Album release week felt a little different for the 5 Seconds of Summer guys this year. Instead of running around the country performing tracks from their new LP, Calm (which arrived March 27), each of the 5SOS guys were at their respective Los Angeles homes, quarantined as part of the efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s definitely odd,” frontman Luke Hemmings says over the phone. “It’s forced us to think out of the box, in how can we make an impact from home and bring a bit of positive spirit into people’s lives.”
But here’s what Hemmings and his bandmates (guitarist Michael Clifford, bassist Calum Hood and drummer Ashton Irwin) may not have realized: The out-of-the-box thinking had already been done with the album itself. Not only is Calm 5SOS’ first on Interscope Records — after nearly 6 years with Capitol — but it’s the Australian group’s most musically complex project yet. The album’s 12 tracks intertwine anthemic harmonies (album opener “Red Desert”) with thumping beats and basslines (lead single “Easier”), grinding electric guitar (second single “Teeth”) and swirling production (“Wildflower”).
While those elements have all been part of 5 Seconds of Summer’s DNA since their pop-punk beginnings, the group showcases a new fearlessness in both their songwriting and delivery on Calm — one that impressed even the 5SOS guys themselves. “I don’t know if we thought that we could ever be a band that could be this expansive sonically,” Hemmings says.
5 Seconds of Summer’s confidence stemmed from the 2018 success of their crossover smash “Youngblood,” which — at the time of its release — was their most boundary-pushing track to date, with a reverberating melody and a shout-along chorus. The song earned the group their first No. 1 on the Pop Songs chart and first top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in October of that year, a feat that reassured their creative instincts.
“‘Youngblood’ opened up a public side to the band again, which was a huge thing for us,” says 5SOS’ bassist Calum Hood. “It gave us an opportunity to create the fourth record with freedom and confidence in our ability that we could write songs that were taken in by people on a worldwide level.”
The band kept a broad, pop-leaning fan base in mind for Calm, enlisting “Youngblood” co-writers Ali Tamposi (Camila Cabello), Andrew Watt (Ozzy Osbourne) and Louis Bell (Post Malone) to co-write and co-produce on the album. But 5SOS were clearly looking to expand their reach even more with their latest set, bringing new pop powerhouses on board — Charlie Puth helped with “Easier”; Ryan Tedder and Benny Blanco each have three cuts — and even landing rock legend Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine for guitar riffs on “Teeth.”
Lyrically, 5 Seconds of Summer delivered their most honest and raw lyrics yet, taking new approaches on romantic relationships (whether it’s a pained farewell like “High” or a heartfelt love note like “Best Years”) while also confronting the reality of relationships with themselves (“Old Me”) and with society (“No Shame”). It’s a natural progression for a band that started as teenagers who are now young men — their ages range from 23-25 — but in 5SOS’ case, their masterful pop-rock evolution almost makes you forget they’re the same kids behind a pop-punk love song about a girl in American Apparel underwear.
Even so, the guys recognize that they haven’t completely disconnected with their younger selves. “The spirit of pop-punk is always reverberated within the spirit of this band, which is kind of not to give a f–k,” Hood says. Hemmings echoes that sentiment: “We’re a rock band in a pop space, and [we’re] pushing those boundaries of what that can be in this day and age.”
Though 5 Seconds of Summer have yet to see an impact quite like “Youngblood” with any of the advance singles from Calm (“Easier,” the set’s highest charter thus far, peaked at No. 48 on the Hot 100 in June 2019), the guys have never felt more comfortable about what they’re creating, which comes through in the set’s inspired tone — and frankly, even in the way the 5SOS guys talk about it.
“This album sees a light at the end of the tunnel, as opposed to [approaching] those harder or darker life moments as a sad period,” Hemmings says. “I feel like, particularly on the last album, we were stuck in a mindset, and those moments were dwelled on too much. We’re moving forward.”
Hood agrees: “This is the best representation of who we are, not just as artists, but as people.”