Music

Luke Hemmings Deconstructs 5 Seconds of Summer's 'CALM'

If there was ever a time for an album titled CALM to get released, it's now — and thankfully 5 Seconds of Summer was the band to do it.

After their smash-hit single "Youngblood" stole summer 2018, the band went on the massive Meet You There tour and formulated their next artistic era. Led by the release of their comeback single "Easier" in 2019, the new direction the band seemed to be following was just as kinetic as the rollouts for their previous albums, including their self-titled record and Sounds Good Feels Good. The music video for the lead track was sweat-soaked and shrouded in mystery, with band members up to their necks in cooling guitar riffs and literal pools of water. "Easier" might not have been as anthemic as the songs that gave 5 Seconds of Summer their start, like "Good Girls" or "She Looks so Perfect," but it riled up fans in a whole new, post-boyband way.

The next single to drop, "Teeth," flipped the cool-as-ice attitudes band members brandished on "Easier" upside down; fronted by sly pop battle cries, thumping bass guitars and backed by a clinking drum hit throughout, it is an abrasive alarm for stans to prep themselves for the slew of new material coming their way.

Now, with their newest album CALM officially out in the world and debuting at number one in the UK, the band is ready to introduce fans to a new energetic catalogue. Tracks like "Wildflower" and "Not in The Same Way" stand out as expertly written songs representing the peaks and valleys of love for a generation grappling with ways to show true affection. Clearly, not every song is as abrasive and loud-mouthed as "Teeth," with "Old Me" taking the front seat for easy listening and reflection. CALM is an album less concerned about being just one thing, and more concerned with showing off the band's diverse songwriting and sonic abilities.

So, in the end, 5 Seconds of Summer's CALM isn't all that calm. It's tense, but succinct: combining thrashing guitar riffs and clipped vocals with bubbling bass lines and lovestruck lyricism. It's an album for about as "calm" as life can be.

Read PAPER's full interview with 5 Seconds of Summer frontman Luke Hemmings below, where he deconstructs CALM and talks all about making the jam session-produced tracks.

I really got the chance to sit down and digest CALM today, it was so nice. I have all the time in the world to listen to everyone's music, it's awesome.

It's almost like you have too much time.

I covered the drop of "Easier" earlier last year and so it's been interesting to see how CALM has been coming together since then. It's quite the record.

Thank you very much. We released "Easier" a while ago now, huh? It's been a bunch of songs out since then.

Yeah, it started the era.

It's odd releasing the album without having the rest of the band in the same room and not being in every country together, but I mean that's also a nice thing. Same as you, I get to digest it in a much much different way than I ever have released an album. Obviously, what's going on is terrible, and not a good time at all in the world, but at the same time, I'm very privileged to be at home and release the record. To be able to take it all in and do it all differently and see the positives in it.

Does it feel like a more controlled environment? Like you're able to kind of observe the fan reactions on social media and still be able to network with the other band members online or via text? Does it feel a little bit more relaxed?

It feels relaxed in almost like a "it's almost too quiet" way. Our promo tours are pretty brutal, and we're everywhere all the time and doing a bunch of stuff. We're lucky we can do that stuff. But it's been nice, like you said, we do a bunch of stuff at home and see what the fans like. Do they like this? And then, we just talk with our team and the band on FaceTime or Zoom or whatever, and think outside of the box. Although every album is released for the fans, it seems like the focus is on that more than ever before.

And the album's titled CALM. It's almost like a direction for everyone to stay calm throughout this. It's kind of eerie how it all lines up.

Yeah, it is kind of odd. That's definitely one way to look at it.

Was "Easier" the project that led to exploring and building out the themes that shaped the rest of CALM?

Well, there's two sides, but on the writing side of it, obviously, all the songs we write are going to have an impact down the line. I think "Easier" was one of the earlier ones, but songs like "Red Desert" shaped the album creatively as a writer, personally. But then, on the release side, I think "Easier" and "Teeth" are quite dark, they represent a darker side to the album. When we got to "No Shame", I felt like there was almost a lighter, fuller side to it, almost as a tongue-in-cheek type vibe in that song. I think that grew through "Old Me" and it was kind of reflective, then "Wildflower" is so vibrant. Total opposite to a song like "Teeth," I would think when I listened to it.

Got it.

I think "Easier" is obviously going to shape it because it is the first song. We never actually released an album where 40% of the songs come out before the actual album is released. That's what a lot of people are doing at the moment for streaming purposes and stuff. It's been a really, for a lot of reasons, interesting release.

You even already remixed a song — "Best Years" — for the Calm app. I imagine that one is probably one of the more formative ones to have shaped the album as well.

I love that song. I think it's the same thing. This album has a lighter, hopeful side to it, that I really adore. I think we got pretty dark on the third album and even on the second, I suppose, there's a lot of darker moments on it. I think that this one has that. It has that tone to it. Not to compare us to the almighty men, but a Johnny Cash-sort of songwriter vibe exists in a lot of the songs. But it also has this hopefulness at the end of it, and I think "Best Years" is a good example of that. I don't know if it's the headspace we were in, or if we were just scared, or thought we should have been a bit darker — but this album, it was very free. I think that "Best Years" wouldn't have been a song that would've been ready on the last album or the album before that. It was just written on a guitar and a lot of it was just me and Ryan Tedder in a room. It was just such a beautiful love note. It was almost like a promise in that song: show love.

One of the distinctions I'm drawing between CALM and the previous albums is that this one is more of a jam album. I wouldn't get up and bust a move, but I might jam and sway along to it. That's hard to accomplish with a pop record.


A few of the songs in this album we recorded live as a band, and then we wrote the song over the top of that bed of music, which would explain some of the jam feel to it.

Which ones?

"No Shame," for sure.

Was "Not In The Same Way" also one of those?

That came from a baseline and like, jamming, then "Teeth" came from the same place, jamming and a baseline, and "Lover of Mine" was just written at home. It's just pretty much all over the place. It definitely had more of the band's soul in it, if that makes sense.

When I consider the band's past albums, they've lyrically had these anthems stand out in terms of writing that just get stuck in your head. While this album has those songs, I would say the instrumentation is more what's looping back, becoming the earworm.

It's odd, now that you're bringing this up, I'm learning more about the album. There's things that happen that you don't think about. Even looking at it now, it's split between jam — I hate the word jam, but it's the only word there is for it — and songs made on an acoustic and everything is written after.

Do you remember the first track that you all sat down and wrote for Calm?

I thought it was "Red Desert," but I think "High" was the first one written for the album, which kind of sets a lyrical tone to it. Then when we wrote "Red Desert" just with us, as a band. We had a grasp on what we wanted to do lyrically, but also sonically with those big vocals. That kind of led the way for other songs like "Wildflower."

Were there songs that you had to cut from the album that you wish had made it?

Usually, with our albums, we write 100 songs. This was the only one we had that was 20 to 25 songs. I think that is because we had a better understanding of what we wanted to sound like and we, from the get go, knew.

"Not In The Same Way" was one track that really stood out for me. I wanted to ask specifically about the process of making that song and what it means to have it on that album.

Yeah, this song was written very quickly, and it was one of the most exciting in the room, I think. Me and Ash were in there, and Andrew had this baseline [imitates base noises] and then we started singing to it, like following along and then it kind of moved very quickly. A lot of the times, it's this long process and you feel like the worst songwriter in the world, and this is one of the ones where it all just kind of fell into place quickly. I remember leaving the studio after this and being like, "Oh fuck, that's why I love to write."

You got a buzz.

That was a day it felt easy. If you can get any of those days where you're writing, and have a song come out from it that you love as well, then that's a great day. It has my favorite bridge on the album, because the bridge obviously speaks to a tumultuous time in a relationship at the beginning. We were kind of afraid to jump in, we kind of hurt one another, and the bridge was actually written from a female perspective. I'm singing from a male perspective and that bridge is written from the other side. There's two sides to every story. I love the story, actually. It's very honest. I don't think we've ever had a song sound like this before.

Where did that conversational perspective come from, the storytelling and dialogue within the lyrics?

Well, it's about me and my current girlfriend, and she's incredible. Maybe Ashton was there as well, maybe he was writing about someone else, but that's where I was writing about from. She's a beautiful human. It could be painted in such a... when the worst moments are written on paper, it doesn't look very good. It was very important that it was the other side of it, because a lot of the mistakes are mine, you know? Pointing it back at myself and being like, "What would you say about this? What does she feel about me? What did I actually do to cause this as well?"

I also wanted to ask about the live performances for this current era. What songs have you gotten to play for crowds thus far?

We've played "Easier" a lot. We've played "Teeth" a lot. We played "No Shame" once. We've rehearsed a lot. I have a feeling that we'll play these songs on the tour hopefully. At the moment it's going ahead, but hopefully it'll fall into place and we can still play. It'll be a lot of fourth album stuff on the road.

You also played the bushfire relief concert last month, what was that experience like?

That was actually the first time we played "No Shame." That was the gig I was talking about. I mean, I went back at Christmas time and saw firsthand what the fires were doing. Like they were very close to my parent's house. Didn't get them, thankfully, but the sky was red and it was a really sad time. To a play a show like that and play music to a crowd is an easy thing to do, so if we could do it with that sort of power and positivity behind it, with people coming together for such a great cause, that's a no-brainer for us. It was really special. I've always wanted to play at that venue and like I said, with that cause behind it, it was really really special. It was for a sad reason, but it was really really cool.

Did you get to interact with anybody else from the lineup? I saw it was a stacked one.

There was a lot of people there. I saw Alice Cooper's band in catering. [Laughs] And then I saw Adam Lambert watching us from the side stage!

Oh my god, the pressure was on!

He had this leopard green jacket on, you couldn't miss him. He's fucking incredible.

Photo via Andy Deluca

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