hindered by that because of our age and our life experience - with this album it’s been purely correct.
Are you guys curious which songs on the new album I connected the most with?
Luke: I’m curious, can I guess?
Yes, please, there are two.
Luke: Can I get some background info first?
Luke: Ok, it’s gonna be one of these three: 'Light of Me', 'Youngblood' and 'Ghost of You'.
One is correct! The last one.
Luke: 'Ghost of You'? I knew it.
I’m a ballad girl and 'Ghost of You' is probably the one that intrigued me the most, because I was like: “what is this about”. It has a really cinematic feel to it. This is the kind of song that will make you cry when you’re watching a movie.
Michael: Yeah, that’s my favourite song of the record as well.
Luke: I’m really glad you like that song.
I felt like it really gave me as a listener the space to try to figure out what the story was. And another one that I really connected with, as it fits right in with my own non-existing love-life, was 'Why Won’t You Love Me'. It just feels me, you know what I mean?
Luke: Ahh! Yeah. That’s interesting, 'cause 'Why Won’t You Love Me' is the oldest song on the third album. This song was written two years ago.
Is that coming from you, Luke? Is it your pain I’m connecting with?
Luke: Maybe. It puts me sitting in a plane looking out the window thinking; “Fuck, wish I wasn’t leaving.” That’s interesting, I wouldn’t have guessed that one.
I know right, but as I said I’m a ballad person.
Michael: Aren’t we all? A good cry with a ballad.
Calum: Not discrediting you, but I mean, I love a good ballad.
But there are also a lot of really high energy, upbeat tracks with catchy choruses on the album.
Michael: There are actually fewer ballads on this album than our other ones, which is interesting because I think we found a place to make it feel more ballady - how to make high energy songs feel more ballady in a way.
If we strip back the feel-good energy music you project on stage and take off the masks you wear, what are we left with? I like to go deep and dark.
Michael: I think we’re pretty similar to what you see. Doing promo for the first two records, we thought that we had to be super chipper.
Luke: Chipper? haha
Michael: Yeah; "We just have so much fun and we’re all best friends." Going into this third album, it’s exhausting to do that and I don’t think it’s that interesting to people if people look at us and think; “Look at them, they’re all having so much fun and they’re always in the best moods and they’re always best friends”. I think it’s better for us to be able to have dimensions to us and see that we’re not always gonna be in the best mood, and that’s why sometimes you’ll watch an interview and you’ll see one of us just sitting there not saying anything.
It’s more realistic, isn’t it?
Michael: Yeah, and that’s the whole thing with the album. I think it’s really important that we have dimensions.
Michael, I know that you went through a bit of a depression, and I'd love to touch on that if that's ok? It’s always inspiring when someone like you are vulnerable enough to talk about issues of mental health and how you deal with this. It helps the rest of us when we have shit days, like all of us do.
Michael: Yeah, I think when that came out I was in a really tough period of my life, where I was learning different things about myself. I valued myself so little that I would let myself be hurt and fall into these bad patterns. It was a rough couple of months, and then I met my girlfriend and she really helped me get out of that place. Being in a band is so tough, doing this can be so hard, and it’s a massive weight off me to even have that spoken about. It was cool to talk about something real and something that actually mattered - something that felt like it had substance.
I talk to a lot of guys, and so many young men struggle with mentall health. I think it's important to bring some of these discussions to the surface. What would you say to them on what you can do when you do feel down?
Michael: The way I helped myself was just being honest with myself and being aware. The main thing is, if you can, to see yourself from an outside perspective. You have to look at it from an unbiased opinion of what is happening to you and why you feel the way you do. That’s the whole point of therapy, it’s basically to have someone else on the outside you can to get an unbiased opinion. And if you can’t do therapy, then at least try and have the guts to look at it and not feel emotional about it. Obviously, that’s super hard for anyone, but that was what helped me.
Thank you for sharing that. You guys have been awesome, thank you for being so honest with me. Just to round off everything, you’re now starting this journey again with your third album - what are you the most excited about this time around?
Luke: I’m excited for fans and anyone else who listens to see where we are at in our lives. Sometimes people see you where you’ve been in the past, and I’d love for people to see where we are at today.
Calum: Yeah, I’m also excited to update people on where we are now. I’m excited to release music that is relative to us now. I'm excited to go see as many people as we can on this tour. I’m excited to play new songs live. I’m just excited in general.
Michael: It feels like the beginning of a new life, if that makes sense. When we’ve been touring the world with what we have released in the past, it has felt like it was quite separate from now. Now, it feels like we’ve grown up and we’re comfortable in where we are in our lives.
The band’s new album ‘Youngblood’ is out now!
“Is this sultry?” Sure Calum.