meEleven years since four Australian schoolboys were seen covering Bruno Mars and Justin Bieber songs on YouTube, plucked from obscurity and planted on some of the world’s biggest stages, 5 Seconds of Summer are starting over. A few months before they perform two sold-out homecoming shows on the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House, they are celebrating the release of 5SOS5, their fifth studio album (appropriately titled) and the first to be released independently. They are taking 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) are faced with another monumental creative task: an album release show at the Royal Albert Hall in London. . It is not only a place of global importance, but also one of personal importance: they once busked outside the concert hall during a trip to London in their formative years. This time they will be inside and accompanied by an orchestra.
“I think when [the shows] happens, 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,” says Hemmings, sitting with Irwin in a studio in Eagle Rock, California. “I want to enjoy it and be able to remember it completely, because there are parts of our career that I don’t remember, just because of the volume and not being present.”
Fully understanding the band’s meteoric rise over the last 11 years would be an incredible feat for anyone, let alone a teenager. Just a year after 5SOS’ first show in 2011, before a dozen people at Sydney’s Annandale Hotel, they embarked on a nearly 100-date world tour opening for One Direction. By then, they were playing to over 80,000 people over four nights at Sydney’s Allphones Arena.
Back in those days, as the popularity of boybands like One Direction and BTS rose to a level that threatened the sound barrier, 5SOS was forging a different path. They had a fresh and dynamic quality, drawing inspiration from the pop-punk they grew up with. The four were born in the shadow of Green Day’s 1994 breakthrough Dookie (Irwin, now 28, is the longest-serving member of 5SOS), and repackaged that chart-topping punk for a new generation. Within a few short years, 5SOS became the only band in history to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with each of their first three studio albums.
Since then, they’ve garnered five Aria Awards at home, along with plenty of hardware abroad, and outlasted the band that gave them that early lead (One Direction have been on hiatus since 2015). His 2018 song Youngblood became Australia’s best-selling single that year, then the country’s 11th best-selling single of all time, ranking 5SOS between AC/DC, Vance Joy and Kid Laroi. Worldwide, they have sold more than 12 million albums.
As one of the most successful musical acts in Australian history, it would have been easy for 5SOS to simply stick with what worked. They had perfected a formula and enjoyed the spoils. But as pop began to shift toward something similarly emo-influenced, with Olivia Rodrigo and Machine Gun Kelly credited with “saving” pop-punk, 5SOS stepped back and switched gears.
How does it look for this band to have to go on hiatus like they haven’t in a decade?
“Suddenly you stop and realize… uh, now I’m sick and I want to move all the time, no matter what,” says Irwin. “And I do not know how No Move on.”
The rhythm of life on the road manifests itself in physical and emotional illnesses. In June, Irwin was hospitalized for extreme heat exhaustion during a show in Texas. He has been sober since 2019 and has experienced body dysmorphia, something he wrote about in the song Skinny Skinny, from his debut solo album. Spending a decade in the glare of cameras and fame also contributes to his own kind of spiritual sickness.
The pandemic was a “forced stop” for the entire band, and one that created a kind of soothing freedom. They went to 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 his makeshift studio was derailed by a flat tire, Clifford took on the role and headed up 5SOS5’s sound direction, producing much of the record himself.
“We had a little bit more time to reflect on everything that had happened to us, unlike previous years where we were just writing an album, going on tour, writing an album, going on tour,” says Irwin. “It was, in a way, an endless loop.”
They reflected on how his rapid rise, Irwin says, “affected us personally, mentally, physically and philosophically. So we just immersed ourselves in that feeling and rode off into the sunset with it.”
On one of the first singles from the new album, Me, Myself and I, Hemmings sings about being a pit of need; him getting what he wants, but he still isn’t satisfied. “A lot of [the new album] it’s about romantic relationships and friendships,” he says. “But it’s more about realizing that maybe you don’t have as many emotional tools in your tool belt to figure out why they affect you.”
With only a few albums left in their career, the brash Sydney upstarts had barely hit their 20s when they began to experience the downside of their overnight success. In 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 they’ve been through so much together,” Irwin told NME in 2020.
Just a few years earlier, a Rolling Stone cover story painted 5SOS as rakish kids making the most of a good thing: party hard and burn, but destined to be extinct. The people in that story couldn’t seem more different than the ones in front of me now. Hemmings seems determined to interrogate the emotional root of his compositions; like Irwin, he released a solo album last year. And Irwin pursues creativity of all kinds, in the sincere way that countless newcomers to Los Angeles have before him. They are still young adults, but adults nonetheless, grappling with what it means to be “on the other side of 24”, watching scenes change and people disappear from sight.
In the press bio for the new album, Irwin talks about how he and his bandmates have made a conscious and active decision to show up, to be in the band one more day. Nothing about the band, or their new album or where they end up will be default.
“When we decided to write together [in 2020], we had begun to heal from moving so much and at such a high rate,” says Irwin. “And that, in turn, began to heal our creative relationship together.”
“Healthy” is a word that comes up often during our conversation; Hemmings and Irwin talk about having healthy goals and patterns, making sure their health is a priority, having their own lives outside the gang, “in a healthy way,” Hemmings says. Getting out of each other’s pockets allowed them to find a new way forward, together.
“It’s almost like we’re going back to basics of the band,” says Hemmings. And after an era defined by feeling heavy and weighed down, he says these days, “we’re trying to shed that light.”