So, if you're not a post-Millennial, Generation Z kid, here's the deal: 5 Seconds of Summer (5SOS) are a big Australian pop-punk boy-band playing in Shanghai on Saturday. They're huge: two number one albums on the Billboard 200; one controversial Rolling Stone cover story; millions of tweens in a permanent state of hysteria. These kids were born around 1996, and they take influences from bands like Green Day, Good Charlotte, and Blink 182, then filter them through a Top40 filter. They first blew up in 2013 while touring with One Direction, a band who they really, really don't like being compared to.
This is one of their better songs. (YouTube, you'll need a VPN).
"Honestly, I used to think 5sos was a bunch of fuckboys that would just be another fad. The first time I heard their most famous song, "She Looks So Perfect", I was done. I came back to see how they were doing. Damn. These boys are emotional. This song is so deep, it hits very close to home. Well done, you've won me over."
And this is another, which I really, really like. (Also YouTube).
As a 30 year-old dude, my first exposure to them was a Rolling Stone cover story titled "5 Seconds of Summer: Inside the Wild Life of the World's Hottest Band", which portrays the band as hungover, late-sleepers who sometimes sleep with fans -- possibly more than one at a time.
Were they just some rockers keeping it real, or was this a meticulously considered PR overhaul designed to distinguish the band from softer contemporaries and earn them respect from male audiences? Either way, the interview pissed off a lot of their fans, many of whom accused author Patrick Doyle of basically making up the story.
Ahead of their show, I spoke with bassist Calum Hood over the phone for fifteen minutes about that interview, Kayne, and Super Mario World.
[Calling a celebrity like this is a process. You get a phone number, then you get an access code, then you get a password. Probably to prevent groupies and stalkers. Bust out the IP Card...]
Phone Robot: ENTERING CONFERENCE.
SmSh: Hey man, thanks a lot for taking the time out of your schedule to do this interview.
Calum: Anytime, anytime.
SmSh: What's going on, what are you doing right now?
Calum: Umm... we're in LA at the moment, we've been writing a little. We've had a month off and we're getting ready to prepare to rehearse for the tour.
SmSh: This phone number, with this passcode, is that a standard thing?
Calum: I have no idea... I can't tell you.
SmSh: So this isn't your cell phone number
Calum: I'm not sure...
SmSh: So, that Rolling Stone interview. That was my first impression of you guys, and I really liked that interview.
Calum: Yeah, I think it was a bit shocking to some of our fans because it was so honest. I think they all learned a lot from the band from that interview, and the main thing is that we don't hold any secrets. We're not a secretive band -- we are who we are with our fans. That's why there's a personal connection [and] relationship with our fans so I think in ten years we'll look back and think that's a great and honest interview.
SmSh: Yeah, thanks to you guys for keeping it real. People have gotten way too politically correct. Back in 1996 -- when you were born -- that's when Marilyn Mansion was at his peak. Dude was fucking fans all the time, people were getting stabbed in mosh pits. Shit was way crazier.
Calum: [laughs] Yeah, well, people have become really sensitive... to just, anything. You can't really say anything or have an opinion. You're never gonna please everyone.
SmSh: Thanks for keeping it rock and roll. There hasn't been a band that's gotten this big in a while, and there's been this... EDM shit kinda taking the throne from rock and roll. Do you see yourselves as saviors of rock?
Calum: We're not saviors. We're definitely trying to get guitars back on the radio. We realize that rock has changed as a genre. If you wanna be played on the radio, you can't come out with these massive sounding, organic drums and heavily distorted guitars and expect it to go, you know, number one across the world. It just doesn't work like that unfortunately. But everything is a cycle, and because of that EDM rise, now everyone is starting to listen to more organic music and starting to like it just because they've heard all this processed stuff and everything's a bit too squeaky clean, and they've realized, you know, 'I kinda need a change', and it's all cycling around and bands are starting to get more popular again, which is good to see.
SmSh: You guys are working with Good Charlotte. Who are some of the other bands that really influenced you?
Calum: We all have different influences. Mike and Ash have a really classic rock influence, and also a very metal influence. I have more of an R&B influence, Luke has a lot of punk influence. So it's all kinda different but the think that brought us together is bands like Green Day and Blink and Alkiline Trio and all that kinda stuff, you know. Great melodies, great guitar riffs, and a solid beat is all that you need to please me.
SmSh: When you say R&B, what kinda R&B?
Calum: I grew up with a lot of Usher playing in the house from my sister, a lot of Chris Brown, a lot of Destiny's Child, Beyonce, D'Angelo, all that kinda stuff.
It's interesting that people gave you so much shit for saying, "Oh, maybe we've slept with fans", but Chris Brown has beat women and is still a pop star.
Calum: …that guy's been through it tough.
SmSh: You guys have been working with a lot of older bands. What's the best advice any of your elders have given you?
Calum: Ummm... the Madden Brothers [Good Charlotte] give us a lot of advice, on the daily. I think the best advice they've given us, they have analogies, they say, "sometimes you feel like an astronaut" and you go off to tour, and he referred to it as the moon, and no one really knows what it's like to be on the moon. It's just you and your astronauts, as in your band, and you come back down to earth and everyone's trying to ask you what it's like but you can't really explain it, you just have to, kinda do it. That was a really cool thing to say, in terms of not trying to feel isolated.
SmSh: How do you like LA?
Calum: Oh, dude, creatively for us, it's an amazing space to be in. It just feels right. We just moved here. I'm with Ashton in a flat and it just feels right.
SmSh: That song by Kanye, "No More Parties IN L.A.", I heard that was written about 5 Seconds Of Summer.
Calum: [laughs] Yeah dude, us and Kayne always hang out.
SmSh: That whole scene, The Weeknd, Kayne, Travi$ Scott, do you ever party with those cats?
Calum: Umm... no, it's kinda two different worlds isn't it. But no. I would like to. If they hear this and extend an invitation, I am definitely down to party with Kanye.
SmSh: When you have after-parties, if you have fans come hang out, do you do the whole "no phones" rule?
Calum: Yeah, usually we don't necessarily party with fans. It depends... if we trust them, then it's your decision. But, usually, everyone kinda has a mutual respect and everyone is always having a good time, so they don't usually take their phones out.
SmSh: So what other bands are you feeling right now?
Calum: Ummm, right now... gonna look through my iTunes... I've been listening a lot to Alkaline Trio, The 1975's stuff... a lot of weird shit... Say Anything, Starting Line... lot of weird stuff.
SmSh: Any classic bass players you really look up to, like Bootsy Collins?
Calum: I love the bass-playing style of Tyson from All American Rejects. Naturally, I love Flea, but it's a total different feel and different style to the music we play. That's like, legit funk. But I really love the technique.
SmSh: Crazy Flea / LA story. You know that actor River Phoenix? He was playing in a band with Flea in a band on Halloween in LA, and he just overdosed and died in the street in front of everybody, at Johnny Depp's club.
Calum: Yeah that's fucking horrible.
SmSh: You ever played Super Mario World?
Calum: Ummm... I'm not sure. Maybe.
SmSh: I'm stuck on Lemmy's Castle, man. Do you have any advice for how I can get through that?
Calum: [laughs]. This is the best question I've ever been asked... Ummm, keep positive. Keep positive and keep going.
SmSh: I appreciate that.
SmSh: Do you usually have opening bands when you come through a place like China?
Calum: Uhhhh yeah, usually. We had, in Mexico I think we had a local support. But last year we took a band that we signed, Hey Violet, out on the road. And then we had State Champs play for us in Australia. We like to get people we can hang out with and have a few drinks with, but also a good band, you know.
SmSh: I think there's a 5 Seconds Of Summer tribute band here called "5 Seconds To KFC" because there's so many KFC's here.
Calum: [laughs] Really?
SmSh: No, no, no... But pop-punk is pretty big here. At least, it was. There's quite a few metal bands here, there's a decent little scene.
[A NEW INTERVIEWER ENTERS THE LINE….]
Another Journalist: Sasha from alk$!aj#$dfoij Indonesia
Computer: HAS ARRIVED
SmSh: Whoa, it's a three-way now.
Another Journalist: Hi Calum I'm afaldfkjasdf from Indonesia. Hello?
Calum: [laughs] I think I have to go dude.
SmSh: Well hey it was really nice talking to you dude, looking forward to the show. Peace.
Calum: You too dude. Cheers brother.
5 Seconds of Summer perform Saturday night at 8pm at the Shanghai Grand Stage. More info in our event listing.