On December 3rd 2011, 5 Seconds of Summer played their first gig, at The Annandale Hotel in their native Sydney, Australia. It was their first time together playing as a four-piece. They had to recruit a drummer for the occasion. They had a bass player with no bass guitar, “so I played on an acoustic,” says Calum. “Michael sent me a very detailed Facebook message asking me ‘how would you like to come along and play for 200 screaming fans,’” says the last part of the 5SOS jigsaw to slot into place, drummer Ashton. “I was like, woah, that sounds great, amazing, this guy sounds legit.” In the event, they delivered a covers set to twelve nodding acquaintances. But something happened that night in the Annandale. “We saw what we could be as a band,” says Luke. Just over two years later they have shaped up into the box-fresh pop/rock sound of 2014. The screaming starts here.
5SOS (Michael: “we love a good acronym”) comprises of Luke (vocals/guitar), Michael (vocals/guitar), Ashton (vocals/drums) and Calum (vocals/bass). They are all between 17-19 years of age and met between a modern congregation of the schoolyard and YouTube in the inland West Sydney suburb of Riverstone. They all have regular backgrounds. Two of them didn’t finish school. They practised in their folks’ houses. “We’re average working class boys,” says Luke. “We come from places where we struggled for money, none of our parents are well off so we learned to value everything that’s given to us.” Adds Ashton: “They’re as passionate as us. They’ve seen it from us making a racket in their garages to seeing girls screaming and crying at us.”
5SOS are as thick as thieves. “The friendship is all based on what we want to do with the band,” says Luke. Which is? “It’s the love of old punk rock and new punk rock and wanting to bring that into the pop stratosphere.” From the kick-off they knew they were onto something. “We had this tiny little following,” says Ashton, “but they were committed and fanatical. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing. Something was connecting about the different characters in the band. Even though we weren’t of an amazing quality there was realness to us that you could tell the fans liked.”
This is what each band member says the others bring to their equation...
“He’s the backbone of the band. When he joined we started taking it seriously.” (Luke on Ashton)
“He’s the wild one. Every band needs one. And he brings a different hair colour to every video.” (Ashton on Michael)
“He’s a song-writing force. Every time I hear something he’s written I say, seriously dude? Was that you?” (Michael on Calum)
“He’s charming, the baby of the band, he’s the cute factor with talent. We rely on him.” (Calum on Luke)
These boys are on a shared mission. “When people say to you on tour I bet you can’t wait to get home and hang out with your friends,” says Ashton, “I think, but that is what I’m doing now, in the most insane way. I don’t want to get back home. I want to hang out with these guys.”
From that first night, they began to attack being in a band together with all the gusto of a military operation. Their musical influences converge around the adrenaline-fuelled super-rock of turn of the millennium Americana. The first record to excite Luke ever was Good Charlotte’s debut album. “They were just so angry but in the best possible way,” he says. Ashton had two CDs that he would flit between on his discman at school, Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown and The Living End’s White Noise. “I didn’t need anything else,” he says. Calum’s eureka moment was Green Day’s I Need You single (“just perfect. It made me think about everything differently”) and Michael was in thrall to All Time Low. “I used to cut between watching their live DVD and the extras where they were just hanging out, being a gang, getting to do what they loved doing together. I thought: I want that.”
A local fanbase quickly amalgamated around the boys when they started posting songs on YouTube. “It was at that time we could go either way,” says Luke. “Were we just a band who were destined to play covers at a local pub?” The combined ambition of 5SOS stretched way beyond that. Calum was the first to knock one out of the park by writing a killer for them. On his first attempt he locked down mid-tempo heartbreaker Gotta Get Out. “It wasn’t just that I didn’t know how to write a song when we first started,” he says, “I didn’t really know what writing songs was. I just tried and ended up loving it. If you’ve got stuff buried away deep down inside that you want to talk about then you’re a songwriter.”
5SOS began truanting from school to rehearse. “5 days a week sometimes, we knew we had to become great,” says Luke. “We rehearsed in the dark because if you can play like that you can play any way thrown at you.” They quickly picked up management. “We had to,” says Ashton, “we were four teenage boys that were clueless. All we could do was practise, write, rehearse and get better.”
Their first big break came supporting Hot Chelle Rae on a tour of Australia. “There was this moment right before we left on the tour that we all looked at one another and said ‘we’re not bad anymore,”’ says Michael. They stepped into studio 301, one of Sydney’s more deluxe suites for the first time at the start of 2012 and say they drove the engineer mad with their naivety.
5SOS took full advantage of the social media at their disposal to get their name and music known. They knew they faced an uphill struggle, quite literally when it came to geography. “We’re from the bottom of the world,” says Ashton, “it’s a long time since an AC/DC or an INXS broke out of Australia. We want to represent.” Buoyed by the confidence gained from their first support slot, they toured the country on their own. “We were selling out tickets for venues in Brisbane, Melbourne,” says Ashton. “We’d do two shows a day. I remember saying to our manager we won’t sell these shows out and then you look on the website it has. That’s the holy shit moment.”
One more was to come. “We were in Adelaide on our second national tour and our manager put the Take Me Home One Direction tour dates on the table,” says Calum, “we looked at these crazy arena dates we had been invited to play and knew it was such a huge platform.” They had no reservations about supporting the biggest pop band on the planet. “The mix of us and 1D was a good one” says Luke. “Their fans were incredible with us and because of the internet we brought our own along too, in the most unlikely places.” On their first night at London’s O2 arena the boys shared an uncommon bout of nerves. “You either chose to be shit and nervous or you just think let’s rock it,” says Ashton. “You get to make that choice and we did it.”
In the downtime between a twelve month touring schedule that took them across the globe, they set about putting together the debut 5SOS album. They laid down over 70 songs of immediate, invigorating rock, with choruses designed to fly to the back of stadia. The Sessions took place on both sides of the Atlantic with the band writing on every song with a mixture of Rock and Pop’s old and new school alumni. Key collaborations include; The Madden Brothers of Good Charlotte, John Feldmann (All Time Low, Good Charlotte, Boys Like Girls) who says, “It’s been really great to work with kids that play their own instruments, come with ideas and have this excitement about making music. To be able to bring back some elements of rock and roll is exciting for me as a fan of guitar driven music. We can write a song, actually play it the same day, record it in the studio and have a finished product in a couple of days that has live guitars, live bass and live drums. I think that there’s a really bright future for this band.” Other collaborators include; Mcfly, Jake Sinclair (Fall Out Boy, Pink), Steve Robson (Busted etc) and Roy Stride who says “I was blown away by their writing and playing talent, these guys are the real deal.” Now begins the gruelling process of whittling them down to the first suite they present for public consumption. “It’s happening now, editing down to a clear idea of what we’re trying to do,’ says Luke. ‘We want it to sound like twelve first singles.”
Their opening shot, She Looks So Perfect, is a clue to the huge dimensions 5SOS plan to scale. Lyrically mischievous, bang in the moment and opening with a killer hook, it is an instant, one-listen smash. This is their moment to be Teenage Dirtbags and get their Teenage Kicks
They want, they say, to be the biggest band in the world. “Why wouldn’t you?” says Ashton. “The sky’s the limit, really. It’s up to us, isn’t it? If the fans stay loyal and we stay loyal to them, there’s no reason we can’t. We’re a tight unit. We love each other and love what we’re doing. We know how lucky we’ve been. We don’t intend to mess that up.”