Luke Hemmings, frontman of Aussie emo-gone-pop sensations 5 Seconds of Summer, is embarrassed by all of the songs he produced when he first started writing music. However, he has a happier recollection of one of his initial collaborations with 5SOS bassist Calum Hood. "We were really good friends at school," he recalls. "Michael [Clifford, 5SOS guitarist] never went to school that much, and I didn't have that many friends, so I'd be waiting for Calum to get to school and get off his bus."
One day, Hood didn't show up. "I went to my first class, and I was like, 'Alright, fuck this — I'm gonna go to Calum's house.' When I got there, he had our song 'Out of My Limits' half written, and I remember finishing the second verse with him. That was a cool moment."
Four years after Hemmings, Hood and Clifford began posting acoustic covers of songs by Mike Posner, Chris Brown and Blink-182 on YouTube and added drummer Ashton Irwin to their line-up, they no longer have to skip school to write songs together. Instead, the Australian quartet posted up in a Los Angeles home for a few months, hunkering down to write a follow-up to their self-titled 2014 debut, which hit Number One in the U.S., Australia and 11 other countries worldwide. "I think it was an awakening of a higher sense of making music," Irwin says. "We hadn't done it that way before as a band. It was kind of old school. You don't get a chance to do that much anymore."
Hood describes the upcoming album — Sounds Good Feel Good, due on October 23rd — as a more "mature" statement. The band was signed before any of the members turned 18, and growing pains and budding fame have inspired a natural progression in 5SOS's songwriting. "The first thing we realized as a band when we started writing songs at 15, 16," recalls Irwin, "is that you can write a song, but to write a real song that's from your heart, and that really connects with you emotionally and spiritually, that takes time."
"I remember writing the stupidest song I've written. It had, like, three chords, and it was about the moon and a girl." —Michael Clifford
The first song Michael Clifford ever wrote was full of wishful thinking. "I remember writing the stupidest song I've written," he cringes. "It had, like, three chords, and it was about the moon. Something about the moon and a girl. She was a nonexistent girl because I was 12. I wanted to write a song about a girl so that people would be like, 'Wow! Girls like you?' And I'd be like 'Yeah, totally,' when in reality that's just not true."
But that was then. At 19, he and his 5SOS bandmates have become bona fide heartthrobs, playing songs about girls who don't love them every night to arenas filled with girls whose lives at the moment revolve around their love for them. Though they are a pop-punk band at heart, they're a boy band in aesthetic, creating Top 40 hits ("She Looks So Perfect," "She's Kinda Hot") and peddling merch at tween mall haunt Claire's in between products for Austin Mahone and their former tourmates One Direction.
"I think they absolutely have One Direction potential, and that's 100 percent our goal," Mitra Darab, Capitol's Senior Vice President of Marketing, declares. She moved to the band's label five months ago after spending 15 years at Warner Brothers working with bands like My Chemical Romance, Glassjaw and the Used. "It's a little different, but not so much. The only difference is that [5SOS] have paved a new lane for this generation for punk bands. I think that with this new record and the direction — it's really guitar-driven — you're going to see a lot of other people emulate that."
During the writing and recording of Sounds Good Feels Good, the heroes who helped pave 5SOS' path offered crucial assistance. Members of Good Charlotte, Sum-41 and All Time Low have songwriting credits on the album, and Goldfinger's John Feldmann served as executive producer. Bonnie McKee — a singer-songwriter who has penned many of Katy Perry's Number One singles — and Simple Plan joined them in the studio, though only a big, acoustic number co-written by McKee, Feldmann, Hood and Clifford called "San Francisco" will make the cut from those sessions. Even Mötley Crüe's Nikki Sixx was prepared to write with the band before a scheduling conflict got in the way. "We didn't get to write with him this time, but next album, we will for sure," Hemmings promises.
"It's really cool to see that [these artists] are supportive of a new wave of rock music," Clifford says. The guitarist had been particularly thrilled to work with Sum 41's Deryck Whibley, one of his biggest inspirations. "He hasn't really done too many sessions before, so it was kind of amazing that he wanted to do one with us," Clifford says, promising that a "really heavy song" resulted. "He's a great guy, and Sum 41 is one of my favorite bands. All Killer No Filler is probably one of my top five favorite albums."
"If I said to myself a few years ago that Good Charlotte would want to make a record because of having a part in our record, I would just be like, 'That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard,'" Clifford adds. He notes that even All Time Low took some inspiration from their 5SOS sessions as well. "They said they wouldn't have made [Future Hearts] with John Feldmann if it wasn't for us. It's just weird that we can have that effect. I can't really explain it."
The band also reconnected with Benji and Joel Madden of Good Charlotte, who wrote the ballad "Amnesia" off 5SOS' debut. The Maddens stepped in for a bigger role this time around, co-writing the sophomore LP's lead single, "She's Kinda Hot," with Irwin and Clifford. In the end, the mentees became the mentors, inspiring their heroes to reunite their own pop-punk group. "It's kind of a weird turnaround, isn't it? They're a big part of me starting music," says Hemmings, whose rock & roll dreams were ignited after he saw Good Charlotte live. "Every time we would write a song with [Benji and Joel], they would say, 'We wanna write a Good Charlotte record!'"
During the making of Sounds Good Feels Good, the band and their collaborators employed a wide range of creative tactics. Hemmings recalls writing and recording on the beach in the middle of the night with Irwin and Feldmann. Before they began composing, Bonnie McKee would have Irwin talk through his life — "almost like a therapy session." Similarly, the Madden Brothers culled inspiration for the riff on "She's Kinda Hot" from a story of Irwin exploring the desert with his girlfriend. The quartet swapped writing partners within the band, as well, balancing time among each other and seeing what came out of it. "When you experiment with writing with people, and you become friends, you're making new music together," Irwin says. "It's a really cool thing to learn their style of songwriting and how they do it."
Drummer Ashton Irwin sees the band's experience with Los Angeles as having one of the biggest effects on the album. "The place itself feels really magical," he says. "We made a lot of friends there. For songwriting purposes, it was a really great time for us. I even met a girl over there and fell in love. Things like that contributed to making this album. It felt unreal, and before we knew it, we'd recorded everything and it was time to go on tour."
"L.A. itself feels really magical. I even met a girl over there and fell in love." —Ashton Irwin
Reuniting with Feldmann brought the band especially close to the producer. They would record in his suburban home, where dozens of girls would wait outside at all hours of the day for a glimpse of their famous crushes. "The 5SOS guys are family," Feldmann offers bluntly. "When it came time to make the next album, [working with them again] was a no-brainer."
"Calum has perfect the lost art of using his pick to get the real grit out of the string of the bass, and Ashton took time to study the technique of playing drums, which most drummers don't typically do," Feldmann says. "I am constantly impressed by their strong work ethic in the studio. It's wouldn't sound like 5SOS without each of them. Michael has his dark, emo side, whereas Luke has this really pop-punk hooky sound of guitar playing. When you put them together, they really complement each other."
On Easter, Feldmann brought his own family to watch Irwin record his drum parts for a couple songs. "Music has a ripple effect," says Irwin. "Everyone wants to see it be made and see it happen, and then they want to listen to it. It brought the family together, and everyone wanted to be a part of what John does, and what my band do."
Looking ahead to the next phase of their pop journey, the members of 5SOS agree that unity is the key to their success so far. "It's always been just the four us," Clifford says. "I think that's one of the reasons why fans really latched onto us, because they just see us as four equal kids. We always just want [to be] the best we can possibly be, and I hope that never changes. I don't think that it will."