"We’re not emulating our favourite bands anymore. We wanted to move on..." - 5 Seconds Of Summer talk new album Youngblood
For the first six years of their career, it felt like Australian pop-rock 5 Seconds Of Summer never stopped. In that time they released two full-length albums, a series of EPs, toured the world over and over again, moving from main support to One Direction to arena fillers in their own right and racked up albums sales of more than two million.
At the end of 2016, at the end of another gruelling world tour in support of their second LP Sounds Good, Feels Good, they had to slow down. They spent the first half of 2017 enjoying a well-earned rest before commencing work on their next endeavour and it was in this time that the band members decided something had to change.
Bored with the pop-punk that had marked their first two albums, the band decided to start all over. Their staple diet of All Time Low, Blink-182 and Green Day has been broadened and for new album Youngblood, they’re embracing reggae and electronica as well as older influences like The Police and Talking Heads.
Among the producers, they’ve turned to include Mike Elizondo, who has worked with everybody from Regina Spektor to Mastodon, Steve Mac, who has helped One Direction and Olly Murs pen some of their biggest hits, and Jake Sinclair, who helped both Weezer and Fall Out Boy get their groove back.
As the record arrives on shelves, we spoke to the band about their new sound, the impact country music and new wave has had on the new album and their plans for a world tour...
How did you want this album to move on from what you did on your first two records?
Calum (Hood, bass): “We wanted to shape our sound to more reflect who we are as people. We had time to work on the songs, we had more maturity and more awareness and we’ve really honed our skills as songwriters. The dynamic between the band in the room was great and we’ve come away with some really exciting songs.”
Luke (Hemmings, vocals/guitars): “It’s the first album of ours that doesn’t sound like anyone else. This is the staple 5 Seconds Of Summer sound. We’re not emulating our favourite bands anymore. We wanted to move on and pave the way for the next 10 years of the band.”
Did the way you wrote songs for the album change from what you’d done before?
Michael (Clifford, guitars): “It was different. We went into this with a new perspective and we wanted everything to be brand new. Every single producer and every single part of our team was brand new. For us to evolve, we needed to surround ourselves with new people, people who would help us push boundaries and change how we did things, both in life and in music.”
In terms of the producers you’ve worked with, how did you decide who they would be?
Ashton (Irwin, drums): “It was very organic. It was only a handful of people, who we got close to and wanted to share our stories. A big one was Mike Elizondo, he was Dr Dre’s bassist and he’s worked with Twenty One Pilots and Walk The Moon. He was great at introducing us to new influences and finding older influences that really opened us up to new sounds.”
How many songs did you have the record? Were there a lot to choose from?
Luke: “We had a lot of demos. A lot. In the end, we only recorded 20 songs, but there were easily 60, maybe 100 ideas to get down. There was a lot of filtering down, some of that was with producers, sometimes just the band, we didn’t record any songs that weren’t worthwhile, it actually took less time to record this album.”
How easy did you find it to decide which tracks would make the record? Is it a long discussion?
Michael: “We all got together at Luke’s place after the recording was done and it took us about two hours. We listened to everything and wrote notes and settled on our own version. At the end of all that, we all told each other our lists and it was pretty unanimous. Since day one, we’ve all had the same vision and the same goal for this band.”
You’ve got some new influences on this album, is that just a reflection of the different things you’ve been listening to?
Calum: “For sure and our lifestyle during the making of the album. It’s an album about nightlife and love and loss. Our headspaces were different from where we’d been before.”
Luke: “A lot of the influences seem new, but we just weren’t ready to use them before. Tears For Fears, The Police, a lot of the new wave bands, we didn’t know how to use what they’d given us until now.”
What kind of album is this in lyrical terms? Does it belong to anyone in particular?
Ashton: “There are four very distinct lyrical tones in the band, but we always end up with this strange mix of everyone’s input in our songs. This is quite a heavy record, it’s more modern and more invested in songwriting. Those first two records are pop-punk records and less about the words."
"For this album, we got into different types of lyrics, we’ve been listening to country music and even singers like Roy Orbison, happy sounding songs with melancholy lyrics, the kind Lana Del Rey does really well. We wanted to do that type of writing.”
Does this feel like a more personal record?
Calum: “Totally. This is our young adult lives laid bare. It’s a chapter in our lives, that’s where we got the name Youngblood.”
Did you settle on that as the title immediately?
Michael: “It was a couple of months after we wrote the song. The whole album was done, but we didn’t have a name. Youngblood seemed to stand out, it’s a really defining moment for us.”
Luke: “We had a few ideas written down, but we started playing some shows and that song really stood out. It sums up the album, how we were really feeling and you can grasp what the album is about if you listen to that song.”
How’s your live set coming together? Is the older stuff sitting alongside the newer bits nicely?
Calum: “It’s working well. We’ve found the best songs to go with the new record. There are a few songs from our earlier days that hint at where we’re going now.”
You can’t play everything anymore, are there songs you’re looking forward to leaving behind? Or will it be a struggle to let go?
Ashton: “I don’t think it’ll be a struggle. We were so young when we wrote those early songs. We’ll play a couple off the first album, but everything we want to play is on the last two records.”
Luke: “It’s weird, our fans don’t seem to get upset if we cut the big singles from the first record, it’s the deep, deep cuts, songs like ‘Wrapped Around Your Finger’, they aren’t bummed if we don’t play ‘Don’t Stop’.”
Have you been pleased with how the fans have reacted to your new songs? You always want your fans to go with you, but it’s by no means guaranteed…
Ashton: “I don’t think people take the time to work it out. Not to get all self-righteous, but you have to think about what you’re doing. That’s why we released ‘Want You Back’ first, you need to guide people to where you’re going, it’s a delicate procedure. You can’t be sure if someone is a fan of one thing that they’ll definitely be a fan of a new thing.”
Michael: “We were lucky. When we started this band we were really young and our fans were really young too. As we’ve grown up and our lives have changed so have theirs. We know our fanbase is older now and our appeal has to got to change. You have to be aware of that and not be too proud to admit it.”
In the past it’s seemed like you’re never off tour, have you pared things back a bit for this campaign?
Ashton: “Weirdly, this has felt like the most intense six months of our lives. But we do know how to handle things better. We don’t take the opportunities we get for granted.”
Finally, have you made a start on album four? And will you be writing as you tour?
Michael: “We haven’t been the type of band to write on the road. We tour, then we get off tour and we write about our lives and then we go back on tour. But we want to this time, we’re already talking about ideas for the fourth record and we’re thinking of taking a studio out with us. We don’t want another three-year gap between albums.”