5 Seconds of Summer Guitarist Michael Clifford Talks 'New Sound & Direction' of Third Album: Interview

Ollie Millington/Redferns
5 Seconds of Summer perform at the O2 arena on April 8, 2016 in London, England.

He also hypes the one-of-a-kind giveaway he's doing for charity this Christmas.

New 5 Seconds of Summer music is on the way -- no, really. Months back, the Australian pop-rockers told fans to expect their highly anticipated third studio album in 2017, and though the calendar is about to flip over, there's reason to stay upbeat this holiday season. 

In an interview Friday (Dec. 22), 5SOS guitarist and backing vocalist Michael Clifford updated Billboard on the quartet's recent activity, which includes heavy studio time, putting the finishing touches on the follow-up to 2015's Sounds Good Feels Good -- whose first sampling should arrive in the "really early" stages of 2018. 

In the meantime, Clifford has a charity giveaway underway, in which one fan will close out the year winning a 5SOS jacket he's been wearing the past year, along with a signed copy of one of his favorite video games, Destiny 2 (it's a team-up with the game's publisher, Activision, and its developer, Bungie). Additionally, the Bungie Foundation donated to the Children's Hospital's "iPads for Kids" program in honor of his fans.

Here's our chat with Clifford, covering the Twitter giveaway, memes about waiting for new 5SOS, the actual new 5SOS and other assorted yuletide cheer. 

Why did you want to do this giveaway around Destiny 2?

Working with the guys at Activision… It's such an awesome way to give back. Gaming has always been my hobby -- literally, my entire life. I think it's really cool to be able to partner with them and do something good. 

Is it a personal favorite game of yours?

Yeah. It came out in October for PC, and I've spent most of every day since then… it's pretty bad [laughs].

Tell me about the rest of the charities involved. This is also going toward iPads for a children's hospital?

Yeah, it's this charity called iPads For Kids. They basically just donate iPads to different hospitals, with games loaded on them for kids to play. They're trying to roll that out into as many as they can, which is awesome. I think hospitals need things like that to help. 

So you're gonna pick one person who retweets your tweet about the contest, and they're the winner?

Yup! It's gonna be a [signed] copy of Destiny 2. And it comes with a piece of merch I've worn for a really long time, and some other goodies I've worn as well… It's a jacket that we sold last year on the tour. I ended up keeping one and had it for about a year. When this opportunity came up, it was such a perfect option to give that away. I don't need it! I support 5SOS enough [laughs].

You recently retweeted a fan hoping for the new 5SOS album in 2018. Do you like joking around with everyone about the long wait?

I guess that's a meme that's been going around as well, with the whole mic thing. Our fans were pretty pissed off that we didn't give them an update about releasing an album this year because towards the start of the year, we were pretty positive we'd have an album out by the end of [2017]. With timing, it just didn't end up working, but we're definitely gonna have the album out next year.

What can you say about how it's coming? 

It's coming along really well. It's taking a really long time to perfect the new sound and direction we're taking. I think the reason it's taken so long is because we haven't just wanted to get it to a place where we're, like, happy… We want it to be perfect. I think when all the new stuff comes out, it's like a departure of our old sound but it still keeps elements of all of the things we liked about it. It was just time for us to change. The studio's been awesome. We've just been slaving away, living in there. We're at a point now where we're almost ready to put out our first single. 

When can fans expect the first single?

I would say, really, really early in the new year. 

Tell me about evolving the sound and building on the last album. For instance, you were in the studio with Steve Aoki a little while back. Do you think there's gonna be more electronic influence on the album?

It's really hard to explain what the sound is without actually hearing it. It's like taking music where it's at now, and putting our spin on it -- making that sound unique. And it's good. It's not necessarily more electronic; it's not just rock… That's the thing with rock and punk music -- it's always mainly been about energy, you know what I mean? Rock music isn't just how you play it, it's the energy that comes from that. And I think we've always had that and tried to keep that. And that's something that conveys pretty well into the new stuff.

Are there any new songs or artists that are influencing your sound?

I think we've tried to kind of take older influences and see how we can make them fit in a new pop world. I don't think there's any one artist recently I could name… We've had fun trying to make old sounds sound new.

With these older sounds, are we talking grunge? Pop-punk?

It's kind of taking a mix of '90s… It's so hard to explain… There's a bunch of garage… The ways we do the gang vocals is kind of like Beastie Boys-ish. Then we have somber pianos on songs… It all makes sense.

What's it been like picking out this lead single? Are you trying to go with one that sums up the album?

Yeah, I think we're just trying to find something that fits into the modern pop streaming market, but also but has something that we love and want to play for our fans. I think we've found it.

Like something that would sound good alongside all the pop, hip-hop and dance in Top 40 or a big Spotify playlist? 

Yeah, exactly. 

As a rock band, is it a really big challenge to fit into that scene these days? 

It was at first when we were still trying to find our identity… because we were so young when we started… We didn't know exactly who we were, we didn't have the confidence in ourselves as musicians, as people yet, because we were just so young and still growing up. As we got older and released our second album, we realized that it's just, the less you think about it, the less it exists, know what I mean? We didn't focus on, like, "Come on guys, we're a rock band! Stop calling us a boy band! We all play instruments; we've never been a boy band!" That was the stigma that was going around. And it got to a point where it was like, why do we even care? It's so stupid. We just make the music we make, and we have the fans we have. They listen to it because they like it. It doesn't matter what genre we are. Whatever music you listen to that comes out your speakers, that's all that matters. 

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