Ashton Irwin opens up on booze, drugs and body dysmorphia
Sobriety helped Ashton Irwin exorcise his demons on his debut solo album Superbloom.
The 5 Seconds Of Summer drummer's deeply personal album, created in the basement of his Hollywood Hills home during the pandemic lockdown, is a sonic throwback to his '90s alt-rock influences.
Lyrically, he delves deep to address a wide range of mental health issues and their consequences, from anxiety and depression to alcoholism and toxic relationships.
Irwin has been sober for more than a year, quitting alcohol because he was concerned it had become his default coping mechanism for anxiety or boredom.
"I didn't choose to get sober because I didn't want to be honest with myself. I wanted to cut right to my core and my artistry was a great kind of guiding light to that, along with having loving relationships and being alive in general," he says.
"I knew to get to the next level of my lyricism and truthful self, I would have to cut the s--- and stop hiding behind things, stop hiding behind co-dependent relationships or alcoholism or whatever the f--- it was and put it into a positive place.
"I think it was my lifestyle choices that then inevitably left me quite bored on a Saturday night, so on a Saturday night instead of going and getting blind drunk, I would write songs and focus on my art, which is my saving grace."
The debut single, 'Skinny Skinny', addresses the escalating problem of body dysmorphia among young men.
Its intense video, featuring a shirtless Irwin channelling the signature movement of his rock heroes Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger, seeks to give physical form to the internal struggle faced by young men to conform to societal standards of what constitutes the accepted male form.
Irwin said the song was sparked by a conversation he had with his 15-year-old brother about body image.
"I wouldn't say it's for my brother. I would say it's a song I wish I had when I was my brother's age," he says.
"I just had a conversation with him and he's very worried about his weight, his body image and he's only 15 years old. And I think, 'F---, I felt exactly the same'. And I still do. And I'm still unravelling that.
"I never had positive conversations about male body image. It's something that's just kind of been internal my whole life."
The 26-year-old musician said much of his solo album reflects his mission to "re-parent" himself and unravel some of the negative behaviours he learned in his teen years before joining Luke Hemmings, Michael Clifford and Calum Hood to form 5 Seconds of Summer in Sydney's western suburbs a decade ago.
The band released their fourth album CALM in April shortly after COVID-19 forced the world into lockdown and brought an immediate halt to the touring plans of every artist on the planet.
Irwin said he didn't want to retreat to the couch and binge watch television.
Instead, he set up a home studio with his housemate and producer buddy Matt Pauling.
"It all started out with a conversation I had with K Flay about a year ago who said she thought it was bizarre that some artists can't even record their own vocals. And that cut me to the bone," he says.
"I felt so guilty that because I've been busy songwriting for all these years, I had never delved into production and informed my own style with the way I was recording and writing music. I always relied on a great producer because I had that incredible resource being in a band.
"So for me, it was all about 'Okay, well, no more bulls---, can you can you write and record a record at home? Top to bottom.' And that was my challenge. And I'm lucky enough to live with an amazing producer and mentor in Matt Pauling."
While Irwin has partnered with his mates at EMI Australia who have helped steer 5SOS to global success, Superbloom is being released independently in the rest of the world.
Like he has done with his 5SOS bandmates for their albums and singles, he has taken charge of the artwork and merchandise and marketing to his fans.
"I just want it to be directly from me to the audience," he says.
"I'm not trying to have a massive pop hit or anything like that and that is confusing to some people because I'm from a pop band.
"This is rock music and it needs to have a rock spirit and that to me means transparent communication with the people who are listening."
When he had finished the recording, Irwin sent it via Dropbox to his 5SOS bandmates and then burnt CD copies.
Clifford and Hood then joined him for the time-honoured method of testing an album - a long drive.
"The whole thing about it is be transparent. Be upfront. These are the things I want to do as an individual and I wanted to show them, 'Look, I'm brave enough to do this s--- on my own and so are you'," he says.
"I have no problem with being in a band and releasing stuff like this. And I encourage them to do the same. A band doesn't have to end in order for people to be themselves.
"I've been around the world 58 times and told everyone how much I give a f--- about 5 Seconds of Summer and that remains true."
Superbloom is out now.
Originally published as Ashton Irwin opens up on booze, drugs and body dysmorphia