Luke Hemmings: “No one was expecting any more music from me, so I just made whatever I wanted to make”

5SOS’ LUKE HEMMINGS bares his introverted soul on his new solo EP, ‘boy’ – a love letter to nostalgia and a quest for self-discovery.

Words: Abigail Firth.
Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett.
Styling: Chloe, flo fashion styling assisted by Amelia Connolly.
Hair and makeup: Sandra Hahnel.

Luke Hemmings’ time in the spotlight – now clocking in at over a decade – has been a delicate balance between facing thousands of people and facing himself when he steps off that stage. 

Much more private and shier in person than you’d expect from the charismatic frontman of one of the biggest bands to blow up in the 2010s, 5 Seconds Of Summer, Luke’s second solo venture, the upcoming EP ‘boy’, is a representation of who he is alone, at home and in hotel rooms between those massive moments.

“My default mode is very introverted, like trying not to look anyone in the eyes and not talking to anyone,” says Luke. We’re chatting over Zoom, camera off. “So it does take two minutes to get in that mode. But, you know, I think that’s kind of what life is about, duality.”

The various dualities that run through Luke’s life – not only his reserved nature coming up against his job as a performer, but his longing for home and security while spending a significant portion of his time out on the road – and the anxieties that bring forth are explored on both the album and ‘boy’. 

His solo debut, ‘When Facing The Things We Turn Away From’, released in 2021, was written as a pandemic-led experiment, but the introspective ideas presented on that record haven’t left him. The album introduced Luke as a songwriter who looked inwards, reflected on his unusual adolescence, longed for normality; time spent away from the band he’d always written with gave him space to explore those themes in music, and those feelings weren’t limited to his lockdown headspace.

Describing the feeling he aims to convey on ‘boy’ as a vague and constant ache, it’s wholly present on the hazy balladry of the EP’s first offering ‘Shakes’.

“I think for me, songwriting is such a way to deal with how I see the world and how I feel, like my place around people,” Luke says. “It is a constant up and down, and I think I’m just sort of capturing moments in time of how I feel. This whole EP has this sort of longing to go home, and this ache for more emotionally. I think it was a definite need to get back to normalcy at home a little bit, with my wife and just being at home. It’s difficult to explain; it’s just something that I feel within me that I need to express and get out. Otherwise, that sort of gets trapped there.”

“My default mode is very introverted”

luke hemmings

Growing up just outside of Sydney, Luke’s working-class upbringing was flipped on its head during his teen years. Initially posting solo covers on YouTube after being taught how to play the guitar by his two brothers, he was soon joined by schoolmates Calum Hood and Michael Clifford, and later Ashton Irwin, who’d go on to form the group that’d catapult the four-piece to international fame. 

A swift uprooting to London in his later teens, following the instant success of 5 Seconds Of Summer’s early touring schedule, and a whirlwind first few years as a musician while the group dropped back-to-back albums between arena tours, clearly left him longing for normality as he grew up. 

“I think what I’ve found is that, you know, it’s a unique youth that I’ve had, but I don’t think they’re necessarily unique stories to me. And I think I’ve found that even more when releasing that first album, like, oh shit, this is something that people really resonate with. I think it’s just figuring out who you are, where your place is in the world and how you deal with your inner thoughts and emotions. They’re all universal stories, even though they’re very specific to me.”

A common thread across Luke’s writing in recent years, whether it be his solo album, work on 5SOS’ last record or this EP, is pure nostalgia. From the chorus lyric of his debut single ‘Starting Line’ “I’m missing all these memories, maybe they were never mine”, to the ‘good old days’ sentimentality of 5SOS tracks like ‘Best Friends’ and ‘2011’, to his first solo tour being titled ‘Nostalgia For A Time That Never Existed’, Luke consistently calls back to a past he seems to still be unpacking himself.

“When you look back at stuff, for me I don’t really get it in a clear day by day way. And some people’s brains work like that, but mine is very blurry and sort of becomes like this, I don’t know, wash of memories. For the tour, I wanted to get across that with the name and go straight to the heart of it. It’s kind of that crazy name, but it’s a longing for an idealised time that we’ve dreamed up, not actual memories. People’s memories change as they get older, and they remember things differently, and the songs I’m writing are looking back a little bit, but they’re also looking forward. I think there’s always going to be like a feeling to my songs of trying to figure things out, whether that’s me now or me at 15.”

“Songwriting is a way to deal with how I see the world and how I feel”

luke hemmings

Now living in Los Angeles with his other half, singer-songwriter Sierra Deaton, his life is wildly different from that of the teenager he speaks of. Still only 27, Luke seems to be both someone who had to grow up quickly, but has never really aged either, which honestly, is a common emotion across most millennial-gen-z-cusp twenty-somethings.

It’s not groundbreaking, but it becomes apparent that songwriting is the vehicle he uses to deal with that. 

“I’m always writing; it doesn’t really ever fully stop. But after the band’s fifth album [2022’s ‘5SOS5’], I was writing little bits and pieces at home, in Sydney and in LA, and then dabbling with whatever I was feeling. It was a lot of traveling, planes and hotel rooms and stuff, so I was feeling a bit insular and a bit existential, and that’s kind of where it came from. I was listening to different things and pulling in many different influences that I hadn’t really tapped into before. It’s hard to pinpoint because I write for my stuff in such a different manner. It’s in very sporadic places, sporadic times, and then I piece it together.

“For my stuff, I have this specific emotion that I’m going for, so when I get it, I’m like, I know this is a great part. Sometimes, it can take a long time to piece it together and try and finish it off because I know exactly what I’m looking for, and if it’s not right, then I can feel that straight away. It does get frustrating but makes for hopefully something good at the end.”

Writing on the road, and between ‘home’ (LA) and ‘home-home’ (Sydney), ‘boy’ came together in very different circumstances to what he’s used to when working with the band. Noting that the collective process is usually much quicker, as they’re able to bounce ideas off one another and create whole songs in a single day, writing solo takes away the safety net of having another brain to fall back on.

The only other brain on both ‘When Facing The Things We Turn Away From’ and ‘boy’ is Sammy Witte (who’s also worked with big hitters like Harry Styles, SZA, Noah Kahan and Halsey), a trusted creative partner who Luke says is able to filter whatever ideas he’s bringing to the table into something that makes sense (although Luke is a producer on the record, he notes “My producing level is like, getting something like a demo-y thing, something I would never send anyone except Sam”).

No longer harbouring the nerves of stepping into the solo realm for the first time, Luke was instead unsure of how he’d live up to his own expectations, wondering if he’d get to the point where he was putting out music that did his debut album justice.

“I guess the way I was looking at going into this is like, no one was expecting any more music from me, so I just made whatever I wanted to make, and then it ended up being something I really love. So that’s kind of how I approach my solo stuff like no one,” he hesitates before landing on, “no one needs it.”

He continues, “I don’t know if that’s the wrong way to put it. I wasn’t sure if it was just because we were in COVID, and that’s what the first solo album was, this crazy turn of events – like, can I do this on my own again? It was challenging and rewarding in a different way. I love it more than the first album, for sure.”

“I was scared to death of those shows that I did and I felt really good after them”

luke hemmings

We’re under strict instruction not to spill what ‘boy’ sounds like. Luke does say he’s taken the parts that resonated the most with him from ‘When Facing The Things We Turn Away From’ and expanded on them, and that he was listening to a lot of 2000s New York indie scene albums (think LCD Soundsystem and The Strokes) during the recording, but beyond two tracks, we’re sworn to secrecy.

“There’s seven tracks,” Luke confirms. We can tell you they’re all very good songs that remain within the universe of ‘Shakes’. “I’m very close to all the songs, and by the point that we’re picking first singles and all that, I’m a mess. It’s just too much for me. I’m like, these all suck. I hate these. I get into that space. And then I’ll be like, oh my god, I love these. I’ll go back and forth because I’m so stressed about letting go of them. ‘Shakes’ was one where, when that chorus played, I was like, oh, Jesus, this just sums up the whole feeling of what I’m trying to get across. When I would play it to friends and family, that would be one that they would pick out, and I was like, okay, the instincts were correct on this.”

Coming next is the pacier ‘Close My Eyes’, the first song written for the EP (he says he’s said that about a few songs, but is absolutely sure now that ‘Close My Eyes’ came first), which sees Luke experiment with vintage synths and embrace the uncertainty of the drum machines he was playing with, again backing wistful lyrics like “Where is the time I lost?”

Solidifying his brand with the title of his upcoming spring tour, it’s also his first time going out on the road solo. Last summer, he played two shows at Los Angeles’ Fonda Theatre, where he performed his first album live, boosting his confidence enough to go out and do it again, even bigger and across several continents. 

“Nostalgia for a time that never existed – you can expect that,” he deadpans when we ask how the setup is looking. “We’ve still gotta rehearse for it, so we’ll see how I go. The music is, for me, something you can get so lost in, and I just want the tour to feel like that as well. I want the whole tour to feel like a dream – surreal and fun and blurry and you walk away from it just feeling like you’re a bit more connected to the songs and to whatever that feeling I’m trying to get across is.”

As Luke prepares to go out on tour again, that duality returns. 

“I feel great about it, but I also feel nervous about it. I think playing the two shows last year was a reminder that people like these songs, and it brought it from words on the screen to real humans in a room screaming the lyrics back and that was really powerful for me. I was scared to death of those shows that I did and I felt really good after them. Most of the time, for something that you’re apprehensive about, there’s usually something good on the other side of all that anxiety.”

For all the time Luke Hemmings spends thinking about the past, he’s firm on where this takes him. Overall, his solo work serves as an exercise in bettering himself as an artist and as a person, pushing past his anxiety and out of his comfort zone towards a greater goal. The music he’s putting out now brings Luke closer to the person he is in private.

“I think a lot of the reason why – apart from emotional reasons and feeling I have something to say as an artist on my own – making solo music and playing solo shows are uncomfortable, and they’re difficult to navigate for me emotionally and anxiety wise, is because I just want to be great at what I do, I want to be a great performer, I want to be a great writer and producer, and I think this is my route to do that.”

Taken from the May 2024 issue of Dork. Luke Hemmings’ EP ‘boy’ is out 26th April.