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Words / JoAnn Zhang

Photos / Savanna Ruedy 

Styling / Phil Gomez

MUA / Ghost 

Hair / Isaac Davidson 

Phot + Video Assistant / Dara Feller

Cover Art / Pearl Zhang

Growing up in the 2010s, one knew that, among religious verses and great poetry, the culture’s essential words included 5 Seconds of Summer’s eternally teenage line, you look so perfect standing there, in your American Apparel underwear…and so the track goes, forever young. But the boy professing his love to this American siren is no longer a boy. He’s not a boy with a microphone among boys with guitars and drums. He is Luke Hemmings, lead singer of 5SOS, and, exactly a decade after “She Looks So Perfect,” he is well on his way as a solo musician, with one album under his belt and another in the works. 

The impetus for his solo project came during his own solitude in COVID: sequestered from his mates, he had to write alone. It was a challenge, a fun experiment; after so many years writing with the safety net of a band, he wondered if he could still do it alone. Like so many experiments, it grew. The possibilities of writing music alone were like a free and undiscovered plain, on which he could heap years of private, unplumbed thoughts and feelings, without any of the expectations or preconceptions that a group of 10 years is bound to hold. In 2021, his experiment produced its first fruit, the album “When Facing the Things we Turn Away From.”

One of the main topics of the album were his experiences as a 17-year-old kid in an explosively popular band in the 2010s — what he calls the “sheer volume” of his life experience — the madness, the celebrity. The years of intense living gave him a sort of amnesia about his life, and the album was a way to recover memories. It was kind of meta, to reflect in his music about his time in a band, while still making music for that band. But the processes are different, and they continue in different timelines, like two simultaneous quests in a game. 

According to Luke, in a band, the writing process is something like a team Lego-building exercise: when you’re missing a piece, someone else hands it to you. The whole project is done in one sitting, or at least a finite period. Alone, Luke’s writing process is more insular. He does it in pieces: a verse from January might find its bridge in September. Years of being a musician gives him an intuition about what he’s looking for musically, what fits and what doesn’t, so he doesn’t need to rush. He knows the right part is coming. His periods of working on his solo and band material alternate, so fans can rest easy knowing he isn’t working 20 hour days to make music for both. In fact, his solo project sustains his work in the band. 

Doing something new after a decade with 5SOS is actually replenishing his creative energy. In a band, everyone contributes equally — in terms of their personal experiences put into a piece — and diving into his own world helps him unify his state of mind. The result is that his lot, put into the band’s work, is a richly developed, confidently Luke contribution, and at the same time, he can give space for his bandmates’ contributions since he lets off artistic steam in his solo stuff. “For me, it’s a way for the band to last forever,” he says touchingly in his Aussie accent.

He’s at work on a second project now, and plans to release early March. The first song is a moody, synthetic number — and, I think, his best solo work thus far. It has that drummy catchiness nostalgic of 2000s boy bands, but is modern with its silky electronica, reminding me vaguely of underground sounds, like Chromatics and bladee. 

When he was writing his upcoming songs, he listened to lots of 90s and 2000s music: LCD Soundsystem, Santigold, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine. (Tasteful man.) “I was toying with a lot of pitch vocals and writing from different perspectives. I really wanted to walk this line, of doing this melancholy thing,” he tells me. “When you’re listening to the song, it’s not so much a happy or sad song. It’s wherever you meet the song, I suppose.” He laughs and then demurs, “Which sounds a bit artsy — artsy fartsy.” 

Luke wrote many of these songs in transit, in hotel rooms and planes. Tours are testing for him emotionally, particularly as a singer (he needs all the vocal rest he can get, so he ends up not talking much). “‘Shakes,’ is sort of that point you get to emotionally where you’re just not really thinking or seeing clearly. Just talking and acting out of emotion,” he says. “I can be a bit of a pessimist. But that’s kind of why I wanted to be dreamy, and verging on a love song as well, because you just want to get back to your safe space.” 

During the making of his upcoming project, he watched existential, melancholy movies, like Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and Paris, Texas. He wrote in New York, buried himself in busy and lonely places, and tried to recreate the shadowy world of those movies. “You’re just trying to get people to that place,” he says. It’s the L train to nausea. 

The band, since they started it at such a young age, has gone through many phases. He jokes, “I’m jealous of people that started bands when they, you know, knew who they were properly.” But from the outside listening in, this evolution of Luke Hemmings preludes something certain, something great, the mature height of a teenage rebel. I’ve always maintained that an artist’s best work comes around 30, and this moment surrounding Luke, his upcoming music, brims and shimmers with omen and hope. He’s not a boy with a microphone anymore; he’s married, he works on two musical projects, he tours regularly. But his next chapter, I believe, will be the one that lasts for Luke: if all follows, the sort of music that stays eternally new, eternally fresh, forever young. 

Coat, BYBLOS. Shirt + tie, CALVIN KLEIN. Pants, ADDIDAS. Shoes, DR. MARTENS. Necklace, VITALY. Ring, VERSACE.

Shirt, J. LINDBERG. Shorts, JUST DON. Socks, CALVIN KLEIN. Shoes, DR. MARTENS. Necklace, GIVENCHY. Rings, VITALY.

Jacket, J. LINDBERG. Pants, Vintage. Boots, SAINT LAURENT. Tank, CODE 22. Necklace, RAT BETTY.

Jacket, ICEBERG. Shirt + Jeans, LEVIS. Boots, J.LINDBERG.




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