Sex, tax& rock’n’roll


Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Joe Hildebrand -

The cor­ri­dor out­side the 5 Sec­onds of Sum­mer dress­ing room is buzzing with buoy­ant friends and fam­ily cel­e­brat­ing the band’s sold-out show at New York’s world-fa­mous Madi­son Square Gar­den. Min­utes after walk­ing off the stage, drenched in sweat, the four Aussie rock­stars are ex­cit­edly hug­ging and fist-pump­ing their loved ones and en­joy­ing a well-earned beer back­stage un­der pho­tos of many leg­ends who have played here be­fore them, from The Rolling Stones to lo­cal hero Billy Joel.

Singer Luke Hem­mings, gui­tarist Michael Clif­ford, bas­sist Calum Hood and drum­mer Ash­ton Ir­win, four boys from Syd­ney’s outer western sub­urbs, al­ways dreamed of be­ing the big­gest rock band in the world. In just five whirl­wind years, they’ve gone from play­ing to 20 peo­ple in an in­ner-city pub to their cur­rent Sounds Live Feels Live world tour, which has sold out are­nas through­out Europe and the US. And they’ve done it all with­out a suc­ces­sion of mon­ster pop hits, in­stead build­ing a fan base via the very 21st-cen­tury method of cover ver­sions up­loaded to Youtube, sup­port from Bri­tish boy­band be­he­moth One Di­rec­tion, who in­tro­duced them to the world on their 2013 tour, and a mil­lions-strong so­cial-me­dia fol­low­ing. The self-named 5SOSFAM have down­loaded the band’s al­bums (their self-ti­tled 2014 de­but and last year’s Sounds Good Feels Good), streamed the sin­gles, bought the T-shirts and shad­owed their favourite four ev­ery­where they can find them.

Such fans are the rock on which many a boy band has come to grief. The hor­mon­ally-charged teenagers who were early adopters of the band five years ago are now young women who are less hys­ter­i­cal and more strate­gi­cally flir­ta­tious. Ir­win agrees that their lives are more com­fort­able now the high­pitched screams greet them when they walk on­stage in­stead of when they walk down the street, and likes to re­fer to the fans as friends. As to how he be­haves when they want to be­come more than friends, the drum­mer’s take is par­ent(and me­dia-) friendly. “It’s an­other thing you have to learn. What is go­ing to make your heart feel good and what’s good for your soul. Ob­vi­ously there are many beau­ti­ful women who fol­low this band and that is awe­some. But you need to take care of your ac­tions and make sure that you are re­spect­ful all the time,” he says. “That’s who we write our songs about, too. You meet dif­fer­ent won­der­ful peo­ple along the way.”

Gui­tarist Clif­ford agrees, say­ing his mother Karen would pre­fer not to ac­knowl­edge the sex­ual ac­tiv­i­ties of young men in bands. In re­al­ity, it must be hard to avoid, as her son and his girl­friend, model Crys­tal Leigh, reg­u­larly ap­pear in gossip columns and are of­ten trolled on so­cial me­dia. So are Hem­mings and his part­ner, so­cial­me­dia star Arza­ylea, who met at Kylie Jen­ner’s 18th birth­day party. “We’re so young and the thing is, [dat­ing is] so nor­mal,” says Clif­ford. “If an­other 20-year-old kid, Michael Clif­ford in Syd­ney, was try­ing to hook up with a girl he knew in high school, lit­er­ally no one would give a f*ck. It’s be­cause of this strange plat­form we have that peo­ple do care about it… It has taken us a while to get used to.”

The boys, all aged 20 ex­cept Ir­win, who’s 22, have taken most as­pects of the no­madic and of­ten ex­haust­ing life­style of the mu­si­cian in their stride, how­ever. There have been no trips to re­hab, no band bust-ups, and no Bieber-style so­cial-me­dia melt­downs.

THIS PAR­TIC­U­LAR EX­HAUST­ING day in the life of 5SOS, Fri­day, July 15, be­gins at the very un-rock’n’roll time of 6.30am, when the mu­si­cians and their team emerge like the walk­ing dead to head to the hit-mak­ing Sir­iusxm ra­dio sta­tion, which has sup­ported them since the early days. They greet fans out­side the Soho Grand Ho­tel be­fore a few hours of in­ter­views and meet-and-greets. After in­hal­ing break­fast in the corner

“If an­other 20-year-old kid was try­ing to hook up with a girl he knew in high school, no one would care”

of a stu­dio where pro­duc­ers fran­ti­cally pre­pare for their live interview and the ra­dio pre­miere of their new sin­gle, “Girls Talk Boys” (which fea­tures on the Ghostbusters sound­track), the band switch into gear. 5SOS are as en­ter­tain­ing here as they are on­stage, ed­u­cat­ing their hosts about Aus­tralian slang – sickie, mozzie and pokie – while Ir­win tells a story from the night be­fore, when he was in a bar and had to get his fam­ily to text a photo of his 23-year-old dog to con­vince peo­ple the el­derly ca­nine was still alive.

Be­fore they leave the ra­dio sta­tion, it’s grin-and-grip time. First the ra­dio jocks, then the fans: hand your bag to a min­der, stand in the mid­dle of the four men, take your bag and out the door. The photo will be sent later. It’s not cold and clin­i­cal – rather a well-oiled ma­chine that en­sures every­one gets their mo­ment and sou­venir.

They have a few hours to catch up on sleep or stroll Soho be­fore the sound check at Madi­son Square Gar­den, an­other fan ses­sion with 1500 con­test win­ners and fi­nally, the con­cert. Dur­ing re­hearsal, they run through the new sin­gle – which now has more than 16 mil­lion streams on Spo­tify since its re­lease in mid-july – for its live pre­miere. It’s clear Hem­mings, Ir­win, Clif­ford and Hood are in charge: they in­sist if the video pack­age for the song isn’t ready, they won’t go with it that night, and they fine-tune the per­for­mance un­til they’re sat­is­fied.

Ir­win says mak­ing the sec­ond al­bum re­vealed the boys’ in­di­vid­ual strengths. He takes care of the art­work, Hood mus­cled up in the song­writ­ing, Clif­ford is the sound and pro­duc­tion guru, and Hem­mings fo­cused on his front­man vo­cals as well as play­ing the pi­ano. “I think that’s why we are in the po­si­tion we are now,” says Clif­ford. “Be­cause all of us call the shots on dif­fer­ent things. We take ad­vice on things we know aren’t our field, but now we’ve been do­ing it for five years, we un­der­stand a lot more.” Adds Hood: “And we’ve proved our­selves: we’re at Madi­son Square Gar­den, so you have to take con­trol of your show. If it’s sh*t, it’s on you.”

IN BE­TWEEN ALL this ac­tiv­ity, there’s the Stel­lar photo shoot. The boys in­sist on wear­ing their own clothes and the make-up artist they asked to be flown out from Los An­ge­les spends more of the af­ter­noon on their girl­friends’ hair and make-up than giv­ing her charges a rock­star makeover. She does re­veal, how­ever, that Clif­ford has one bit of hair at the back of his head that al­ways sticks up, and that Hem­mings loves boots – ap­par­ently he has a pair of gold Yves Saint Lau­rent ones.

After the shoot, we catch up in their dress­ing room. I did their first-ever interview four years ago, after their man­ager Matt Em­sell in­sisted they weren’t just an­other boy band, and fol­lowed their rapid pro­gres­sion from teen dream­ers to suc­cess­ful young men. Rock­star treat­ment, model girl­friends and de­signer boots aside, 5SOS re­main the po­lite, funny quar­tet they al­ways were. Ir­win strums a guitar and makes up a wel­come song while Clif­ford clears away their half-eaten plates of pasta. There is an un­der­cur­rent of nerves about this gig, but they seem pretty re­laxed for a bunch of Aussie blokes about to play a sold-out show at the world-renowned venue. They laugh up­roar­i­ously when in­formed Forbes has in­cluded them on its 2016 Celebrity 100 Up And Com­ers list, sug­gest­ing their al­bum and ticket sales were “rak­ing in dou­ble-digit mil­lions”.

“When my par­ents com­plained about tax when I was younger, it was like, ‘What­ever, Mum,’” says Clif­ford. “Last year I went home and was like, ‘Tax, what the hell?’ Half of ev­ery­thing is gone! It’s like go­ing through a divorce ev­ery time you get a pay cheque.”

“When my par­ents com­plained about tax when I was young, it was like, ‘What­ever.’ Now half of ev­ery­thing I earn is gone!”

Tax isn’t their only headache. They ex­plain how they’ve made the 5SOS Ex­press, the tour bus that’s their home dur­ing the Amer­i­can leg of the tour, a home away from home with throws, rugs and, in Hood’s case, fairy lights in his bunk. Tour­ing, how­ever, still takes its toll on the lads: “It’s su­per-ro­man­ti­cised, but you are liv­ing within half a me­tre of every­one on the tour,” ex­plains Clif­ford.

A more en­ter­tain­ing form of trans­port is the golf cart they re­quest on ev­ery rider. They drive it around the vast car parks of the re­gional are­nas they play to say hello to fans and, when the girls have gone in­side, their par­ents. They also pose for self­ies with the dads wait­ing out­side by their cars, know­ing the pho­tos will later make their daugh­ters green with envy.

5SOS has es­caped the boy-band tag, now re­garded as a punk­ish-pop out­fit in­stead, and demon­strate re­spectable musical chops dur­ing the gig, which kicks off around 9pm. Their long day of me­dia and fan com­mit­ments has seem­ingly taken no toll as they de­liver a per­for­mance that’s pol­ished, en­er­getic and damn good fun.

Hem­mings’s mother is in the pit in front of the stage tak­ing pho­tos, while his dad and brother are at the sound desk, along with the girl­friends and friends, drink­ing and danc­ing and singing along. So are the mums in the crowd; dads mostly sit and smile as their daugh­ters howl in be­tween bursts of singing and danc­ing. The screams hurt your ears, the songs don’t; their in­fec­tious pop hooks, three-part vo­cals and Ir­win’s propul­sive rhythms and en­er­getic per­for­mance in­cit­ing you to move. Fan favourite “Jet Black Heart” loses some mo­men­tum when Clif­ford stretches out his big mo­ment of soak­ing up the screams alone on stage for about three min­utes, while his band mates wait un­der­neath. I won­der who has to have the con­ver­sa­tion with him not to milk it so long at the next gig. But I won­der more how far they can go. After a night of tri­umph, it ap­pears the dream isn’t so far from re­al­ity. 5 Sec­onds Of Sum­mer per­form at Mar­garet Court Arena, Melbourne, on Septem­ber 29; River­stage, Bris­bane, Oc­to­ber 2; and Hordern Pavil­ion, Syd­ney, Oc­to­ber 4 and 5.


6.30am 8.15am

SUM­MER LOVIN’ (clock­wise) Fans wait for a glimpse of the boys; (from left) Ir­win, Hood, Clif­ford and Hem­mings have a laugh on the ra­dio; play­ing dress-up to pro­mote sin­gle “Girls Talk Boys” which fea­tures on the Ghostbusters sound­track.

1.45pm 2.30pm

IF YOU CAN MAKE IT HERE… After a few hours to them­selves, 5SOS head to the world-fa­mous Madi­son Square Gar­den in Man­hat­tan to re­hearse for their sold-out show.

AWE­SOME FOUR­SOME (clock­wise) An­other fan ses­sion with their 5SOSFAM; ac­cept­ing an MTV Fan­dom Award; shak­ing off the pre-show nerves; rock­ing out in front of 18,000 scream­ing fans.

4.45pm 6.10pm 8.36pm

11pm 9pm

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