Luke Hemmings has been on the run since he was 15 years old. As the lead vocalist of the global phenomenon 5 Seconds Of Summer, life for the now 25-year-old Australia native had never stopped moving forward. Until 2020, when the global pandemic forced him into stillness at his home in Los Angeles — the longest time he's been in one place since childhood.
Amid that period of uncertainty and with an overabundance of time, he created his debut solo album, When Facing The Things We Turn Away From, out now. It’s a reckoning of sorts with the last ten years of his life. Where has the time — memories, everything — gone?
Over 12 cinematic, massive-sounding songs, Hemmings attempts to answer that question while embarking on some of his most personal songwriting yet. What manifests are deeply affecting tracks like “Mum,” where he heartbreakingly admits, “Mum, I'm sorry I stopped calling.” Or the visceral, urgent lead single “Starting Line,” which finds him trying to keep up with the pace of a life determined to outrun him. Like a wave, every song on the record feeds into the next, and what emerges is a complex and tender portrait of a person coming to terms with the extent of his reality and all the gaps that’ve been missing.
“[When Facing The Things We Turn Away From] was created to be listened to as a full body of work,” he tells NYLON over the phone ahead of its release. “It was created to evoke an emotional response.”
Below, Hemmings walks NYLON through the intimate stories behind each track on the record, musing on his memories, influences, and lessons learned.
"Starting Line," this one really took the album to the next level, and that's why it's the first song out. I think it sums up everything lyrically, musically, and sonically on the album. I did the whole album with a guy named Sammy Witte. One day I went to his house and he was playing a synth riff when I walked in, and I said, "Oh that's cool." I sat at the piano and this first verse kind of just fell out of me. I had to figure out exactly where to take it and it took a long time to get to where it explodes in the song, which was quite frustrating because the rest of the song was written very quickly and it was one stream of consciousness, I suppose.
I think for me after being on this journey with the band, I was very young and I felt like when Covid started, I had been traveling a lot since I was 15 and doing this whole beautiful adventure. When I was at home, I looked at things a lot differently. The whole album is, but this song in particular, really trying to figure out the last 10 years... I'm quite fascinated with time and things that are out of your control as human beings, so it's based around that and understanding that, and relinquishing control of it. Try and fill in all the gaps of the last 10 years.
The album title came from this. I always had [the line] in the back of my mind because it was written even before "Starting Line." I always thought in my head, "Oh that'd be a great album title," because every song on the album can be related back to that sentiment in one way shape or another.
Saigon is a place in Vietnam, that's what it used to be called before it was Ho Chi Minh City, and I went. My fiancé is half Vietnamese and her mom is from Vietnam and it's about a trip that me and her took with both of our mums, and that's the first time they met. It was the last real trip I took before the pandemic and the whole album was written out of moments of stillness that quarantine forced on me and everyone else. I spent all that time, like I said, sort of facing the things I turned away from, I guess, unintended, and I think this was obviously a beautiful time and it was so freeing and so new and so awesome to share that with both of our mothers. Obviously, this has a sadder turn on it, the sad realization that some of the best moments in our life, as hard as you might try, you can never fully appreciate them until they've already happened.
I remember [Witte and I] had written a bunch of songs, but he was like, "We need to get out of our comfort zone and go somewhere else." At that point I'd been at home for a long time. That's the longest I'd been at home, maybe forever. So we went out to the woods in a cabin and we wrote this song. That trip really helped move the album forward a lot.
I love all of the crazy synths and all the guitar tones and the way that the song feels. That's why the video has that feeling as well.
"Place In Me"
For me, this was about letting someone down that you love and then ending up in a place where you understand how important they are to you, and they'll always have a place in you and it being something that you continue on with. But this song is interesting because on every other song I was very, for lack of better word, annoying, and very critical of every detail. "Motion" had a billion different versions and all the other songs on the album were so, so very scrutinized, and this song is the same as the first day. It's the same vocals, the same production, which for this album makes it sound very special. There's something about the day that it was written, we just didn't change anything about it, which is why it's one of my favorites.
This one was written with my fiancé Sierra. She's been such a beautiful beacon of hope and sort of got me to where I am as a man [laughs] and a human, and she's made such a positive impact on my life. I think it's interesting that this song on the album, it seems her writing on it has had that effect on this song, in comparison to the other songs on the album. I don't know if it's intentional but I love this song. It's the cruisiest one on the album and I think it's really breezy. It's about basically escapism and just trying to escape from things and as you get older the means of escape changes.
We wrote two songs on the album, like the two opposite ends of the spectrum of this album. We wrote "Baby Blue" and "Bloodline." Although "Baby Blue" is very sensitive, it's maybe the most breezy on the album, and "Bloodline" is maybe the heaviest.
I was listening to a lot of Neil Young. I think his lyricism and his attention to detail, it definitely affected me. I wanted to make something that he would enjoy. That's how “Repeat” started; I was listening to a lot of After The Gold Rush, his album.
For me, [the song is] like that endless sort of feeling after chasing something for so long and living a sort of way for so long and ending up right back at the beginning, unrecognizable to yourself. Kind of goes back to that same concept of everything is out of our control and it's hard to accept that. I love the strings that evolved out of this. I love this song and the ending being like a new part as well. I think it's really special.
Very Radiohead-inspired, I think. I think it's the second song I wrote with Sam which is kind of crazy; it's very heavy of a song. As you get older, if you're lucky enough to have... a family like I do you appreciate them more and more, especially… I haven't seen them since Covid started ‘cause they're in Australia. I'm looking back on all those years, I guess. You know I miss my mum every now and then [laughs]. She has heard it. She loved it. She enjoyed it. She probably cried [laughs].
“I think it's fucking amazing that I was able to do that at such a young age, to be able to travel to places and experience people and other cultures. It's changed my outlook on the world immensely.”
On that trip that I was talking about in "Motion," this was the first song we wrote when we got to the cabin in the middle of the woods. It was instantly written and it was originally dark with a drum machine. I want to put that version out because it's crazy where it's gotten now.
I think sometimes in moments of happiness, you feel like you're undeserving of them, and I think [this song] revolves around that. That feeling before bed where you're thinking over every moment and scrutinizing and you can't sleep and it all swirls around in your head. That's where the feeling sort of resides.
It's one of those where I sum it up on the song better than I could ever say. But this is thrown back to eight years ago and being a young individual and going through such a whirlwind of experience and not having the mental capacity and the tools in myself to understand how to navigate that.
I think it's amazing that I was able to do that at such a young age, to be able to travel to places and experience people and other cultures. It's changed my outlook on the world immensely. It's a beautiful thing that I was able to do that and still be able to do that, and the main impression, even with these songs looking back on it, I think it's awesome.
"A Beautiful Dream"
I love [M83] and old influences sort of creep in in different ways. I love Pink Floyd, War on Drugs, Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, all these sort of big grand productions and feelings and they evoke such a tangible emotion from you. That's truly what I wanted to do and this song definitely is. It's probably the most ethereal and the biggest moment because I feel like all the songs on the album in their own way have this cinematic, etherealness to it, but this one, "A Beautiful Dream," it's very large.
I just started it at home with that first synth line, and obviously it grew into something bigger. It's written about, I don't know if you've ever heard the word Zenosyne, but it's the feeling that as you get older time moves quicker, or seems to move quicker. I find it difficult to remember anything, so I think this song is reliving childhood memories, great memories with my family and I think for me, that's where it sort of stemmed from. And not wanting those memories to fade away and just holding on to them.
I had an idea of this song all throughout making the rest of the album and I could never finish it. I tried so many times in my home to finish it. In the last month of putting the album together I finished it with Sierra and she brought it home with me to where it is now. It sort of deals with looking back at negative things in your life and maybe the choices you made. I'm trying to understand, is this a genetic thing? Is it something that was always going to happen or is this me? You're trying to figure yourself out, figure out why you act a certain way or whatever. I think there may be a sense of powerlessness over a trait in your bloodline, and I think this isn't to blame it, but it is asking the question. It says, "I can't fight the bloodline." It's trying to understand if that is the reasoning.
This is honestly one of my favorite songs on the album, if not my favorite. It was written at home mostly and as a songwriter you sort of wait for a song like this to come around. I wrote it at the piano in not very long, like 20 minutes, if that. It literally came flooding out and after that it was a very, very long process of trying to figure out what to do production-wise. It took many forms, like ten different versions. And then there's that whole big end thing that Sammy really pioneered which I f*cking loved.
The whole song is about that phrase: doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get different results is the definition of insanity. Being in a negative loop of actions and feelings and I think this song itself, even without the lyrics, does that. At the end there’s a metamorphosis. "Let it come down on me" being: let me feel all these things, the good, the bad, everything in between, instead of shutting all of that out and living in a numb place. It's about meeting someone like Sierra and having that person really shape you into a better person. I really love this song and I love how this one came very quickly. I almost had to catch up to it.