Toby Creswell July 30, 2012
Likely lads: 5 Seconds of Summer band members (from left) Michael Clifford, Luke Hemmings, Calum Hood and Ashton Irwin.
The Brits can claim One Direction. Canada has Justin Bieber. But the next potential big things are playing a venue near you.
It's like A Hard Day's Night writ small. Four young men alight from a plane and are 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 make 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 give chase through the sunlit wintry streets of Brisbane. The band regroup 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 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 band sensation. While most of their friends are concerned about video game Skyrim and the relative merits of brands of nachos, these four teenagers are meeting with international record companies.
The world, it seems, is in the grip of a teen epidemic. Most of the past decade was dominated by hip hop and girl singers (Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift) but Justin Bieber fever put boys back in the frame while British boy band One Direction have taken the phenomenon to a new level of hysteria. And now Australia may get in on the act with these four boys from Sydney's west.
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.
In a scenario reminiscent of Canadian Bieber's rise to fame, some 12 months ago Hemmings, now 16, began posting videos of himself on YouTube doing cover versions of popular songs. He was soon joined by schoolmates Calum Hood and Michael Clifford, both 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, 18, via Facebook and borrowed enough instruments to play the date.
Only 20 of their thousands of YouTube fans showed up. But as the Beatles had The Cavern, 5 SOS (as they're known to their fans) had the Annandale Hotel. They began rehearsing four times a week and writing their own material. "We even practised in the dark with the lights off," says Clifford, who has now left school for TAFE. "I know it sounds weird but it worked." Manager Adam Wilkinson tracked them down via their Facebook page. "His 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 that held about 500. Although they had tickets, fans queued for some hours before the doors opened, screamed through the entire show, then waited for three hours afterwards for the meet-and-greets and opportunities to get merchandise. All the merchandise was sold. A small start but strong enough to elicit serious offers from three major record labels and major music publishers.
When Good Weekend catches up with 5 Seconds of Summer on a recent Saturday afternoon in an industrial park on Sydney's north-western fringe, the band are nestled in a small rehearsal space among food packed by their parents, plus the inevitable cold pizza and Pringles chips. The dream of becoming professional musicians is within reach and they seem excited, slightly bewildered and more than a little daunted - after all, 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 Los Angeles.
Hemmings is the youngest of the four and, along with Hood, is in year 11 at Norwest Christian College. He's the de facto leader but, when not performing, he's the most shy and self-effacing. Irwin, the eldest, is the most confident. Calum Hood, whose sister was a contestant on The Voice, is the most serious writer. "I spend a lot of time on it," he says. "Some days it doesn't come out and I'm angry for the whole night."
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" list on Twitter in Australia. Their Facebook page has almost 50,000 "likes".
"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, head of 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 have already signed a publishing deal with Sony/ATV. Their first original song, Gotta Get Out, went into the iTunes national chart at No. 3 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 boys are seeing the downside of success, too. People are yelling at them in servos and malls. Irwin's tyres have been slashed and the band, according to Ashton, have "found out who their real friends are" at school.
"Having people notice you in the street - that's weird," says Clifford. "We went to McDonald's the other day and sat in the corner and every single person in the McDonald's 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!"
This article originally appeared in Good Weekend.