Have you heard of 5 Seconds of Summer? You should have, because they’re huge. I’m not talking ‘huge’ as in ‘could gather quite a big crowd at a festival on a hot day.’ I’m talking ‘huge’ as in they have 12 million followers on Twitter, 7 million on Instagram and their autographed posters are going for hundreds of dollars on eBay. They’re the kind of band with fans who camp outside venues for days just to catch a glimpse. You can buy dolls that resemble each member—Luke, Ashton, Calum and Michael—with their different haircuts and outfits. Which is why I feel a strange mixture of confusion and lowkey excitement when I find out I’m going on a date. To Nando's. With all four of them. I know it’s just for content, but I can’t help but feel like an accidental competition winner who is—on a side note—also venturing into both polyamory and heterosexuality. There are probably people who would sell their firstborn to sit and watch these boys plough through some garlic bread and medium spicy chicken.
Now, as a phenomenon 5SOS are often considered a “boy band,” in the sense that they’re four young men who can sing and have a loyal teen fanbase. But they also play their own instruments and—up until recently at least—make pop punk tracks thick with riffs and chants and drums. The Australian group might have had their big break in 2013 after a worldwide tour with One Direction, but back then, they had more in common with bands like Blink-182 and Green Day, who they grew up listening to. Their first major hit, “She Looks So Perfect,” could have been written by Fall Out Boy, and their song “Jet Black Heart” is exactly the kind of emo ballad I’d have known all the words to had it been released ten years prior, when I wore arm socks and fluorescent shag bands. That said, their most recent track, “Want You Back,” which will appear on their third album, sounds way poppier than what they’ve released before. It’s full of hooky synths and comes with a music video of them looking serious beneath some blue and pink strobes—but more on that later.
Before I arrive I’m told that, instead of meeting them at Nando's, I should meet them at their central London hotel because fans have figured out where they’re staying and are gathered outside. We’ll need to make an incognito exit out the back door and into the back of Nando's (apparently the same route Kendrick Lamar took the week before, as I’m later told by Nando's staff). And so, feeling like a low-budget action movie spy, I jostle through The Edition in Soho and fetch them from the basement (a first-time date experience for me). In person, they are all extremely tall and very polite in that polished way big artists are when they’re used to having lunch with strangers. They each shake my hand and then we basically combat roll to Nando's to eat what I’m guessing is one hundred pounds worth of chicken, peri peri chips, spicy rice, salad, veggie burger wraps and sweet potato mash. “Please may you pass me the sauce?” asks Michael, before I do indeed pass him the sauce and think to myself, for not the first time that day, what exactly is going on right now.
Noisey: Hi, every single member of 5SOS! What’s the worst date you’ve ever been on?
Ashton: I went on a date with a lady to a place that I love, which I go with my friends all the time—it’s this Italian rock n roll pizza place called Jones, in Hollywood. And, I agree with the statement this lady was making, but there was a cocktail called ‘The Groupie’ and she was outraged. She left the restaurant, there was a big scene, she had a go at the manager. And she didn’t speak to me for like a week. I just got hammered and had a pizza, but it didn’t go well.
Luke: I haven’t had that many bad ones. Usually if I’m going on a date, I know that the person is good.
I feel like boring dates are worse than dramatic ones. Like, at least you’ve got a good story if it goes badly.
Ashton: I can talk forever. I can say empty words for an hour and half then eat and leave. But also, being in 5SOS is awkward. Like ‘what do you do?’ ‘I’m in this band 5SOS.’ ‘Oh yeah.’ ‘Cool.’
Luke: Obviously I’m always going to get the cheque, but I don’t like it when they don’t do the cheque dance. Or at least be like ‘Oh no… we should –”
Calum: Yeah, that’s a first sign isn’t it?
Luke: Yeah, especially going back to the 5SOS thing, people just expect for you to pay for stuff I guess.
Is it a deal breaker if they don’t like your band? Or if they’re just like “meh!” [shrugs]?Ashton: For me it’s just kind of offensive ‘people skills’, you know?
Michael: Yeah, I don’t think I would go on a date with anyone who doesn’t like the band. I don’t even think I’m friends with anyone who doesn’t at least support what we do. If I had a close friend and didn’t like their music or whatever, I would at least still support them.
Ashton: Yeah, and if the person is passionate about what they do—unless it’s fucked up—then it’s cool.
Now let’s get to the important stuff. What are all your star signs?
Ashton: I’m a Cancer, with a Gemini rising.
Luke: I’m also a Cancer.
Calum: I’m an Aquarius.
Michael: I’m a Scorpio, with a Sagittarius rising?
No wonder you’re all so emotional.
Ashton: Ha! I do think [astrology] is important, to a degree.
Luke: I don’t think you should get too involved in it, or run your life by it, but it’s nice to know that there could be a reason that you’re feeling a certain way.
Ashton: You pick up certain patterns as well, from the moon etc. People are very receptive to it. I feel like my life is very relative to the moon…
That makes sense—Cancers are ruled by the moon! Have any of you ever seen a ghost?
Calum: My family are very spiritual, so a lot of my family see spirits, whether aggressive or friendly spirits. I’ve seen my grandma before, I’ve felt by grandma before, so yeah. Have you?
That’s really cool. And I don’t think so. the times I remember maybe seeing a ghost are also times I’ve been half-asleep, so it could be related to that… How are all finding your chips?
Luke: Very good.
Michael: It needs to have the perfect balance of crunchiness but also be a little bit soggy, like right in between, you feel me?
Yeah. How would you rate Nando's chips on a scale of one to ten, compared to all the chips you’ve tried from around the world?
Michael: Eight for me.
Luke: You know who does really good trips? Australian KFC.
Ashton: Aussie KFC is different from the others.
I will have to try them if the opportunity arises. Let’s chat about your new music. I feel like “Want You Back” sounds poppier than what you’ve done before. Is that the direction you’re headed? Less punk, more pop?
Ashton: Yeah, I’d say we’ve all evolved in our songwriting, so there’s more sensibility in terms of the direction we want to go in. It can be overwhelming to put all those ideas into one place, but we’ve meticulously gone through where everything should be—everything in each song serves a purpose.
Do you feel like the themes in your music have changed as you’ve gotten older and moved into your twenties? And as your fans have probably gotten older too.
Luke: I think they’re bound to change. When you’re 16 you write about different things to when you’re 21 and have fallen out of love and been on the road for six years and have a house. You live in a different country. You have new friends.
Ashton: It also depends on how highly you value literature. Or words in general. Do you like exploring different vocabularies? Do you enjoy speaking to people that make you uncomfortable? And lyrical content can stem from all these situations as well. You have to actively push yourself to look for lyrical pockets, whether you’re an interviewer or writer. You need to establish your own character and that takes a long time. It’s a lifelong journey. It’s hard to attain a lyrical style that’s individual to you—but to keep modernizing it and to keep you interested in your passion is a whole other story. But I think our motivation was within what I just articulated.
And what do you think that process sounds like right now? As in, what does your new album sound like?
Michael: It sounds good, it sounds a little different, but not too different. It feels like where it should be.
Calum: It sounds like a frozen lake that’s just unfrozen.
Would you say this is your favorite album that you’ve done so far?
Luke: If it wasn’t, we’d have done something else. I’d say they’re better written songs, melodically, lyrically and musically. But at the same time, if your current album isn’t your favorite, then you’re doing something wrong.
Ashton: And I think when you make an album, you’re always going to be looking forward to the next one. It’s a never-ending thing.
Do you have a timeframe in mind when it comes to the future of this band? Are you going to be doing 5SOS for much longer?
Ashton: Yeah. I don’t give a damn what anyone says, but I think the world needs bands that are lifetime bands for people. And bands gain their worth! Ours didn’t gain its worth with the human race over the span of five years. I would like this band to gain its value over the course of ten years, 15 years, if we choose to keep it alive.
Luke: I feel like we’re just starting again with this record. It would be difficult to talk about it so much if we weren’t still excited about it.
You’ve also reached a huge level of fame at this point. Like, even getting into this Nando's was hard… Are you completely used to that way of existing by now?
Ashton: I think having fame as a musician is different to ‘regular’ fame. It doesn’t really mean the same thing. Like, if that fame were to leave, you’d still feel the same way. You’d still feel confused about your feelings, you’d still have something to express, regardless of whether anyone listened to you or recognised you. Rather than chasing fame, you’re chasing an unknown feeling inside of you.
Luke: If we stopped having this level of fame, we’d still write songs. I just see us as songwriters. We’d still do those things.
I guess what I mean is, do you find it a comfortable way to live? What does it feel like? Because as somebody who has the freedom to be anonymous in my daily life, it looks pretty restrictive, but also like something with its own benefits.
Ashton: It’s a gift. It’s a communicative tool. When you speak to someone that’s in need, or someone is looking to fill something in their life and find happiness in what you do—it’s a very simple thing, and it’s a really positive thing.
You never wish it wasn’t there?
Luke: No, that would be so stupid.
Ashton: I guess what I’m trying to articulate is that we don’t really feel it, in the way that people might think. It’s just a positive thing that happens when you put your heart into something, it’s a reciprocated life energy that humans give each other. They go ‘Oh that’s cool, we like that—that’s all it is.
Calum: Especially at this stage, after being in a band for almost seven years and on our third album. You see it for what it is more. It’s not like when you’re 16 and it’s overwhelming.
Ashton: Yeah, it changes as you get older because you feel comfortable demanding respect from people. If someone’s being really disrespectful to you and it’s uncomfortable, you’ve got to tell them because you’re still human—you just say ‘that’s fucked up’. Whereas when you’re a kid, you don’t know what to do.
Yeah that’s makes sense. And do you still have the freedom to go out and have fun and party much? Or is it very ‘work, work, work’ right now?
Calum: Nowadays, I think we try and pick our moments more. We try and see as much of the world as we can, but also get up and do eight hours of promo and then sing at a show. You have to find that balance. Sometimes you’ll get it wrong and drink too much, and then you’ll be hungover for that eight-hour promo.
Ashton: And you’re letting yourself down essentially. And then the most confronting part is that we have to watch back at us letting ourselves down. So you see a video and you’re like, ‘I look like a fucking piece of shit’.
Luke: Sometimes we get it wrong, but we get it right a lot more this time round.
Like true professionals. I also wanted to chat about how you’re viewed as a band, because I know some of your fans don’t like it when you’re referred to as a “boy band.” But what do you think about that moniker?
Ashton: One of our best traits as a band is that we can all sing and I think some of the bands we look up to have been amazing vocalists—like The Eagles—but I think the term “boy band” embodies youth. And when we’re not a youthful band anymore, that’s when we’ll have problems. Labels are for people who are scared of themselves, and we’re not. But I like boy bands!
Me too. Who are your favorite boy bands?
Luke and Ashton [in unison]: Backstreet Boys!
What about your mates One Direction?
Ashton: They weren’t really a boy band to me. They were different.
Michael: I think, for me, One Direction are my favourite boyband. They were different from the usual formula of boy bands. None of them danced. They were cool.
I think they’re mine as well. How many interviews like this do you have to do during a promo cycle?
Ashton: We do about eight or nine a day. This is our seventh.
Jeez. Do you get bored of being asked the same questions over and over again?
Luke: Yeah, it gets pretty frustrating…
Michael: But it’s always nice to do an interview like this, where you can actually talk. This doesn’t feel like an interview, it just feels like we’re having lunch.
Ashton: I like to pay attention to body language and the way you’re receiving us. And I don’t know what you thought of us before you came here, but I’d like you to leave thinking ‘oh, that was cool’.
Luke: I think solo artists might come across bad sometimes, because if I were on my own and in a shitty mood then I’d just be in a shitty mood and you’d get some terrible answers.
Calum: Also, people ask stupid questions...
Luke: Yeah, you get sick of it.
What kind of questions do you think are stupid?
Ashton: Like, ‘Why is the band called 5SOS when there are only four of you?’
Luke: Yeah, it doesn’t fucking matter!
To be fair, somebody asked me that question this morning. I was like ‘I don’t know!’
Luke: Did you just cross out that question? *Laughs*
Ashton: It’s also when people keep pressing the same thing. Like, ‘who’s single? Who’s dating? What do you do on the road when you’re single?’
I won’t ask you that then… Let’s talk about aliens instead.
Michael: Our friend Roy English, who came on tour with us in 2016, is so positive that aliens are real. So living with him for two years has really changed my perspective on aliens. I honestly don’t even know where to start.
Calum: If we live in an infinite universe, it would be almost ignorant to think that aliens don’t exist.
Luke: Whoa! Tom Delonge over here!
Ashton: I mean… I think life is all a simulation, so—
Michael: It’s definitely a simulation. Every time I think about it, it just ruins my whole day.
Yeah, me too… honestly, I get really bad existential dread on a daily basis.
Michael: This might sound dramatic, but we were in Lake Como in Italy last week and—after you live in LA for so long, you get used to skies that are so foggy because of the pollution—but we were outside, and I literally looked up at the sky and saw how big it was and had an existential crisis. Straight up. Out-of-body experience. It was horrifying.
Were you just like, ‘I can’t believe I’m on this earth right now’?
Michael: Yeah, and it all happened within just a few seconds.
I think I get a similar feeling when I realise that I’m hurtling towards death. We all are. You’re just going to get older and older, you’re never going to go back, you’re just going to die.
Michael: Yeah, you’re never getting further away from dying.
Then you’re just gone.
Ashton: Well, you could have a nice healthy meal and a green juice, then you could get a little bit further away from dying, right? Or maybe dying is just the beginning, Mike. We’re all a simulation anyway.
Luke: Game over.
That seems like a nice, positive way to wrap up this lunch.
Calum: I have one question. Can I see your hair? I’m really interested.
I suppose so. *Lifts hat*. There.
Calum: Oh. Thank you. I like it.
This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.