For our 5 Seconds of Summer cover story, the Sydney, Australia, heartthrobs welcomed Rolling Stone to hang out with them over the course of a week in Los Angeles – at the band house, at various promo stops like the Late Late Show With James Corden and out on the town at shows by friends Halsey and Good Charlotte. Here are some takeaways from a week with 5SOS.
Green Day are "the ultimate"
While most of the band weren't even born when Dookie came out, Green Day are everything 5SOS aspire to be: a stadium-packing band with punk roots. Drummer Ashton Irwin counts Green Day's 2005 live album/DVD Bullet in a Bible as his entry point. ("Seeing Billie Joe up in front of 60,000 people – that’s what I wanted to do," says Irwin.) Other members point to American Idiot as their biggest influence. "I was like, 'How did they write 'Jesus of Suburbia?'" says bass player Calum Hood. "How did they put all these things together and make it flow even though there's like 10 different parts and they're all dramatically different and dynamic in how they sound? It really intrigued me." The ultimate milestone? "Green Day have been put in a position where they can make a fucking Broadway musical," says Hood. "That’s something we'd love to have our hand in, not just making albums. To do that kind of stuff is amazing."
Like Billie Joe Armstrong, they don't like being called "pop-punk"
Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong recently tweeted, "my mission for 2016? to destroy the phrase 'pop-punk' forever." It seems 5SOS are on the same page. "It's just as isolating as being called a boy band, you know, being [called] a pop-punk band," says Hood. "I don't want to make just one type of music. I really want to evolve as a band with our sound. Bands like U2 have songs which are almost completely different genres, and that's what I love."
They have big ideas for their upcoming world tour
The Sounds Live Feels Live tour will take them across the world until almost 2017, with venues like Madison Square Garden. The band is thinking about how to make songs like "Jet Black Heart" come alive onstage. "I love the feel," says Irwin of the group's latest single. "It feels great. It feels big to me. It feels like an arena song. I'm excited to play. I've been trying to picture the next [tour]. I hear it very different from what we've been doing so far."
Irwin expects the tour to be bigger and better than their last tour, which he says, "felt more like the basic band thing." "You go out there and play a few songs and then you go out there and do an encore. I want to do something cooler," he explains. "Maybe start out with 'Carry On' and end with 'Carry On' and then maybe try some different things, take inspiration from Queen and use some piano. I just want to make it cooler and make it challenging. I got bored of the show last year. After 70 times, I was like, 'Ah ...' I loved it, I loved the fans there and the energy of the show, but it wasn't really challenging."
Next stop? Stadiums, hopefully
"We really want to make it to stadiums, man," says Irwin. "We dreamt of getting to arenas and, some-fucking-how, we did. We want to be a people's band, like everyone: 'Yeah, let's go to the 5SOS concert.' Just like everyone would go to an AC/DC concert or a Foo Fighters concert. A people's band."
They love Behind the Music
Frontman Luke Hemmings has been watching a lot of the old VH1 show lately – Guns N' Roses, Def Leppard and Poison are his favorite episodes. (Poison guitarist C.C. Deville's line, "It was the house of whores, and then it became the house of horrors," is a running joke in the band.) "You basically learn how to not do a band," says Hemmings. He's taken some lessons from the show. "Bands really are big for a lot of the same reasons, like in the Seventies and Eighties up into the 2000s where we are. It's all pretty similar reasons why they're big. I look at why they're big and why they're kind of fucked up and why they're not a band anymore. Some bands get to, like, the second album, the third album point and they kind of just fuck it up."
Guitarist Michael Clifford played guitar in the church band
Hemmings, Clifford and Hood all went to the same private Christian school, and Clifford learned his guitar chops in the church band. "It had a cool little music scene," says Clifford. "One week I'd be playing lead guitar, the next week acoustic and vocal stuff." These days, Clifford says the band members don't talk about religion much. "We're still so young that I don't think it's something I'm really thinking about yet," he says. "I guess it's a bit of a weird one because we've never really spoken about it before. We talk about dicks and buttholes and anal so much, we don't really like talking about stuff that's too deep."
Clifford would rather talk to fans than take selfies with them
Fans constantly ask the group for selfies, but lately the band members have gotten comfortable telling them if they are having a bad day or aren't in the mood. "Usually it's like, take a picture first and then sign," says Clifford. "I can understand why, but I wish the dynamic was that you can go out and talk to fans. It's so fucking interesting if you can sit down for just five minutes and have a conversation. It would be so sweet."
They didn't fit into the Australian rock scene
"They just fucking hated us," says Hemmings of some of the seasoned bands they played with in the Sydney rock scene in their early days. “Not to sound like a dick, but those bands were shit," Hemmings says. "They just wanted to do the same shit over and over again: shitty pop-punk. They'd been playing so long, everyone doing the same thing: the same shitty lyrics, the same shitty guitar riffs. In my opinion, no matter how much you say, 'We've been doing this for years,' you're just a shitty band. Looking at that now, I wish I knew that. I wish I said that."
They are used to people wanting to "cut them down"
The band has encountered journalists who have flat-out told them they aren't a very good band, or speculated that their formation was orchestrated. "People thought we were making it up the whole 'We met at school thing,'" says Hemmings. "That was half the reason people called us a boy band. We don't really care anymore, because fuck those guys – we met in school. We're all from very un-wealthy families, and we came together more naturally than most bands do. We're all from very unhealthy families, and we came together more naturally than most bands. In this industry, people want to cut us down."
Adds Irwin, "People say we were given fame and stuff like that. If we had gone up there and we were shit, we wouldn't be here. If we sucked, we wouldn't be here. It's just about the opportunities you take in the music industry and you gotta be gutsy and just go for it.”
Touring with One Direction made them want to get in shape
"People think we're fucking teenage pizza eaters, man," says Irwin. "We are really self-conscious about the way we look. We exercise a lot, we eat well. People are looking at you and you want to look good. You also want to be confident in yourself. It takes a lot to step up in front of people a lot of the time." This self-discipline comes from touring with One Direction. "We were on tour with them and they worked out a lot. Fuck, I want to look good."
Their first gig with One Direction had one hiccup
After only 23 shows on their own, 5SOS kicked off a world tour opening for One Direction with seven shows at London's O2 Arena. "I was so nervous, man. But we said here's a chance to be rockstars, let's just grab it by the balls," says Irwin. But Clifford surprised everyone the night of the show when he arrived in a wild outfit. "The first show playing with One Direction, he turned up with his outfit, and my god," says former manager Adam Wilkinson. "He had a beanie on and these necklaces and dark clothes. He wanted to be a goth. He's always had some pretty crazy ideas on style." There was even a meeting after the show about the outfit. "It was always a sensitive issue,” says Wilkinson.
Bassist Calum Hood got into a huge fight with his parents after joining the band
A pivotal moment in the band's career came when they left school in Australia to live in London to rehearse for the One Direction tour. It wasn't easy. Bassist Calum Hood had to give up a promising future in soccer after training in Brazil. "I remember there was a period of a month where my parents thought I was just making the worst decision of my life," he says. "My mom threw all my clothes out of my closet and I was like, 'Fuck.' And I left and I stayed somewhere else for a couple days, just being like, 'Holy shit, I just made probably one of the biggest decisions of my life.' But now it's obviously worked out, thank God."
Michael Clifford has trouble making friends
In late September, Clifford tweeted, "Tried to invite some friends to a show tonight. realized I only have about five friends in total. shit." "I was trying to invite someone to come to the Foo Fighters show," he explains now. "And I was like, 'Man, all of my friends are going to want to see Foo Fighters. Who wouldn't?' And then I started inviting people, and I realized I only had, like, four friends who would actually want to come. When you do what we do, it's a lot harder to make friends than people realize."
They aren't tight with a lot of other stars
"No one's fucking friends – that's what pisses me off about these awards shows," said Irwin after attending the American Music Awards. He has a theory why: "Everyone's insecure and self-conscious. Because when you're truly on your own, you're the fucking boss. You do the performance, you make the money, they're your fans. But when you're in a fucking building with 40 other artists, you're [not]."
Taylor Swift didn't block Michael Clifford's number
The band attended Swift's 25th birthday party in 2014. "I've never seen that many famous people. It was, like, Beyoncé and Jay-Z just sitting there. Then Justin Timberlake walks in and I'm like, 'Wow, what am I doing here?'" says Clifford.
Clifford and Swift texted briefly after the party. Clifford was quoted afterward saying Swift had blocked his phone number (Irwin joked it was because Clifford was texting her too much). "I said that and everyone freaked out," Clifford says. What actually happened? Clifford ran out of things to say. "I texted her for a bit one day, and then I just never texted her again," he says. "I was like, 'Nice party.' [She said,] 'Yeah, thanks.' 'How are you?'" But that was the end of the conversation. "[She's] so ridiculously famous. We can't be friends with people that famous," says Clifford with a laugh. "It doesn't really work."
Calum Hood's leaked dick pic made him insecure, for a while
"Some of the comments online would be like, 'I thought it would have been bigger.' It kind of messed me up for a little bit. But I just slowly got over it. I'm a pretty free soul, so being naked isn't like [a big deal]. I'll get naked fucking whenever."
Hood has tried to be more careful on Twitter lately
"There's definitely been times where I've tweeted something, and then I go, 'Fuck, I need to take that down,'" says Hood. (Days after our conversation, Hood will cryptically tweet, "One day I will leave and live a normal life.") "You really need to think what you say before you say it, because everyone's so sensitive now to everything," Hood says. "I'm just kind of terrible at it. You can't really joke around about anything. Not even joke around, you can't say an opinion without being totally judged and disrespected for it. It's horrible."
Halsey is a close friend, but she bummed them out recently
The band has been close with Halsey for years. In L.A., the group went out to see the rising singer play a show at L.A.'s Fonda Theatre. At one point, Halsey lashed out at too-cool music industry people in the V.I.P. section who weren't participating, suggesting they "get the fuck out." Irwin jokingly bowed his head and pretended to start walking out. "That felt weird to us," Irwin says at lunch the next day. "Because we're on the same record label. I just felt bad. I'm like, 'These people worked so fucking hard for you. They invest so much money into getting you out here, they release your music and work hard to get you on the radio. They pay for your private jet to get to the fucking gig from New York. You gotta work well with these people!'" Still, 5SOS and Halsey have each other's back; the latter recently lashed out at an invasive paparazzo who had bothered Irwin and his family over the holidays.
Ashton Irwin relates to their new ballad "Broken Home"
The drummer had a tough childhood; his father left when Irwin was two and the drummer had to help raise his younger brother and sister while his mom worked two or three jobs at a time. "It's definitely affected the way I am: the way I write music and the way I act. It's definitely crazy growing up without a dad," he says.
Irwin was moved when the rest of the band brought him "Broken Home," a new ballad they wrote with Good Charlotte's Madden Brothers about a kid wondering about the moment two parents fell out of love. "They were like, 'I don't feel comfortable with this song, my parents are together.' And I was like, 'Look man, you're singing it for me. If you're going to sing it for anyone, just sing it for me.' That was the first time that we had to have an internal conversation within the band, like, 'This is an important song to us and it's gonna be an important song to people, so you need to sing it with your heart, and maybe assess why you're singing it."
They've been thinking about the Beatles lately
Five Seconds of Summer are a rock band with four singers and four distinct personalities. They're known for their offstage hijinks, like between-song banter on YouTube, and skits, like the time they dressed up as old people and went to Target. "We were in Copenhagen the other day the Beatles just released their [1 Video Collection] and we'd never seen that," says Irwin. "And we're like, 'Holy shit! It definitely reminded me of stuff we've done."
The booklet to Sounds Good Feels Good features artwork of different characters that represent each song. Afterward, they saw a Beatles connection. Says Irwin, "It's weird because us, the gang, all the stuff we're trying to do, everyone singing, creating characters, then I went back and looked at all their stuff they did with Sgt. Pepper! It's already been done, dammit! They did everything – they did literally everything – and did it so good. It's so annoying!"
5SOS want to address current events in their music
Days after the horrific Paris attacks, Irwin was struggling with how to write about serious world events in song. "We have such a voice; how do you sooth people?" he wondered. “I've been thinking of how to do it well. I don't want it to be cheesy. I don't want it to be, just getting on board with it. It needs to be real. I just haven't had the right idea yet. This band is going to write about it. We're going to write about it."
"Everything is so fucked up at the moment," Irwin continues. "We have so many young fans that have never experienced anything like this [the Paris attacks] in their life. They have never seen anything like this. It's new to them, so it's up to us to articulate to them because we are the voice of the culture. We are the voice to these people, these young people. We have to get it right, we need to articulate ourselves really fucking well. We'll get it right, man, it just takes some time.”
Irwin brings up U2 and Green Day's 2006 duet "The Saints Are Coming" to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief. "It's one of my favorite covers ever," says Irwin. "They had footage of the New Orleans floods after the hurricane, when they had people in the stadium. I want to write that. I want to write songs about that stuff. I want to write songs about the current state of the world."