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  • Vasili Papathanasopoulos


JULY 2024

Photographs by Vasili Papathanasopoulos.

Styling by Victoria Knowles.

At the age of fifteen, Luke Hemmings took to the stage for the first time at Sydney’s Annandale Hotel alongside his 5 Seconds of Summer bandmates. Across the past thirteen years he has performed in arenas and stadiums across the globe as the bands career continued to catapult. In 2020, amidst the global pandemic, Hemmings found himself isolated from his family, bandmates and childhood home. Based at the time in LA with his wife, the award-winning, multi-platinum musician turned inwards and began to process and unpack the highs and lows of living life in the spotlight, documenting them as “diary entries” that became musical compositions. The result was two bodies of work: his 2021 debut album, When Facing the Things We Turn Away From, and his recently released EP, Boy

Having briefly met Hemmings at the 2018 ARIA Awards, we formally meet for the first time at a photo studio in Sydney’s Inner West in the days following the conclusion of his sold-out debut headline tour. Since reaching worldwide acclaim, he has spent much of his time on the road and in his new home base of Los Angeles. “I came back at the end of last year and I was home for Christmas. I haven't been home for Christmas in a long time,” he shares, before stating his fondness for spending time in his home country. The memories of an Australian winter remain close to his heart, “My birthday was always in the winter and so it kind of reminds me of being home.” Hemmings will celebrate his twenty eighth birthday later this month, following a six week stint travelling the world on his Nostalgia for a Time That Never Existed tour in support of the EP. 

Coat, Giorgio Armani. Pants, Raf Simons. Sneakers, Adidas. Jewellery, Bulgari. Ring, Sunday Stephens.

Hemmings has embarked on approximately eighteen tours across his career with the band, released four studio albums, four EPs and three live albums. However, he notes that When Facing the Things We Turn Away From, and Boy paint a more accurate picture of his life. He began writing his solo music by utilising diary entries, capturing his sole perspective to be able to present his thoughts and findings to the world. “…with the band, we all write and even if something is my story, someone will throw a line and that's from their perspective and that's what a band is. It's everyone's perspective coming together to make a band. So the whole point of doing stuff at home was to just tell it from my angle and be like, 'this is how I see the world.” 

A central thread that runs through both collections of songs is isolation and loneliness - feelings that Hemmings was able to face when forced to slow down when the world shut down. “It was the first time being in one place for more than a couple… like a month or two or whatever. So there was a lot to unravel and, like a lot of us, sort of checking in with myself and trying to understand what even happened the last 10 years.” He adds of being separated from his family, "it was really difficult not to see them, and on top of trying to figure out where my head was at after 10 years of being on the move or thereabouts… it was just me and the wife at home.”  Whilst born out of a period of feeling disconnected from loved ones and fans, When Facing the Things We Turn Away From allowed Hemmings to connect with listeners in a new way, receiving a warm reception from longtime fans and earning him new listeners. He recalls fleeting moments of trepidation around the albums release, noting the songs track emotions and thoughts that felt specific to him - which went on to resonate with listeners across the globe. That connection and reception offered a resolute conclusion on going solo, Hemmings recalls; “That sort of like solidified, 'okay, the people really like this and this is a really cool thing and a great creative outlet.’”

Luke wears Versace. Necklace, Versace. Jewellery, Bulgari.

Before long, he found himself engrossed once again in a 5SOS album cycle. Releasing an album and taking it on tour following his debut solo outing, Hemmings’ sense of ‘normalcy’ was back on track. But with that, the isolation lingered and presented itself in a new context; feeling lonely in a crowd of people. “I was finding it really difficult to be away from home and coming into the EP, that's kind of what I was writing about, that similar sort of feeling and that loneliness and longing to go home. But this time it was surrounded by lots of people in a new city every day.” Boy finds Hemmings ruminating on the effects of fame, shedding his rockstar bravado to allow space for vulnerability. The disorientating duality of his life and career is embedded within each song, beginning with I'm Still Your Boy. Here, he reflects on teenage stardom and the trauma that can accompany the shining light that fame shrouded him within. Shakes draws on subdued 80's influences to create a nostalgia-fuelled soundscape whilst expanding on the theme of isolation, and longing for self-acceptance. The pairing of Shakes and Benny create a couplet of songs that find Hemmings longing for the comfort and security of his hometown, before he offers up insight into his own mental health - addressing his anxieties and fears- most prevalent on Close My Eyes and Promises. Meanwhile Garden Life is an ode to the places and people that pull him back into a space of love and comfort. The EP introduces themes of loss and suffering on Close Enough To You, painting vivid imagery with storytelling lyricism that is derived from a shattering pain. As Hemmings puts it, “There was lots of to delve into emotionally and unpack.” He does so with such grace and care for the subject matter, crafting evocative songwriting that allows listeners into his world and headspace. 

In turn, Boy’s introspective and intimate nature extends beyond Hemmings’ own psyche to create relatable moments for listeners to connect to. At its core, the collection of songs offers the perspective of having entered your late twenties, and observing how life goes on - whether you are prepared for it to do so or not. “I started writing about getting into your late twenties and life becoming very real, very quickly. It is about closing a chapter and opening a new one and moving forward without fear.” Capturing the existentialism and absurdity of real life, Hemmings has been afforded the space to challenge himself and push beyond his previously established songwriting skills to create a refined body of work that bares his soul and artistry. 

Coat, Giorgio Armani. Pants, Raf Simons. Sneakers, Adidas. Jewellery, Bulgari. Ring, Sunday Stephens.

I ask him if he’s ever felt apprehension when it comes to baring such intimate and personal details of his life, or if he finds it to be the most cathartic, and the only approach to undertake? He responds, “You're right, there's no real other way to do it.” Returning to the idea of songs serving as journal entries, Hemmings notes the fear of being too personal lingered whilst crafting his debut album, but was subdued when it came to penning Boy. Instead, its the permanency of songwriting that prompts a bubbling anxiety beneath the surface. “I think that it is so personal, and I think the way I write lyrics and music is very sporadic and they're very high emotional times. So it's just like a bunch of picking out diary entries from different times. Sometimes it can be a bit nonsensical and I think the only trepidation is I don't like being tied to a lyric forever. They are all moments in time and I think that's the only trepidation about it, is it being perceived that way forever.”

Moving beyond the EP’s thematic nature, Boy is grounded by its dreamy and euphoric sonic palette. Where his debut was swathed in swelling indie-rock soundscapes, something he describes as a “very particular” choice, this new collection of songs was driven more by instinct and influence. “Coming into this, I don't know, taste just changed. I started listening to more of those artists you mentioned; LCD Sound System and Cocteau Twins and Beach House.” The result is a body of work that pivots away from commanding your attention, and instead lures you in and allows you to sit with the compositions. In turn, perhaps this creates a deeper connection between the listener and the songs. There’s space for contemplation within the atmospheric realm Hemmings has built - a realm he began to uncloak on his previous album with A Beautiful Dream. “I love that song and I just made that at home and that was right at the end, like one of the last things. So that was already in the back of my mind of like, 'okay, how do I expand on these bits of the album that maybe I didn't get to until the end?’” Picking up where he left off, Hemmings teamed up with longtime collaborator Sammy Witte (Maggie Rogers, Harry Styles, Halsey) to craft this new world, one embedded with melancholia and reflection. Subtle threads of indie-rock and shoegaze are woven throughout the EPs bewitching soundscapes, unfurling beneath the musicians captivating vocals. Each songs sonic terrain lends to the thought of creating a body of work that captivates its listeners in a non-invasive way. He tells me he wanted the EP to “feel a bit more easy to listen to, I suppose. I just love when stuff sort of can be this big wall of sound. Especially in a song like Promises, I like it being in this dream state as opposed to commanding you to to listen to it I suppose.” Hemmings uses Boy not only as a stage to present his prowess as a songwriter, but also the maturity and breadth of his vocals. Effortlessly moving between his registers, the release finds the musician exploring all the caverns of his distinct tone.

Luke wears Versace. Necklace, Versace. Jewellery, Bulgari.

As we continue to enter his world with each release, Hemmings has expanded beyond the music with Boy, crafting a distinct visual identity for his latest release. Veiled in tones of blue, the EP’s shimmering sonics is mirrored in its imagery - both stills and videos. We talk of the importance and impact of visuals within the contemporary landscape, and Hemmings finds a deep value in all the supplementary elements surrounding making music. “It's just another outlet and another arm of the creative to be like, 'this is the world that I'm building.' I was very adamant that I wanted to do a video or at least a visualiser for each song, because it's only seven songs, I wanted it to feel like its own world. Especially when there are these short bursts of like, it's an EP I want to get across this is exactly the way I felt, and the way I want the feeling of the project to be in a very short amount of time.” He tells me he goes over everything with a ‘fine tooth comb’, to ensure that the feelings conveyed throughout the songs are correctly perceived within the visuals. “That's what I was trying to do, and trying to get across whatever my head space was when I was writing it was really important… I think I did a really good job of it in the end. I was really happy with everything. I'm not usually happy with… there's always something that goes wrong, and I was happy with the way everything felt and looked and sounded.”

The identity built within the visuals bled into the live show, and the way fans interact with the music. Having attended Hemmings’ second performance at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre only days before sitting down with the musician - it was clear that the fans echoed his sentiments on the success of the EP and its visuals. A culture has been built within his fan community, which finds audience members emulating the musicians looks and fashion choices throughout Boy’s rollout. The crowd is punctuated with fans wearing suits and putting their own spin on Hemmings’ eye make up, that has become synonymous with the EP. Beyond their excitement to be involved with the world of Boy, their unwavering commitment to supporting Hemmings in his endeavours does not go unnoticed. “I'm really blown away with how people have reacted to the songs. They haven't been out that long and people are screaming them, and it's been very satisfying to see that visceral, emotional reaction to the songs I wrote.” 

Coat, Giorgio Armani. Pants, Raf Simons. Sneakers, Adidas. Jewellery, Bulgari. Ring, Sunday Stephens.

Having experienced the show myself, Hemmings’ relationship with his devoted audience radiated throughout the room. Love, laughter, tears and camaraderie filled the theatre as their bond strengthened throughout the ninety minute show. By the time Hemmings completed his world tour in Brisbane, Boy had been available to the public for around five weeks. I ask him his thoughts on the crowds response to the songs, and if he was surprised by their reactions and which songs they resonated with. He tells me his favourite song off the EP is Garden Life and has enjoyed seeing it blossom throughout the tour. “I think it's a unique song. I don't know if anyone really liked that one… I feel like maybe me talking about it all the time and being like, 'I love this song. I love this song,' has made people [laughs], I mean people love that one now and it's a really cool live one.”

On stage, he too continues to bring the world of Boy to life. Moody and atmospheric lighting shrouds the stage whilst Hemmings, backed by a whole new band, cuts an enigmatic figure in striking fashion pieces and glimmering eye make up - sometimes curtained by his tousled curls. With a whole new live show, new challenges presented themselves. For the first time since 2011, Hemmings stepped on stage without his fellow 5SOS band mates and was returning to more intimate venues. "I was trepidatious [laughs] and I was anxious about it. The band at the start of our career, I was so young… I'm twenty seven and I have a full frontal lobe now. So it's nice to be at the sort of start of a career playing these size venues where there's that excitement around it, and be able to understand how cool it is.” The pressures of touring as a solo artist are not lost on him. Recalling on his touring career with the band, he shows gratitude for having shared experiences on the road, and sharing the emotional landscape with three other people. But with age and experience he is now able to create a healthier lifestyle whilst touring the world - and is acutely aware of the toll touring can take on both his physical and mental health. “I wrote about it on Boy, like touring is difficult. The shows are amazing, but everything else around it - the highs and the lows are so far apart from each other. So I think being older, and knowing how to set boundaries on it and be able to say no to things or being able to take care of my health and my mental health better. I gotta go see the sun today, you know, I gotta get out and I gotta work out. Or you know, I gotta hire someone to run my social media so I can just focus on the show and not be online, or just sort of like drowning out a bit of that noise.” He notes that there is an emphasis on prioritising his health when touring as a solo artist since there is no one there to share the load. 

Luke wears Versace. Necklace, Versace. Jewellery, Bulgari.

When it came to crafting a setlist, he found that aspect less daunting. With two bodies of work in tow, putting together the tour prompted Hemmings to note the similarities between both releases. “I thought they were really, really different. But they sat together well and I love making a setlist. I've been making setlists for a long time now and it's been nice to bring things in and take 'em out.” Pairing the slower and acoustic songs present on When Facing the Things We Turn Away From and the more driving tracks of Boy, creates a dynamic live experience for those in attendance and showcases the depth and breadth of Hemmings’ artistry. It’s also allowed for him to experiment with the setlist and make changes as the run of shows progressed. “As you know, at the start of tour we weren't playing a song called Promises, and now that's one of my favourites to play live. It's been really, honestly, kind of fun just like slipping 'em in. It's like it's not having a full album, it's nice just to have seven to be like, 'okay, we kind of already had a base level set list, and where can I slip these in to make it better?’” He says that performing the songs live has given them a new life, and once the dust settles on the tour and there’s some time and space for contemplation, he’ll then “go listen back to it and be like, 'okay, that's what it was about.’”

Coat, Giorgio Armani. Pants, Raf Simons. Sneakers, Adidas. Jewellery, Bulgari. Ring, Sunday Stephens.

As for where to from here for his solo endeavour, he offers the following thought; “I've been doing the band for a long time and I love doing that, and I love being the singer and a member of that band. The solo thing has been this thing that just keeps, I don't know, it's like this creative outlet that I did not know how much I would love. So every time we do something, I'm very like, it's another big step… I don't know where it'll go next. It's something I'll have to come back to and if there's something to say musically and lyrically, I'll keep tapping into it and hopefully it just keeps growing.”

The excitement and fun that arrives with a new creative outlet poured out of Hemmings as we unpacked this new era of his career. He’s taking more risks both musically and stylistically, experimenting with every aspect to create an overall engaging experience for not only his fans, but for himself. As our time together comes to an end, he poses the thought, “You’re just trying to get better as an artist, aren't you? Every time.”


Makeup Artist: Kristen Zinghini

Videographer: Blake Lauricella

Assistants: Nelson Clyde and Jazmin Pezzano.


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