The group 5 Seconds of Summer gets back to basics on “5SOS5,” writing and producing the bulk of the band’s fifth album in-band. What began as pandemic-related precaution soon turned into an opportunity to recalibrate their sound in an authentic way. After all, they launched as a teenage pop-punk outfit in 2014 and then proceeded to reinvent themselves on each subsequent project, detouring into the worlds of Top 40, electronica and R&B.
The Australian rockers started recording the album — which arrives this weekend — in late 2020 in Joshua Tree, CA. “We went up there with no expectations,” says guitarist Michael Clifford, who also doubled as producer. “We were still in the thick of the pandemic and none of us were really ready to write.” While tempted to cancel the trip, the band decided to simply go and hang out. Before too long, they were jamming and songs started taking shape in the hot Californian desert.
Frontman Luke Hemmings knew that they were on to something after writing eventual lead single “Complete Mess,” a soaring rock ballad with a psychedelic twist. “When we wrote it everything kind of clicked into place,” he says. “We knew we could make good music by ourselves.” As that first batch of songs came together, the band decided on its new sonic direction — namely, that the album’s off-the-cuff creation should be reflected in the production.
“A lot of this stuff was recorded in one take,” Clifford reveals. “The vocals of ‘Take My Hand’ come from the very first demo tape that Luke recorded, while the drum and bass on ‘Bloodhound’ were Calum and Ash playing at the same time in the room.” It gave the songs a loose, warm sound that inspired the rockers to go even bigger.
“We wanted it to sound raw and organic, but also vast and spacy,” Clifford says. “It felt like the perfect representation of the band’s identity.” It was important to let individual members shine, drawing on their growth as artists — Hemmings and drummer Ashton Irwin released solo records during the pandemic — and people. “It’s a very empowering feeling,” he continues. “We feel a real sense of ownership of this record.”
When asked if this is the purest distillation of the band’s sound, Hemmings agrees, albeit with a caveat. “I would say yes,” he muses, “but I probably would have said that about every album.” He puts the band’s manifold iterations down to the members’ ages. “When the band started, we were 16; you’re basically trying to figure out who you are. Maybe this one’s closer to where we’ll end up, but honestly, in another couple years, it could be totally different.”
While “5SOS5” began as an experiment on a Joshua Tree retreat, the band ultimately widened its circle and worked with external collaborators. “It was really fun doing it ourselves,” Hemmings says. “But it felt like the right time to stretch out and work with other people.” Clifford was hesitant at first. “Messing around together as opposed to doing sessions every day was fun,” he says. “We kept it our baby for as long as we could.”
One of the songs they recorded in a more traditional studio setting is new single “Bad Omens.” Co-written with Sarah Hudson and JHart, and produced by Jason Evigan, there’s an anthemic quality that was entirely intentional. “We really loved the work Jason did with Rüfüs Du Sol,” Irwin says. “We’ve always been interested in synthesizers because we’re looking to play a lot more festivals, so we’re attempting to write awesome music that’s built for that setting.”
As with much of the album, however, there are layers. “‘Bad Omens’ is all about self-harming emotionally,” Irwin continues. “The central metaphor is that you see a million red flags and choose to ignore every single one of them. It’s a pretty devastating jam.” By switching up their sound, they’re hoping to cast as wide a net as possible. “Different songs capture different kinds of people,” he says of the album’s eclectic array of sounds.
It’s a level of pragmatism that 5 Seconds of Summer has forged over time. “It feels like we have more understanding of what’s going on now,” bassist Calum Hood says. “It was very fun at the start and it’s very fun now, but we weren’t thinking about the bigger picture.” The band has tried to hold on to that freewheeling attitude as much as possible, but overthinking still happens. “For this album, we re-recorded things several times, probably to a fault,” he admits.
“We take a lot of pride in being young and still learning how to navigate an ever-changing industry,” Irwin adds. “It keeps you on your toes.” Part of that ever-changing landscape is TikTok. “Whether you are the biggest artist in the world or a complete nobody, you can still cut through,” Clifford says. “If TikTok was around 10 years ago, we would’ve been all over it.”
Hemmings agrees. “When we started in Western Sydney, so our only option to get our music out there was YouTube,” he says in reference to the band’s early covers. “Once we had a foot in the door, we ran with it.” And a decade later, they are still running. Which can take a toll. “We’re paying more attention to how the band feels,” Hemmings says. “How do we do this in a way that the band doesn’t wither away?”
While looking to the future is key, 5 Seconds of Summer is in no danger of disowning its early material, songs that are “very simple and full of life,” Irwin says. “We have a lot of gratitude for those early songs.” He’s also aware that the band wouldn’t be where it is today, complete with an ability to make their own rules, without hits like “Amnesia” and “She’s Kinda Hot.” Hood’s reason for loving those tracks is simpler: “They still rock.”