5SOS on their "diverse" new album and why teen fans are so important | PopBuzz Meets
12 June 2019, 17:01 | Updated: 12 June 2019, 17:34
5SOS on the power of teen fandoms, writing their diverse fourth album and new single 'Easier'.
How do you follow a global smash like 'Youngblood'? That's the question that's been on the minds of 5 Seconds Of Summer since it became a summer anthem last year for millions of fans around the world.
But for Ashton Irwin, Luke Hemmings, Calum Hood and Michael Clifford, 'Youngblood' wasn't just a hit single, it meant much more than that. The song transformed the world's, and even their own, perception of what 5 Seconds Of Summer could be, and opened up a whole new world of musical opportunities.
On 'Easier', the first single taken from their as-yet-untitled fourth album, the band have taken the music in a completely new direction. It's a sexy, confident pop number (produced by Charlie Puth and written with Ryan Tedder) which feels like a exciting evolution for the band, despite being a million miles away from their pop-punk roots. It also slaps...hard.
We sat down with the boys earlier this week to discuss how they've changed in the last 18 months, the mysterious symbols in the 'Easier' video, and get the all the latest news on their new album. Watch the full video above, or check out some highlights below.
PopBuzz: It’s a really exciting time to be in 5SOS! New song, new album, new look, new label...you guys must be really excited?
Ashton: Yeah, lots of focus. It’s really good to be back and striving for people to hear our music, especially in the UK.
PB: Let’s talk about ‘Easier’. I read somewhere that you took the learnings from ‘Youngblood’ and have applied those to this new era, so I just want to know what you guys learned from that song?
Luke: We learned countless things, that’s why it took us a long time to get out album three, personally and musically. But if we’re talking musically, I feel like the main thing we learned is what kind of band we wanted to be and how we were gonna be a band for however long we wanted to go on for.
It was a beautiful thing to have that song and then using the knowledge from that song and then pushing the boundaries even further and making something like ‘Easier’ and in the songs you’ll hear to come. We learned a lot of things but musically that was the biggest thing, and also serving the song and not adding too many things that aren’t necessary. Adding one really iconic guitar part and a bass and drum groove that’s really suited to the song, not just adding a bunch of stuff like we might have when we were a bit younger.
PB: It sounds more mature and really confident. I wondered if there was an element of trying to get past the 'teen band' thing, because now it really feels like you’ve honed in on what 5SOS could be.
A: That’s been one of our main, not challenges, but just part of our career. And we recognise a legacy that we’ve created for ourselves over the span of… we’ve been in this group for over a quarter of our personal lives now. A mission of ours is to be a people’s band and a band that has a vast variety of different types of music, genre-bending, and also super confident in what we’re releasing when we release it, and hopefully executing it visually and being an all-round incredible pop rock band, you know? So yeah that’s been a goal of ours. The teen fan base is super important. I like people to understand that that’s one of the most important things about our trajectory.
PB: Well, you wouldn’t be there without them…
A: It’s funny. Since this is PopBuzz, I’ll talk about it. It’s often manipulated in the media that teen fan bases are spoken about as a negative thing sometimes or something, when I think they’ve actually provided the world with some of the best artists ever because they are sustainable in a way that gives you an opportunity to be adventurous with your music and also challenge ideologies of people that didn’t like you before, which is awesome.
PB: There’s that really great quote and I can’t remember who said it now but if you replaced 'teenage girl' with 'expert' when it comes to music and see how it reads... [Ed: the full quote is “Suggestion: replace the word "fan girl" with "expert" and see what happens" by music critic Jessica Hopper] because these fans, they’re experts in your music, they care about you guys, what’s wrong with that?
A: What I do love about the modern teen fan is that they know so much about the music business, they know so much about the roll-out of music, they know so much about the inner workings of what goes on in the music business. Really, you can’t hide anything and you can’t be inauthentic or anything because they’re all over it and I love that about modern fans.
PB: Let’s talk about the ‘Easier’ video. There’s a lot of symbolism going on in there with the girl with the tattoos. I assume each of the symbols represents one of you, so what was the thinking behind that?
A: Yeah, so the iconography came from a place that is more philosophical and obviously a part of growing up as a group. I’m a big Led Zeppelin fan - and a John Bonham fan, as a drummer - and taking a lot of our classic rock influences and applying them to our brand of pop has been really interesting and useful to us. There’s an authenticity that I love about rock music, particularly older rock music, that we’ve been able to incorporate into our music. Iconography has just been important on a level we want to establish as four different artists in this group and that's one of our biggest allies as a band.
PB: Do you draw them yourself?
A: I drew them.
L: I remember you drew them on your window in your house and I came over and you go, "We got these icons!" (laughs)
A: So what I do is I have these big windows in my place but I kinda draw up a map of what I want the next albums to look like whilst we're writing the album lyrically. I find it helps when we all visually see what it could look like or what it could be. It's kinda of like sketching and noting everything. But each icon is based off a philosophical place for each band member and I did the best I could really...
PB: You did an alright job. Don't beat yourself down.
A: (laughs) No, I like them!
PB: Are you going to get them as tattoos? Michael, I know you've already got one...
Michael: Mine is my tattoo. This one [holds middle finger up straight up to my face...lol]
A: Yeah, I've got them. Mine is the blood moon.
L: I don't have any tattoos yet but maybe that will be the first one. I think I might get some soon. I feel like I was the youngest at the time and I wasn't ready to get tattoos, so I missed the boat. I might get a tally [5SOS symbol] or something small.
PB: Sometimes you can overthink it with tattoos...although it is going to be there for life, so it depends what camp you sit in.
A: Well that's the thing. I think tattoos are important to have either no meaning or all the meaning.
PB: So you've said the album will be heavier and might have a Nine Inch Nails inspiration. What can you tell us about the inspiration for the new album?
Michael: It's got a ton of different influences on it. It doesn't all lie within this Nine Inch Nails type of thing we've spoken about a couple of times. It's actually incredibly diverse in the way the songs change and how different the songs are. There's so many different types of influences in it that it's hard for us to just put it in one category. That's something we've done really well in the past is that all of our albums have had very different dynamics and different stages as you progress throughout listening to the album start to finish. This album, for us, has done the same thing. You'll listen to one song and you'll listen to another, and you'll think they're so different. But as fans of an artist you don't want to hear the same song over and over and over again. I think that's something we've done really well on this record that we've made...especially... that you haven't heard yet.
PB: I'll take your word for it. Have you decided on a tracklist?
L: Not really. We have a batch of songs that are pretty much done that we're like these are awesome but we haven't got a tracklist yet.
PB: How many songs have you written for this era?
L: It's difficult to pin point how many songs you write but a lot of times you get half way through a song and then you move on to something else and that gives birth to another song. But we write so many songs. I'm a psycho about it. My girlfriend hates me. I come home and ask her about songs all night after the studio. I dunno how many we've written...maybe 30 for this, I guess?
A: I think it's different this time around. The more skilled you get at crafting a song the less songs you write, but the more fulfilling for the vision each song you write is. The quality is higher. When we were kids we used to write roughly 200 songs for an album, so that's all about crafting your skill and have a filtration system for that writing.
L: That goes back to us writing so much and then finding something like we did in the third album and then we're like 'oh this is kinda our thing now'. And obviously that's going to change and differ through songs, but it felt like we had something cool and that's maybe why it was quicker and there was less songs written [this time]. And we were a small team of people like Andrew [Wotman] and Ali [Alexandra Tamposi] and all the people who would come in and out, but it definitely goes back to that.
M: And I should have said that there is a common thread and there's a theme within this record and you can hear the same group although the songs might be super different.
PB: And what's the process like when you're deciding? Is it democratic or does someone take the lead?
M: Very democratic.
PB: No arguments?
Calum: No, we're all pretty good in that sense that we're all on the same page usually. By the time you're done writing the album, there are songs that individual members will feel a certain type of passion towards but you're in the vision already by that point. So if people are choosing a bunch of different songs you're like, well, were you...
PB: ...were you even in the room?
PB: Have you chosen a name yet? I know you won't tell me but I just need to know where you are at...
A: You know what? Fourth album is really important and particularly taking note of other groups we look up to, bands that have existed for a long time, the fourth album needs something that makes a statement. I don't know what that would be. Calum and I were talking about it like three days ago, but I think we're going to give it time. As long as you start thinking about it, we'll get to a good place with that name.