Luke Hemmings: “I needed to make this album to figure out the thoughts in my head”
Luke Hemmings has been very famous from a very young age. As the de facto frontman of 5 Seconds Of Summer, he’s already navigated a near-10-year career which has seen him embrace pop-punk (‘She Looks So Perfect’), stadium rock (‘Youngblood’) and synth-pop (‘Wildflower’); but now Luke Hemmings is no longer just Luke from 5SOS, as a new identity has started to emerge – his own.
Hemmings’ first solo album ‘When Facing The Things We Turn Away From’, out August 13, seeks to rectify the gaps that the Australian singer has in his memory from his rise to fame that his whirlwind success left behind. Musically, the project’s first two singles, ‘Starting Line’ and ‘Motion’, move Hemmings into an altogether more alternative space in the pop world, taking 5SOS’ penchant for pop hooks and fusing it with the sweeping orchestral feel of records like Lana Del Rey‘s ‘Born To Die’.
“I gravitate towards very grandiose, ethereal production [like] Arcade Fire, Bon Iver and M83. All these larger-than-life productions that are very dreamscape-y,” Hemmings tells NME from his LA home.
“It’s juxtaposed lyrically with the people I’m inspired by, like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell who are very singer-songwriter, straight-to-the-heart [artists]. It’s a mixture of those two worlds. I love the way that sounds and feels, but I’m writing very introspectively.”
For the latest in NME’s In Conversation series, we speak to Hemmings to discuss how ‘When Facing The Things We Turn Away From’ as a whole seeks to make sense of a fractured past while beating a clearer path to the future.
It must be a strange experience talking about your solo music and having it out in the world. How are you feeling?
“I feel good. You’re right, it was a strange experience. I think with everything leading up to it, when everything was becoming real before it came out, I was very apprehensive, very anxious about it. But I feel great, it feels really nice. You work on something for so long and have all these concerns about it, and then for all that not to really matter [feels good]. So far, it’s come out the way I intended it to, very music-based. It’s a very truthful thing for me.”
Truth seems to be a recurring theme in the project, like you’re getting your true self across for the first time?
“I was in [the making of the album] for so long that I forgot it was ever going to come out. It’s such a long road to get to where you’re happy with it. It’s a different experience putting something out on your own when you’ve been doing something else for so long. I was super-nervous about it; but it went down really well with the band, they were really supportive. I really wanted to make sure that everyone understood why I was doing it and understood the sincerity behind it. Me being at home, that’s my outlet. And it was something that I needed: I didn’t realise this until I was into the creative process, but I needed to make this [album]. I needed to figure out those thoughts in my head. That’s the only way I know how to do it.”
The album title invites this question, but what were the things you were turning away from and how did it feel to face them?
“Since I was 15 I’ve been in 5 Seconds of Summer, a very unique walk of life for almost 10 years. I think a lot of people have had a similar experience [with the coronavirus pandemic] when everything shut down. People who were normally in an office job 9-5 were suddenly at home. You sort of re-evaluate your life and the way you look at things. Someone that’s working all the time non-stop is suddenly back with their family, and now they’re back in the real world asking themselves: ‘Was I happy with the way things were? Was I happy working this much?’
“In those 10 years [for me], there were a lot of things that were left on the back-burner. This is the longest time I’ve been in one place since I was 15. Some of the songs, like ‘Starting Line’, are written from the now-perspective, looking back. Others are written from the perspective of this 17-year-old kid that’s in this whirlwind-life-moment that doesn’t know how to handle it.”
Memory is also big theme for you. ‘Starting Line’ reads as if you’re talking to your younger self, trying to rectify everything that you missed.
“I have such a shitty memory anyway, and at that age so much was happening. It feels like another lifetime to me, another chapter. A lot of [‘Starting Line’] is about that, and how the first nine years of the band felt like the shortest and the longest time ever.”
If 15-year-old Luke was here now, what would you say to him?
“I don’t know. Maybe stop wearing skinny jeans and Vans every day? Change it up a bit? I’d honestly just say: enjoy it. I don’t think he’d listen to me.”
You’ve spent so long being “Luke from 5SOS”. Does it feel like the actual Luke Hemmings took a back seat?
“I wouldn’t say a back seat. It’s strange: in the band, there’s definitely the semblance of a character being played because it’s such a big thing. [Whereas] this album is more straight to the heart of who I am. It took me a second to figure out what I wanted it to sound like. I wanted it to be a separate, sacred place I could come back to. When I listen to people like Bon Iver or The War On Drugs, it’s almost like the music is so ethereal that it matches the feeling of the lyrics. It’s like a sixth sense: you feel it with your whole core. I really wanted that for this album.”
Do you think 15-year-old Luke would be impressed with your new album?
“I think he’d be impressed! The whole journey of the past few years has been to become the best songwriter I can be. That’s a skill I want to keep building on. At the start of the band’s career, I had ideas for songs and thoughts I figured out, but at the time I wasn’t sure how to write music or to finish a song. So for me to have finished a whole album on my own is a huge feat. That would be impressive to 15-year-old me. I think he’d be stoked.”
Luke Hemmings’ new album ‘When Facing The Things We Turn Away From’ is out on August 13.