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We Tested 5 Seconds of Summer’s Pop-Punk Chops

The teen idols talk Green Day, Blink-182, and why people see them as a boy band

If there is one consistency in pop-punk, it’s the “get me out of this fucking town” teen escapism that floats through every lovelorn power chord. In a sense, it’s the perfect music for adolescence: mischievous, not dangerous. The California bands who revolutionized the genre (Green Day, the Descendents) were well into their mid-20s when they reached any real success, still singing the same sad, sophomoric song.

Now, imagine if the chart-friendly anthems of rebellion that informed a generation of wide-eyed brats in the late-’90s and early-’00s was actually created by high school students. Imagine if Blink-182 were actually 16 when they sang of youth holding such better days in “Adam’s Song.”

Enter 5 Seconds of Summer, the handsome Australian band made up of impossibly tight-pant-toting teens (and one 20-year-old): vocalist Luke Hemmings (18), guitarist Michael Clifford (18), bassist Calum Hood (18) and drummer Ashton Irwin (20). In three years they’ve done what bands like All Time Low could only dream of: becoming the biggest new rock act in recent history, on one of the highest grossing tours of all time… and they still need fake IDs.

Though they’re erroneously written off by detractors as a boy band, visually, 5 Seconds of Summer are known for their band-shirt uniform, and are often photographed in ripped rock tees representing acts like Metallica and Less Than Jake, not the Backstreet Boys. That said, when you’re one of the biggest groups in the world, you’re probably not picking your own wardrobe, so we decided to test the guys. As hundreds of tween girls circled their hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina, SPIN played 5 Seconds of Summer a handful of songs without telling them the title or the band responsible. The boys were forced to guess the tune and describe their relationship to each. Are these heartthrobs smart music fans? You better believe it.

1) Blink-182, “I Miss You”

Ashton: Jesus of Surburbia? Sum-41? Just kidding. I used to see these dudes [Gestures to the rest of the band] cover this and Michael was playing the bongos for some reason.

Michael: The bongos were so out of place. We went into the studio when we were doing an acoustic EP. Back then we were doing covers on YouTube and we were going to properly record in the studio… this is the first one we did. It’s still probably one of my favorite things that we’ve done. 

SPINWas their self-titled your first Blink-182 record? How did you get into the band?

Calum: I’m not sure what my first album was but I remember going to a store called Sanity. I went in there with my own money and I bought “I Miss You” by Blink. It was the first CD that I’ve ever bought. That’s pretty much how I fell in love with all that type of music. 

Is it your favorite on the record? There’s that song with Robert Smith but “I Miss You” seems to be everybody’s favorite.

Luke: It’s a song for Blink that I think that did that thing where it brought in everyone, not just punk rock fans. Anyone can like this song.

Ashton: That’s an admirable thing about the song. It’s a smart song. It’s not just another punk song.

Calum: It’s really easy to sing along. I think Blink were very smart with their songwriting.

Michael: I feel like with the type of songs they wrote, they did it so kids could pick up a guitar and it could be the first song that they learn.

“Dammit.” That’s everybody’s first song.

Michael: Exactly.

What’s the first song you learned how to play on your respective instruments?

Michael: I went hardcore and tried to learn “Stairway to Heaven.” It was so fucking bad.

Calum: You had ambition.

Ashton: Mine was “Holiday.” Green Day.

Luke: Mine was “Holiday” on the drums. I learned how to play that before I knew how to play guitar. I think I learned “Smoke On The Water,” then “Eye of the Tiger,” then “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Ashton: I didn’t like Blink. I thought they were messy live and I didn’t really like that. I was a Green Day guy because the first DVD I bought was Green Day’s Bullet In A Bible, the live album. That really empowered me to be not just a drummer but a performer. It’s a really crucial part of why I wanted to be in a band. I got into Blink in the past four years to be honest. I just didn’t really like his voice when I was younger. I liked Billie better because he seemed to be able to belt a tune out live as well. I really respected that.

2) Green Day, “Longview”

Do you know this Green Day song? Do you have a connection to Dookie

Luke: It was before we were born. I think we came in at American Idiot like a lot of bands did and went back. I still like their new stuff… not a lot of people liked 21st Century Breakdown.

Michael: I’m still discovering Green Day songs, man. There are so many, like 11 albums. This is definitely one of the best bass riffs ever.

You said you came in on American Idiot. Was there any attraction to the political nature of that record?

Michael: I was too young to understand all the political references.

Luke: I knew it was making me angry but I didn’t know why. I think I was probably ten, if that. I don’t know. I remember sitting in my room, singing “Holiday” and my dad telling me to shut up.

3) Nirvana, “Lithium”

When’s the first time you heard Nirvana? First time you fell in love to Nirvana? First time you made out to Nirvana?

Ashton: Never made out to Nirvana.

Actually that’s a bummer, I don’t recommend it.

Ashton: Probably! I remember there were these two really emo girls that went to my school, Danielle and Kim. They were as gothic as gothic can be and it was like “Nirvana or get the fuck out.” I used to talk about other bands with those girls and they were just like “Nope, Nirvana’s the shit.” I was just a little dude that liked American Idiot. Nirvana is next level. The songs are really cool to connect with on a more mature level and I don’t think I really understood that when I was 15.

Ashton: You understand that it’s a good pop song and that’s what got us in, probably because it was on the radio. Growing older you respect the whole culture behind Nirvana. We’re huge Dave Grohl fans and the Foo Fighters… Queens of the Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures. He’s just a monumental figure in the greatest rock bands ever. It’s something to look up to. 

Were you into any other grunge bands? It’s okay if you don’t like Pearl Jam. 

Luke: My dad loves Pearl Jam so I had to like them as well.

4) Sublime, “What I Got”

Ashton: This song is my running soundtrack.

It’s kind of slow for that, is it not? 

Ashton: No, it’s chill in the morning. I remember first hearing this song in 2005 on a jet ski game. It was my favorite game because of the playlist.

Were there other video games that helped inform your music taste?

Calum: Tony Hawk!

I was hoping you were going to say that! 

Luke: The one with Goldfinger on it. I didn’t know that was a Goldfinger song. “Superman” was on it, wasn’t it?

Michael: I remember I used to play NHL Hitz ’02 Max. One of the songs was Limp Bizkit “Rollin'” and every time it came on I just used to want to beat the shit out of people in the game.

Ashton: I love that about our generation: how we discovered bands through games. 

Have you been courted by video game people? What would the sport be?

Calum: Croquet. 5SOS Croquet.

Michael: I would love for us to be in a video game. I’m a huge, huge, huge gamer. Avidly, I would say, probably quite obsessed. If our song got on a video game it would probably instantly become my favorite video game.

Where would you go from there, you know?

Michael: Unless we do, like a pamphlet song in Zelda.

5) Mayday Parade, “Jersey”

Michael: I have a cover on my phone of us playing this on the piano like four years ago and I was doing the harmony.

Luke: When we first started as a band we knew we could all sing and we took harmonies from Mayday Parade which doesn’t like a good harmony reference but it was for us. We wanted to take harmonies from Mayday Parade and be a guitar playing band.

Ashton: That’s one of the crucial things that made people go, “Oh, that’s a boy band.” Mariana’s Trench and stuff, the way they harmonize was so fascinating to us. It was like, “Whoa, you guys can sing and sing so fucking well.” That was super impressive. We really aimed to sound like that.

The boy band thing is interesting because I consider you guys a pop-punk band and pop-punk has always had a huge female fan base. Warped Tour still has more women in attendance than men.

Michael: Yeah! The super pop-punk fanatics, they’re never going to like us.

Ashton: They’ll never like anyone until they’ve been around for 20 years and have epic beards and shit. It’s also the media. We get portrayed as a boy band. I think it’s a good thing that we confuse people. Get people talking about us.

6) AC/DC, “Highway to Hell”

Michael: This is the song that plays before we go on stage.

Calum: Australian anthem!

Luke: We used to play Jet before we go on stage. We needed a song that’s in the same key as the first song that we play.

What Jet song? 

Ashton: “Are You Going To Be My Girl.”

The only one Americans know.

Ashton: Jet are like a modern AC/DC. We thought why don’t we play actual AC/DC instead.

Calum: It gets you so pumped. Everyone plays along.

Ashton: It gets all the moms and dads and uncles who drive all the kids to the show, it gives them four minutes of happiness. We look at the crowd cameras, you can see them backstage before you go on and all the kids are kind of like, “Oh, this is awful,” but the parents are rocking out. It gets them on your side.

Luke: My mum’s on the road with us for like a week and she came up after the show and said, “Hey you played ‘Highway to Hell’ before you went on.” She didn’t say anything about the show.

Michael: “Good show but I really liked how you played AC/DC.”

7) Sex Pistols, “Anarchy in the U.K.”

Ashton: I was waiting for a super old song to come on.

Michael: This is on Tony Hawk as well. So good!

Ashton: The thing I liked about the Sex Pistols was all the marketing behind their band. Super smart and really iconic. They created an image so strong it lives on. Not everyone knows their music anymore but people know their labels and symbols and their whole look was just as strong as the music.

Michael: I love that there’s this t-shirt that’s got all of them and it says all their names… all their names were so iconic. Sid Vicious is a dude

You know Johnny Rotten was discovered in a clothing store, right? They found him because of his appearance before they knew he could do anything. In a shop called Sex.

Michael: Really? That’s badass.

Calum: We definitely do not look that cool.