- Words Malvika Padin
- Photography KayKay
One-fourth of Aussie quartet 5SOS, Ashton Irwin opens up to Notion as he embarks on a new chapter with his much-anticipated solo record, 'Superbloom'.
As the world came to standstill this year, with everyone stuck inside, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ashton Irwin took the time to look inside his own mind and heart. From this introspection bloomed his debut solo record, ‘Superbloom, an album that touches upon everything from Irwin’s childhood, alcoholism, depression, body dysmorphia, death, addiction, despair, hope, and everything in-between.
Speaking of the narrative behind his solo offering, Irwin says “‘Superbloom’ is all about acceptance and critically examining yourself. I could never do that I used to say to myself, I’m in a band, I couldn’t write music on my own. I couldn’t record an album on my own. Why did I say these things to myself? I don’t know. It’s is about breaking down all the things you think you can’t do and doing them? Do them whilst you’re conscious do them whilst you have lifeblood, you know, do them whilst we’re here. And songwriting was one of those blessings that I could just do at home, we all got locked inside. I went inside myself, What’s in here? What can I make? What have I got my heart and my mind? And what can I do to make this a positive year?”
As a deeply intuitive person, Irwin has always himself to be led by his trust in what the world has in store for him. He says, “I think that the way I operate psychologically, as I look into the future, intuitively, and I think about what will just make me happy as a person. I think about what could I work on, that progresses me as a songwriter and creative? How will I progress as a leader? How do I establish a team that could actually work together to create a really stunning piece of music, audio, videos, merchandise, and all these wonderful things that tie in with each other to express a creative multifarious?”
But despite allowing himself to be led by intuition, the seed for his solo record was planted early on in the 26-year-old artist’s life. “The idea for it popped into my mind probably when I was about 14 years old. I love to be involved with music. That’s how I can be in a band and also have a solo project and also work with other people on music. As long as my world is filled, and music I am joyous and happy it’s as simple as that”.
With this 2020 calendar emptied out by the coronavirus, and his long-time dream held close to his heart, ‘Superbloom,’ began taking shape. Talking about the journey, Irwin -who has spent the last nine years as one-fourth of history-making Australian band 5 Seconds Of Summer- says “I made a fourth record with 5SOS, and I was pretty burnt out. The process was kind of gruelling. We’re working with some really big producers. Signed Interscope Records, there was a lot on the line, we’re coming off the back of our biggest record ever ‘Young Blood’. I was just fried, I worked myself and the other guys in the band. I mean, we had worked so hard, for nine years straight almost on this thing that I looked around, and I’m starting to see a lot of tired faces. And the passion was there, the love is still there, and the audience was incredible as it always is”.
He continues, “So when we got locked inside the lockdown, I said I need to go back to the roots. I need to discuss my narrative I need to challenge my songwriting. Can I write a record on my own? Can I release it independently? Can I build a team that I love? Can I have a joyous experience within music? And that’s exactly what I’m doing. So back then it was just a thought – now it’s a reality. So I’m very happy about that. I think I can spread this kind of attitude back into the bands when I go back and make more albums for the band”.
On the topic of the band, he admits to fearing the reaction of his bandmates to his desire for a solo project. He reveals, “I was really afraid to tell the other guys in my band, hey, I have a project that I want to work on my own. It’s out of love. I want to be in a band with you. But I also want to go and do this. But the responses I got are nothing like what I expected what that fearful place that we go to, in our minds, they’re going to hate me, they’re going to hate it. They’re gonna be so upset with me. And I received nothing but love from them. I’m so grateful for their responses. I’m so grateful for their friendship, we grew up together, and we just are brothers”.
He adds that the importance for such honesty and transparency was one of the biggest lessons he took away from working on ‘Superbloom.’ Further delving into the lessons he learned, he says, “So that’s one thing I learned I learned to always remain curious and be a student. I also learned to accept collaboration. It’s funny, I made a solo record, and I learned how to collaborate. How profound is that? I think one of the other things I learned was to treat my vessel my body with respect. Because I suffered from depression and anxiety, I was stuck in the mud with that for so many years of my life. I make changes. I respect my body more than ever, and therefore my mind is more fluid. I’m able to exist in a place of realness and a place of empathy”.
With a positive approach to his bandmates and himself, Irwin was able to move forward creatively and personally. His evolution tying in perfectly with his belief about the importance of a mission statement as an artist.
He says, “My mission statement is to persevere in line with your higher self, your intuition, those wonderful ideas and creative thoughts that flow through your mind or messages and hints on where to go next and what to do. My mission statement is also about healing, self-acceptance, becoming understanding, letting go, forgiving and I speak about family, about anti-suicide, I speak about forgiving self and letting go of pain. I speak about all these things in my lyrics”.
Having set aside three months with a goal of making 2020 the year for ‘Superbloom’ and not in 2021, the 5SOS drummer decided to aim for album with lyrics that are relevant to what’s happening now. He tells, “I said, “Okay, what’s doable for me to establish an album that I’m proud of and release it this year?” I said to myself, it just has to come out this year – so some of the lyrics are about media consumption. Some of the lyrics are about family and some of the lyrics are just about experiencing these times”.
Touching a bit more upon lyricism, Irwin describes his style of songwriting as “perseverant and filled with original thoughts”. He explains, “I think on Superbloom I’m starting to develop a real personal style of lyricism, songwriting. Matt Pauling and I who produced the record with me – we wanted to make a 10-song record and I felt that I touched on pretty much all the things I wanted to touch on a first record, establishing my narrative as a being, establishing my style of lyricism, establishing what kind of music I like to put up, and also excelling in the recording process as a recording artist, I just wanted to evolve”.
He further adds, “I think “Skinny Skinny” is one of the most original songs I’ve ever written. I think it’s a song that is so unapologetically me. And that was one of the first songs where I went, well, this is a is a stand-up song from my lyricism. This is you want to know like how I write a song”.
In terms of lyrical inspiration, Irwin finds himself inspired by everything around him as long as it’s something he cares about. Revealing the oddest thing he’s ever been inspired by, he says “I have been at home since January 25, I think this year. I started growing a garden at the exact same time that I started making this music, and it was a Zen practice. Making sure my plants survives, making sure I was cultivating them and making sure the soil is healthy and making sure my garden was growing made me so happy”.
“It’s weird and it’s stupid, and it’s simple, but I am so happy in that garden. And I’m so at peace. And it’s the tiniest garden…But I grow lemons and oranges is lavender and little flowers and I have sweet potatoes growing and I have a hammock and I have a fire pit in the middle. And it’s my like little patch of like heaven and I think there and I grounded myself there – it’s just a special place for me. as the music grew, so did the garden. It’s cool to have things growing and living on all day. Nothing to do with music. Yeah. But I care about it”.
Asked about a question he’s never been asked before, he once again talks lyricism saying, “How does my music make my family feel? Yeah. My family, we don’t talk about my songs that much. It’s weird. It’s like, my lyrics are about them. They’re about me. But we never bring it up. It’s like a comedian that makes jokes about their partner or something. And it’s like, do they ever talk about that? Is that healthy?”
He continues, “I write about my mom or my brother or my sister or my dad or whatever the fuck who it is. I just, we never talk about it in person. And it’s an interesting thing. I don’t know. Maybe we will one day, maybe they’ll read this and be like, oh, what’s up with your song? And it’s not a massive deal. But yeah, how does my music make my family feel? I don’t really know”.
From his world-wise yet easy-going description of songwriting, it becomes clear that authenticity and instinct are the pillars of Irwin’s songwriting. Asked if he gets hard to limit the constant flow of intuitive thoughts that pop into his mind, he says, “Never, because it’s the leap of faith. So I accept that ideas are so fleeting”, continuing, “I decided very young my purpose in the world is to first of all, be a good communicator. Not just all about me expressing what I think, but help people kind of express themselves as well. That duality of creation is really wonderful. I create something and then you create something in your mind based on my music. And then your thoughts create other thoughts. You know, it’s kind of just this awesome human pass along “Look what I made. Take it, enjoy it and maybe it’ll inspire you”.
He does admit, however, that obsession and not knowing when to slow down is something he’s trying to overcome. Talking about the most unexpected challenge of turning his home into his studio and working on his album from the confines of his home he says, “The obsession, I got really obsessed, I was basically an engineer for this record. And I was doing what Matt needed me to do. I was setting up mics, I’m doing all these classic kind of recording things because it was like school for me. I never went to music school. I never, you know, but I’ve been in hundreds of studios, and I’ve had incredible mentors”.
“One of the things for me with Matt Pauling was becoming obsessed with the process, but also letting myself go there. But it’s not always necessarily healthy to become so obsessed with things like that, either. So I need to establish balance is something I struggle with. I just need to understand when to take action and when to just slow down a second”.
This is why Irwin’s next step is simply taking a break. Looking into the future, he says”, I’m just being patient right now. I’m not forcing anything. I’m actually about to take a break off to off to my record comes out, so not going to write for a moment. That’s the good thing about the solo record, I don’t have to rush it. I don’t have to. I don’t, it doesn’t have to be anything. So, I choose to live there in that place of when it comes, it comes. I know we’ll come around again because that’s the way I operate. So when I get that feeling, it’ll be one day and the song will pop into my head. And then I will have started the next record. I’ll keep writing it out and see how many songs I can write in this life”.
He might be waiting for the next song to pop into his head, but as someone who doesn’t want to repeat the same trick twice, he’s confident what he does next will surprise people, “There’s no rules with me. You know, I may not even be releasing music next. I might release a gallery of paintings”.
Always evolvin, whether it’s as part of 5SOS, a solo artist, or simply a creative keen on gardening and painting, the one thing that remains consistent about Ashton Irwin is his insistence to never a negative approach to anything in life because “ it doesn’t manifest positive outcomes”.