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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
A&E >  Entertainment

5 Seconds of Summer aims to bring rock sound to pop market

5 Seconds of Summer land at the Spokane Arena on Tuesday. (Tom Van Schelven / Tom Van Schelven)
5 Seconds of Summer land at the Spokane Arena on Tuesday. (Tom Van Schelven / Tom Van Schelven)
By Alan Sculley Correspondent

Over the past year-plus, 5 Seconds of Summer has reached a level where the group plays large amphitheaters and arenas – the kinds of venues they played when the Australian group opened for One Direction on that group’s “Take Me Home” tour in 2013.

Headlining the big stages now has been a considerably different experience than the 2013 One D outing.

“It was really scary for us,” guitarist Michael Clifford said, recalling the first shows with One Direction during a recent phone interview. “When we started that tour in 2013, no one knew who we were. We kind of had to build that by getting better and better and better live. It was kind of all we cared about for a long time was just how we could become a better live band, play better and have the audience interact more and stuff like that. But coming back to, like, this year now, we see how many shows we played on that One D tour and how much it helped us to like craft our performance into what we wanted it to be.”

Three years later, it’s safe to say a lot of people – particularly teen fans – know who 5 Seconds of Summer is. The group’s 2014 self-titled debut album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s album chart with first-week sales of 259,000 copies – the biggest first-week total for any CD since Daughtry’s self-titled album in 2006. That was just months after the band released its first major label EP, “She Looks So Perfect,” which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard magazine album chart in April 2014.

The album produced two singles that cracked the top 20 on “Billboard’s” all-genre Hot 100 chart, and the group followed up the debut album with a concert CD, “LIVESOS.”

Then last October, a second studio album, “Sounds Good Feels Good,” arrived, and it showed that 5 Seconds of Summer had sustained its popularity. It debuted at No. 1 on “Billboard’s” album chart and has since surpassed platinum – despite having failed to generate any top 20 singles on the Hot 100 chart. (“She’s Kinda Hot” stalled at No. 22).

By any measure, though, it’s been quite a quick ascension for the group that was formed by Clifford, Luke Hemmings (vocals, guitar), Calum Hood (bass) and Ashton Irwin (drums) in Sydney, Australia in 2011 while they were students at the same school.

The group began its career by posting videos to Hemmings’ You Tube channel of their band covering a series of popular tunes. One such video, of 5 Seconds of Summer doing Chris Brown’s “Next To You,” generated more than 600,000 hits. By summer 2012, the group had a publishing deal with Sony/ATV and a first single, the original tune “Gotta Get Out,” in the top five on Australia’s iTunes chart.

It was around this time that Louis Tomlinson of One Direction posted a link on his Twitter account to the You Tube video of the acoustic version of “Gotta Get Out,” saying he’d been a fan of 5 Seconds of Summer for a while.

Then came the offer to tour with One Direction in 2013. It was a huge opportunity, but accepting the tour presented one problem for 5 Seconds of Summer.

The group considers itself a punk-pop band in the tradition of bands like Green Day and Blink-182, but aligning itself with One Direction was sure to get 5 Seconds of Summer labeled a boy band/teen pop group.

“I think we had our moments of doubt in thinking about that,” Clifford said. “But honestly, we’d be so stupid not to take that (One Direction tour) up because I never thought we would be playing in venues bigger than, like, 1,500 in Australia. By doing that, it really opened up; the platform it gave us was just like huge.

“Bands we like, like Blink and Green Day and Sum 41 and stuff like that, I’m sure if they had the opportunity to (open for an act like One Direction), like someone said to them you can either be forced to play for a rock crowd forever on a smaller scale or you can play to like more of a pop crowd all over the world, I’m sure they’d all say yes as well,” he said.

The 2013 One Direction tour put 5 Seconds of Summer on the pop music map worldwide, and by the end of the year, the group had signed to Capitol Records.

Clifford said the group hopes “Sounds Good Feels Good” has solidified the notion that 5 Seconds of Summer is a rock group and not a boy band. The four band members have made it a stated goal to bring rock music back to commercial pop radio.

“With the (first) album, we were really easing into a new type of rock or a new type of pop-rock,” Clifford said, describing “Sounds Good Feels Good” as a bit of a curveball for fans of the first album with its punchier rock sound. “We’re kind of going to keep pushing the bar as far as we can. I think that’s what we always wanted to do, like bring guitars back to radio.”

At the same time, Clifford said 5 Seconds of Summer has tried to craft its music to appeal to pop radio – and not just the narrower rock audience. In particular, the group wanted to appeal to the teen girl audience it had gained on the One Direction tours.

And indeed 5 Seconds of Summer has more of an bite to its music than the typical boy band. Even songs from the self-titled album such as “Don’t Stop,” “She Looks So Perfect” and “End Up Here” were a little edgier than boy band pop. “Sounds Good Feels Good” amps things up further with rockers like “Money” and “Fly Away.” Even poppier fare like “Hey Everybody” “She’s Kinda Hot” and “Safety Pin” build in some big guitar riffs to go with their sugar sweet pop hooks.

“Yeah, I think we wrote music and made music for, just for more of an accessible audience,” Clifford said. “We made sure it was always, like, catchy and singable and stuff. But it always had that little bit of a difference. It wasn’t the same crap that everyone is doing now. And I think this new album is pushing it to its very limits of what pop-rock music can actually do nowadays.”

The group’s music should be plenty big and lively enough to work well in amphitheaters. That the group would create music of that character makes sense considering these are the venues 5 Seconds Of Summer always wanted to play.

“It’s kind of been like a massive thing for us to get to this point,” he said. “I mean, playing an arena tour is kind of in, you dream of (stuff) like that.”

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