5 Seconds of Summer spent the last two years looking inward to create their upcoming album CALM. Nine years and four albums into their career, it’s an introspective record that explores the lightness and darkness of growing as young men.
This self-reflection is encapsulated within the album title itself, which is an acronym of their names (Calum, Ashton, Luke and Michael). It’s also an homage to their fans, who’ve grown up alongside them and used ‘CALM’ to refer to 5SOS for years.
With this meditation also comes sonic maturation. We heard the boys venture beyond their pop-punk roots on 2018’s Youngblood but CALM takes that experimentation even further. The 12 tracks draw inspiration from electro-pop beats and industrial rhythms, which we can already hear on new singles ‘No Shame, ‘Old Me’ and ‘Easier’.
The entire record was created with live performances in mind as well. There’s a healthy mix of high-energy tracks like ‘Teeth’ that are made for the mosh and slower jams like ‘Lover of Mine’ are sure to conjure a glowing sea of arms swaying smartphone torches at every gig. The Sydney locals are scheduled to return home for the massive No Shame 2020 Tour in December. It’ll be their first Australian tour in almost two years, so it’s no surprise that the announcement blew up Twitter and forced them to add another show at the Sydney Opera House Forecourt due to the overwhelming demand.
Earlier this year, they were hailed as one of the standout performances of the night at the Fire Fight Australia bushfire fundraiser concert, which is no mean feat given they shared the stage with icons including Queen and Alice Cooper.
While they were back in Sydney, we spoke with three-quarters of 5SOS (Calum had to step out for another interview) about kicking goals at Fire Fight Australia, learning to understand each other on CALM and their homecoming December 2020 Australian tour.
Music Feeds: How was Fire Fight Australia?
Michael Clifford: It was great! It’s always been a dream of ours to play ANZ Stadium and it’s kind of the highest point for a band to play ANZ Stadium. For us to do that from where we’re from, it was honestly one of the most special moments of our lives. To have the opportunity to do something something good at the same time was overall incredible. To see Queen play and all of these massive artists come together for something that was bigger than themselves was incredible. It was a great night.
MF: You looked like you were all having so much fun and it was amazing because the crowd was so mixed. You had your typical 5SOS fans there and also a bunch of mums and dads rocking out.
MC: Yeah, they were loving it!
Ashton Irwin: That feels really good for us. It’s nice to have the broadest audience possible in front of you. Especially in Australia, we haven’t had that opportunity before and they got like 3 million viewers whilst having 70,000 people in front of you in our home country is a reach that we’ve never had before. We loved that show.
MF: Was that the first time you’d played ‘No Shame’ live as well?
Luke Hemmings: Yeah (laughs). It was just a bit of pressure.
MC: I’m sure you couldn’t tell (laughs).
LH: I mean, obviously we’d rehearsed it.. Actually, no. We hadn’t rehearsed it. We just went with the flow (laughs).
MC: Oh, yeah. I just felt the music come to me.
LH: (Laughs) Yeah, we actually wrote it on stage.
MF: CALM is coming out next month. How are you feeling about it now that it’s almost here?
AI: We’re excited!
LH: We feel like we’ve been sitting on it for a while now and for it to come together and come to fruition now, is gonna be awesome.
AI: I mean and obviously things are going to be really different this year. A lot has changed for us. I mean obviously we’re a three-piece now (laughs).
MC: We were just thinking that the bass isn’t that important.
AI: And it isn’t.
MC: It’s not! You can’t even hear it. Ask “what does a bass sound like?” and most people are like (shrugs).
AI: Most people are like “I don’t know”.
LH: Does it keep beat? No.
MF: I feel like every bassist is used to that, right? They expect that inevitable conversation as soon as they step in the band.
AI: (Laughs) Yeah. In all honesty though, Calum is one of the best bassists I’ve ever seen.
MC: I’d say the best bassist of all time.
AI: He’s so solid.
LC: Nah, you guys are just scared of him seeing this.
AI: (Laughs) Oh, yeah. It’ll pop up on his Twitter.
MC: (Laughs) We love you, Cal. If you’re looking at this future Calum.
MF: The album title of course is an acronym of your names…
AI: Yeah, CLAM. Wait, what would that be without Calum? LAM.
LH: Yeah, we’ve got LAM coming out (laughs).
AI: CALM, the album title, is a fan acronym and has been for a couple of years now. So Calum, Ashton, Luke, Michael. Four letters, fourth album. We thought it was appropriate.
MF: So is the title a little nod to the fans?
AI: Always a nod to the fans, yeah. Also for the first time…We never wanted to put our faces on the covers. I don’t know why. We just didn’t like it. But for the first time ever, this particular image really radiated the story that the record is telling.
MC: I think what’s so important for us with this record is that not only is it a record we made for ourselves but it’s also really made for our fans in mind. I think that our fans are really, really going to love this record. From all different angles, we want them to know that this record is for them as much as it is for us.
MF: You’ve said that the record follows the story of a “young man’s life, for better or for worse.” Is this a concept album or is it autobiographical?
AI: I guess there are multiple concepts that are saturated through the lyrical process. There was definitely a different approach to this one. We started writing it around two years ago. It always seems like the first track you write for the album is the first foot forward and has a domino effect on everything else that you write. The first song that we wrote was ‘Red Desert’ and that song topically is about self-liberation, freedom and acceptance of self and mistakes that have been made or growing pains or whatever just as a human. So that kind of set the foot forward conceptually for the rest of the album.
We enjoy writing about coming of age and what we’ve gone through and where we’re at to date. A lot of this record is us understanding each other and not going “stuff this, it’s too hard.” We really made a conscious effort to step forward and understand each other as men and not judge each other’s lives. We needed to accept each other’s lives and be gracious about that. That’s what makes us a great band.
MF: When I heard ‘Red Desert’, one of the first things I thought is that it’ll make for a great live performance.
LH: Yeah, that’s one of the other things we were thinking about when making this album. We try on every album to remember that we have to play it live and that it needs to translate live. We really made it for the live experience. So you’re right, we’re definitely going to play that song with some big harmonies. Maybe even open the show with it.
MF: Yes! Consider that my song request.
AI: Yes! Cool, considered.
MF: Oh, I mean I was hoping you would just say “Yep, it’s done”.
LH: (Laughs) Well, it’s a whole process and we’ve all got to vote.
MF: Calum’s not even here so I may as well step up.
LH: That’s true. He loses his vote.
MC: You can get his 25%.
MF: In the past, you’ve said that you all get more involved and experimental with the song writing with each album. So what was the experience like this time?
AI: We’ve always been the key song-writing force behind all of our music. This time a lot of song writing was based on our relationships because we obviously moved to America a couple of years ago and on this record we ended up working with friends. But low and behold, our friends actually became really successful over the years. A lot more successful than us (laughs). So we’re like “damn!”.
In particular Andrew Watt, we used to just drink with him and we’d go to the bar and talk shit but we bonded over music. Andrew Watt’s career has really taken off and he’s become a real musical force. He’s at the top of his game. So we’ve ended up working with friends but also incredibly talented allies on this. In speaking about us becoming a more prominent song writing force, it was using our relationships and trusting those relationships rather than being told where to go and who to write with.
MF: That must’ve been great having even more lyrical freedom on this record, right? I think you can hear that with how the narrative flows together.
AI: I love the concepts on this album. It seems more light hearted than the last. I don’t know if that’s true or not but from where we were writing it, it seems so. Some of it is sad but also, I think it’s broader which we needed.
LH: There’s definitely a lightness to it. I feel like the last album was pretty heavy and dark. Whereas this one has that side of it with the lighter side of life and moving forward rather than being stuck in one place. You’ve got that darkness and also the moving forward, the acceptance, the forgiveness and moving on and forward with life.
MF: You’ve experimented with some new sounds and you can already hear the difference even just on the first few singles. What were your sonic inspirations for the album?
AI: As far as sonic inspirations go, we always try to incorporate some of what everyone is actually listening to so it’s a more genuine and influenced record that we can speak on. We were listening to a lot of industrial music because the rhythms are fantastic for melodic writing and the melodic process. We are rock and roll fans but the rhythmic side of regular rock and roll isn’t great for modern pop at this very particular time. So we dove into industrial beats and sounds and found ourselves really inspired by those sounds. So we chased that down.
MF: That industrial sound must’ve been really fun to play with on the drums too.
AI: It is! It’s heavy but it also suits the way I play with aggression and a heaviness so it suits our band.
MF: That aggressive drumming technique got a lot of attention at Fire Fight. Everyone was loving the energy.
AI: That’s why I started playing drums. It was very key for me in understanding how I was feeling about things. But also it has an athleticism to it and I grew up a competitive swimmer and ended up playing drums a lot more and found it included stamina and being durable and all those things. So I love playing long sets on the drums and I love the aggression behind playing rock drums.
MF: You’re bringing the No Shame 2020 Tour to Australia in December. How are you feeling ahead of that and what can we expect from the shows?
MC: We’re really excited. We didn’t play Australia really at all last year. So it’ll be two years since we’ve really done anything. So we’ll have a whole new record out by then. We’ll be playing all new songs from this album and probably some old ones too.
MF: I know you were saying that ANZ Stadium was up there, but you’re playing some pretty iconic venues like the Sydney Opera House Forecourt on the tour. Is that a dream come true for you?
AI: It is. The forecourt, I mean if you think about it, a big part of what we do is the visual side and the photography side. We always put a lot of effort in to capture the memories. We have incredible photographers who work with us, Andy DeLuca and Ryan Fleming. A massive part of our day is working out how we’re going to capture the day and then playing iconic venues like the forecourt at the Sydney Opera House will enable us to capture something stunning for our international fan base and that’s just one thing we look forward to.
‘CALM’ is out 27 March 2020. Pre-order here. Check out the Australian ‘No Shame’ 2020 tour dates below.
5 Seconds of Summer No Shame 2020 Tour
Friday, 27th November
HOTA, Home of the Arts, Gold Coast
Tickets: Live Nation
Saturday, 28th November
Tickets: Live Nation
Monday, 30th November
HBF Stadium, Perth
Tickets: Live Nation
Wednesday, 2nd December
Bar on the Hill, Newcastle
Tickets: Live Nation
Friday, 4th December
Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne
Tickets: Live Nation
Saturday, 5th December
Sydney Opera House Forecourt, Sydney
Tickets: Live Nation