5 Seconds Of Summer: Smells Like Teen Spirit

IT WAS LIKE A Hard Day’s Night writ small. Four young men alight from an aeroplane confronted by screaming teenage girls.

One of the girls faints and is revived by the drummer. As she opens her eyes she sees the elegantly distressed fringe of her idol and immediately faints again. Paramedics are called and security is hired and the band makes a hasty exit to their waiting van. The fans are not to be shaken off by injury. They take to cars driven by their long-suffering parents and they give chase through the sunlight wintry streets of Brisbane. The band regroups in their hotel, preparing for tonight’s sold out show and three hours of screaming mayhem. The pressure is on. Singer Luke Hemmings is no doubt concerned that he will have to leave the show and catch a few hours sleep before the next plane. He has a maths exam on Monday morning.

This is the life of 5 Seconds of Summer, potentially Australia’s next teen sensation. While most of their friends are concerned about Skyrim and the relative merits of brands of nachos, these four teenagers are taking meeting with international record companies.

The world is in the grip of a teen epidemic. Most of the past decade was dominated by hip hop and girl singers (Miley, Taylor Swift) but Justin Bieber Fever put boys back in the frame and English boy band One Direction have turned the phenomenon into an epidemic. Australia’s hopes are pinned on these four boys from the outer Western suburbs of Sydney.

Technically, 5 Seconds of Summer are not a boy band — they play their own instruments and don’t do choreographed dance moves but they do have the looks and the haircuts — long fringes swept rakishly across their foreheads. When the Sunrise program called them “Australia’s One Direction” Mel and Kochy were deluged with tens of thousands of Tweets correcting their terminology.

In a scenario reminiscent of Justin Bieber, some 12 months ago Hemmings (15) began posting videos on YouTube of himself doing cover versions. He was soon joined by schoolmates Callum Hood (17) and Michael Clifford (16) under the name 5 Seconds of Summer. Last November, they were offered a gig at Sydney’s inner-west hipster joint the Annandale Hotel. They found a drummer, Ashton Irwin (17), via Facebook and borrowed enough instruments to play the date.

Fortunately, only 20 of their thousands of YouTube fans showed up. But as the Beatles’ had the Cavern, 5SOS (as they’re known to their fans) had the Annandale. They began rehearsing four times a week and writing their own material. “We even practiced in the dark with the lights off,” says Clifford. “I know it sounds weird but it worked.” Manager Adam Wilkinson tracked them down via their Facebook page. “I recognized him because he was the only message we had from a male,” quips Irwin.

By June when they booked their first tour they had sold out two nights in three capitals in venues of about 500 capacities. Although they had tickets, fans queued for some hours before the doors opened, screamed through the entire show and then waited for three hours afterwards for the meet-n-greets and opportunities to get merchandise. All the merchandise was sold — which is these days the mark of success in pop music. A small start but strong enough to elicit serious offers from three major record labels and major music publishers.

We caught up with 5 Seconds of Summer on a recent Saturday afternoon in an industrial park near Windsor on Sydney’s northwestern fringe. This semi-rural area of sleepy wide streets, shopping malls and car wreckers is an hour and a half from the city and a million miles from tinsel town.

The band was nestled in a small rehearsal space amongst food packed by their parents, plus the inevitable cold pizza and Pringles’ chips. The dream of becoming professional musicians is within grasp and they seem excited, slightly bewildered and more than a little daunted.

Hemmings is the youngest of the four and, along with Hood, studying Year 11 at Northwest Christian College. He’s the de facto leader but when not performing, he’s the most shy and self-effacing. Irwin who just turned 18 is the most confident. Clifford, who has already left school for TAFE is prepared for rock stardom. Callum Hood, whose sister was a contestant on The Voice, is the most serious writer. “I spend a lot of time on it. Some days it doesn’t come out and I’m angry for the whole night,” he says.

When not at school or rehearsing the boys burn the midnight oil on Twitter and Facebook. More than once this month they have topped the “now trending” on Twitter. Their Facebook page has close to 60,000 friends — up almost 10,000 in a week.

“We spend a lot of time on it,” says Hood of social media. “We have our own individual Twitters and we have the main band Twitter and our Facebook accounts and that’s going crazy.”

“I went from 300 Facebook friends to 5000 friends and 8000 subscribers almost overnight,” adds Irwin. “We pay attention to our online fans and they really give it back. They share our stuff and they are really coming on the journey with us.”

It hasn’t all been haircuts and cover versions. According to Peter Karpin who heads A&R for Universal Music, “The important thing is the songs and underneath all the girls’ screaming I could hear some good songs there.” The band has already signed a publishing deal with Sony ATV. Their first original song ‘Gotta Get Out’ went into the iTunes national chart at number three with no promotion beyond social media. It’s a good start but too soon to know whether 5 Seconds of Summer are the next Silverchair or a flash in the pan.

The band is seeing the downside of success too. People are yelling at them in servos and malls. Irwin’s tyres have been slashed and the band has “found out who their real friends are” at school.

Remarkably grounded, Luke, Callum, Michael and Ashton are still processing the strangeness of success. “Having people notice you in the street — that’s weird,” says Clifford. “We went to McDonalds the other day and sat in the corner and every single person in the McDonalds knew who we were. And I found out later that, after we’d left, this group of girls sat in the spot we were sitting at and like smelt it!”

© Toby CreswellSydney Morning Herald, the, 20 July 2012

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