After nearly a decade inside the 5 Seconds Of Summer juggernaut, Ashton Irwin has stepped out from behind the drum skins and produced his first solo record, Superbloom.
PEDESTRIAN.TV caught up with Ashton ahead of its release, and he told us how his 2020 has been a year of self-reflection and growth, dismantling long-held ideas about masculinity while writing his solo project, and how he wants 5SOS to become the most diverse supergroup going around.
For Ashton, Superbloom is the first time he’s felt he’s been able to explore and present himself, his identity, as the man outside of the Sydney four-piece he’s had insane success with since their formation in 2011.
With the band taking forced downtime during the global pandemic this year, he transformed his whole house into a studio – writing and recording his first independent release entirely at home, and taking the year to speak about his own experiences with his own voice for the first time.
“I think on this record, what you’re hearing is my inner dialogue through my lyrics,” Ashton said from his home in Los Angeles.
“Developing a kinder voice to myself, developing the need to dig into my narrative as a lyricist, and share that with people. Because if it’s happened to me, it’s happened to a lot of people.”
Superbloom gently explores a lot of heavy issues that Ashton has experienced in his life – ranging from body dysmorphia, mental illness, sobriety, and the influential effects of media and politics. It’s a certain level of realness that Ashton felt needed to be delivered by himself, and not part of the 5SOS catalogue.
“I actually reached a point in my flow state when I was writing for months that I forgot that all this is kind of deep shit,” Ashton said.
“I didn’t ever go ‘wow, I’m actually going to share this with people.’ I never thought that once. I could have self-analysed that, but I never did. I never really thought that it was deep and confronting. I just was being myself.
“[The album is] being understood to a level that I couldn’t have even hoped for. Like, people are really listening in and really connecting that I have things to talk about as an artist – and that’s why I am also a solo artist. Because I have a lot to say, and it can’t always be sung by someone else.”
Helping to rewrite the rules around modern masculinity is something that Ashton has strived for through being frank and honest on Superbloom. Through tracks like Skinny Skinny, SCAR, and The Sweetness, we hear Ashton delving into his own trauma vault, digging out experiences with body dysmorphia, suicide prevention, and the damaging ideals of masculinity.
In Skinny Skinny, Ashton sings “My second face, my damn reflection, we always meet when I’m defeated”, where we hear of Ashton’s ‘second face’, the negative, manipulative version of himself he’s experienced in periods of low self-consciousness. In SCAR, we’re privy to Ashton reaching out to his small, trusted group of friends and family in times of need, and the importance of suicide prevention.
Can you light a tunnel to light of day / I’m sick of dealing with the problems at hand / Can you help me be a better man?
Through understanding himself as an adult outside of the 5SOS dynamic, Ashton insists on the importance of being gentle, compassionate, and vulnerable.
Although he knows his fanbase is largely young women – he’s been in the pop game for long enough now that his extended fanbase covers multiple generations – he’s conscious that young men are listening in as well, and he wants to be a part of the change in their lives.
“I think for me, in terms of how it influences young men in particular, I want to disarm the masculinity – the false, imaginary construct that men have to be tough, which often results in making them misogynistic,” he said.
“I think men in terms of emotional state in society have such a long way to grow, and I’m a part of that. I have a predominantly female audience, but I am a sensitive artist who is a man.
“You know, I grew up without a father, and I had to find my identity as a man in society, and that turns out to be a sensitive, creative being who just wants to help people most of the time. So I think there’s a lot of other men like me who will amplify a new sensitivity in young men and a level of understanding in order to be empathetic to the rest of the world’s problems.”
Once he’d finished the album, Ashton immediately took it to his 5SOS brothers. He told me that Calum Hood and Michael Clifford enjoyed it immediately (despite Michael saying it sounded like US prog metal band Dream Theater), while Luke Hemmings stayed quiet, which Ashton believes may have stirred something in Luke to go and create something as raw and honest as Superbloom.
And as for the calls of a band starting its death march as soon as one member goes solo, Ashton dismissed that as “egotistic denial” around creative ability.
“In pop culture, a lot of people get attached to the egotistic denial of, ‘well, you can’t have a solo project. What about everyone else?’” he said.
“It’s like, well, I’m still gonna make music for them. I just want to make music on my own as well. So yeah, evolving the conversation.”
To evolve that conversation around band members pursuing projects outside of the group, Ashton also believes that his solo work as Ashton Irwin – which he joked he has about “40 albums” worth of ideas for – will help him to be a better collaborator with 5 Seconds Of Summer.
Superbloom will hit streaming services on October 22, and you can order it on vinyl and CD over at his official online store.