Trigger Warning: This article involves themes regarding disordered eating, self-harm and mental illness
Ashton Irwin is an Australian musician who is primarily known for drumming in the band 5 Seconds of Summer (5SOS). A proud member of the nearly decade-old band, Ashton is now the first member of the group to make solo music, and he’s doing so with great passion and personality on Superbloom, his debut album.
At the beginning of the process Ashton toyed with using a different moniker to release the project (Blood Orange or Tame Impala style), but instead opted to use his real name. This choice was the right one, as it allowed him to further emphasize the transparency of the album. The title Superbloom remained constant. This consistency is clear on the project, as Ashton’s vision is solid and matured. Superbloom is the comfort and haunting nostalgia of a recovered VHS tape.
Superbloom’s style leans into an ‘90s music sound, even dipping into grunge. The album is similar to The Verve’s “Love Is Noise,” Snow Patrol’s “Run,” Kid Cudi’s “Sky Might Fall,” Eurythmics’ “I’ve Tried Everything,” Greenday’s “Macy’s Day Parade,” Elliot Smith’s Figure 8 album, Veruca Salt’s “Loneliness Is Worse,” Living Colour’s “Love Rears Its Ugly Head,” as well as tracks of Nirvana’s like “Polly,” “Poison’s Gone” and “Heart-Shaped Box” (which he ultimately ended up covering) in numerous ways.
The tracks are longer and not designed to be for the radio in length or lyrics — they’re meant to tell Ashton’s story. This album wasn’t manufactured, but instead crafted with great care. Superbloom is completely Ashton Irwin’s own, teeming with vulnerability and the wide range of musical capabilities that he has often hidden behind a drum set. While this is a debut album, it contains the maturity and knowledge of someone who is highly experienced and developed in their style. The depth of Ashton’s passion for the music and his personal strength are all emulated on Superbloom.
One of the raw singles off the album, the opening track “SCAR” provides an immediate introduction into the power present on Superbloom. The introduction uses sparkly harp, before diving into darker guitar and percussion. Ashton’s favorite song from the album, “SCAR” is filled with dramatic instrumentals and twinkling harp swells.
He directly addresses his sister Lauren, while also discussing his “mother” and “brother” throughout the track. The shouts and chorusing on the closing verse is powerful as he cries, “Mother, mother/Sister, sister/Brother, brother/When the world leaves a scar on you…” His family were likely driving forces behind his recovery and hope for the future. Ashton wrote about the track, saying it is a “message to my family, a message for anyone that listens, about perseverance through periods of intense struggle.”
Ashton sings about a hopelessness, confusion and a sense of wandering towards suicide, “Got me wishin’/God would show me the way/Show me heaven maybe just for a day/I’m feeling something that I don’t understand/Can you help me be a better man?” The title and lyric “scar,” itself, is fraught. He refers to self-harming tendencies, as the lyrics revolve around the emotions that often lead people to have the “world leave a scar on you,” physically and otherwise. He also sings, “Break down the door,” referring to metaphorical barriers, but also possibly to the literal sense of being trapped in a bathroom leaving scars on himself.
The shift before the final chorus (at 2:32) is consuming and feels like the listener is surrounded by the darkness that inspired the track. There are many moments that can shock listeners, as his vocal runs in the outro remind listeners of the talent that is not often heard on 5SOS projects.
“Scar” introduces listeners to all that Superbloom has in store.
Have U Found What Ur Looking For?
The single “Have You Found What You’re Looking For?” focuses on fighting against his own mind. He’s battling a refusal to be vulnerable and an ultimate overwhelming lack of fulfillment. The instrumentals and Ashton’s vocals are strong and overwhelming, much like the thoughts that he lists.
Labeled the “genesis” of Superbloom, “Have U Found What You’re Looking For?” focuses on battling the mind, which is at the very center of each song on the album. A prime example of this is his lyric, “Everest is the bathroom at the top of the goddamn stairs,” as he references the struggles he faces with self-harm (SCAR) and his eating disorder (Skinny Skinny), both of which are his great challenge to overcome while in that one room. Genesis is the creation of humanity and life, in the Bible and Ashton even makes religious illusions, “Your blissful eyes will open…A brand new voice has spoken,” further emphasizing the Genesis component of his Superbloom beliefs. He makes another religious reference as he sings, “Heartbreak’s useful to a man that is on a fence/He’s not faithful to a God full of consequence.”
As the guitar rises around him, Ashton sings, “Liquid conscience spinning deeper/Always wanting to see clearer/Will I find the tiger’s dinner?”
“Right from the beginning, Ashton’s voice is the focus of the song. There’s strumming guitar throughout the project that creates a feeling reminiscent of Elliot Smith and Grant Lee Buffalo’s music, but the song revolves around what Ashton’s sharing. There is no percussion on the track, which feels very intentional, seeing as he is the drummer…
“Eating has lost all of its joy, leaving Ashton hollowed. He is physically reaching inside his own body in order to deprive himself, releasing the fears and taunting demons that he illustrated in the cover art and music video…On this single Ashton grippingly describes feeling empty in more than just his stomach. It’s not the weight of his body that’s crushing him, but the exhaustion of his own demons.
“He’s battling with and tormented by his own body and physical form…‘Skinny Skinny’ is a personal and painful revelation from Ashton Irwin, introducing him as a person who hurts when he looks in the mirror, not just as a band member behind a drum set.” (Read more about “Skinny Skinny” here.)
Greyhound dogs run until they’re nothing but bone. They’re bred for work, and they sprint around tracks for the amusement and betting of others, until they lose their value to those who are in the business of profiting off of them. Their purpose is simply to win.
“Greyhound” is about the value of working hard, but the constant anxiety it produces, the constant exhaustion and the way it hardens a person. Ashton discussed working at a greyhound business and learning that the top placing dogs were the only to continue. When you lose the work for which you became nothing but a vessel, what are you?
Ashton sings about striving for things that are constantly out of grasp and the repression that the cycle of work, life and death breeds, “Keep on trying to move forwards, I never wanna go back/I won’t ever let no one try to beat me like that I’m not bitter and broken, I’m just torn up inside/Scream in truth or be spoken, can’t hold me inside…Greyhound run…Blood of the rabbit/It stains my teeth…Blistered broken glass underneath my feet/And how I was I supposed to know/No man should reach for something he can’t let go…” He also wrote, “Thanks mum…A woman so tough that I didn’t even need a father to learn how to be a man,” as the song focuses on the strength of his single mother, “My mother always knew me best/Yeah, she always tried to push me beyond the rest.”
Ashton wrote, “I come from a town where people work so hard their bodies are filled with pain by 40, a place where the suns screaming hot heat is so extreme they sent us home from school sometimes. The Families in this town are built and burnt to the ground by a strict code of put up and shut up. Be tough and hide weakness, because life is fucking hard. The townspeople never get a breather, from the constant work grind cycle, to just continue to provide for their families. Never getting to think about what they truly want to do, or wanted to do with their lives. Having Dedicated every hour or their lives to hard manual labor, a trade, or something like my own mom does…Greyhound is my own perspective on the work and grind cycle that we experience in life…In many ways, I am the greyhound as well, and always have been, with a deep desire to push forwards and never take backwards steps even if I catch the rabbit, I’ll always be on the track racing, cause that’s the way society made me. But if I don’t work hard for my dreams? Who will.”
The production of the album is something that is clearly greatly valued by Ashton. Ashton is ranked third in the world for drumming (by some metrics), and he worked hard on the percussion recordings, basing the drums around samplings of Led Zeppelin. As with all of Superbloom, the song was made with Matt Pauling, a friend of Ashton’s who wrote is his partner as “farmers of the creative universe.” Matt’s style worked with Ashton’s excellently on the rock-leaning project, as his extensive credits include Good Charlotte, State Champs, Black Veil Bridges, Mayday Parade, Sleeping With Sirens, All Time Low, blink-182, Hell or Highwater and Black Veil Brides. On “Greyhound,” Matt devours the guitar section of the track, shredding through an intense solo.
Arguably the most stunning track off of the album, “Greyhound” is lyrically and instrumentally impressive. Recorded in one take in his living room, Ashton fully taps into his complete potential with his storytelling, frantic chorusing and guitar interjections.
Matter Of Time (Interlude)
“Matter Of Time (Interlude)” is a much gentler and more positive song than the others on the album, opening a melancholy recording sound. He sings about the importance of growth, savoring even the smallest of victories and the need to have patience with yourself, “From the ground up, don’t you burn it down/Everybody’s got the chance to turn it around…The light will shine in then your heart will know/That all of these things that cause us pain inside/Will come and go…When the roses bloom and the record don’t scratch/Close your eyes, don’t you ever look back/Painful lessons are a perfect tool…”
“Sunshine” is about the illusion of happiness and how people interact with the world. The rays of “Sunshine” dance across topics such as media, life in the pandemic, self doubt and the fallacies we sell each other. If you don’t bask in the warmth of the light sometimes, you’ll wither.
Ashton uses an echoey sound to expose truths and contradictions shared in the chorus. The sound is light, but the meaning is filled with shadows. He sings, “I’ve been living my life but it’s not how it looks… You’re something they used to scare you just like a bad dream/Wake up tomorrow, you’ll cast a shadow/On pavements that you’re yet to see…See the sunshine/Just like the first time…”
“The Sweetness” focuses on the resurgence of depression and mental health bouts in his life, after periods of calm. He talks about wishing to “go back to the start,” after beginning life as a child, “unbruised.” The sweetness is vignetting on life, slowly creeping in the edges until the shadow has consumed the entire image. Ashton sings, “When the darkness creeps into your basement,” referring to the entry of further darkness in a life already full of mental struggles. Ashton shared that the track was about depression’s entry back into his life while on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Ashton uses dramatic guitar and violin portions to emphasize the darkness and intensity of depression, followed by whispered lulls filled. The music scheme sounds as though it belongs in an intense battle scene, which is quite apt.
I’m To Blame
Ashton intertwines his mental state with his personal relationships on “I’m To Blame.” He’s claiming responsibility with sarcasm and bitterness, as his partner has their hands over their eyes and ears. The blame is truly not for Ashton to rightfully assume, but the subject of the song will not claim their role in the relationship’s collapse.
Ashton sings, “I can see it in your eyes/You’re screaming out/You can’t make me believe I can’t keep my focus…Two birds on a wire/They don’t know that they’ll catch fire…Words of wisdom cause you pain…You can’t make me/Live a lie.”
“Drive” focuses on the experience of grieving and going through a loss. One of the few songs not inside his own mind, Ashton’s isolation is more clear on this one. The lyrics of the previous tracks on the album mirror the complexities of his emotions. The listener delves into his mind on the other songs, swimming in the tumultuous waters of his life story and battles. “Drive” is Ashton trying to look into someone else’s head and life, and his distance is clear in the simplicity of the lyrics.
This separation is a big part of the grieving process, and he just wants to provide his presence as a comfort. The instrumentals mimic the sound of a car winding down a road as he sings, “I know his voicemails sound like a lullaby/I feel that you’re hurtin’, I know it’s not fair…We could take a drive downtown to the Pacific Coast…We could/Just drive, just drive, just drive tonight.”
“Perfect Lie” is the one song on Superbloom that most directly confronts his experience in 5SOS, instead of the more indirect effects of his fame and life in the band. This is likely a component in his choice to release solo music. It was important that this album be his own, as the stories and songs were exceptionally personal, and provided him with the opportunity to explore different parts of the process.
Ashton’s career even sprouted from an untrue claim. His primary school friend asked him to join a band and he simply lied, saying he could play the drums. His love grew from the lie.
On the final track, “Perfect Lie,” Ashton sings about fearing the future and sacrificing some of his artistic integrity for the sake of a good sell, “I’m scared of the future like everybody else…It’s the secret that sounds/Everybody fakes it ’til they make it…[L]ie, I’ll sing it ’til I cry tonight…You’ll see all I care about is feeding myself.” He references the pain that he experienced, but poured back into his work, “Mistakes are the stories that take us straight to the stage/It’s the heartaches that sells.”
Ashton really focuses on what could be considered his gilded cage. These songs they wrote so long ago sent them hurtling into international stardom, but now they’re trapped repeating the same songs. He discusses trying to resist resentment of his songs and the fans, as the switch of favor can be flipped with such casualty, “[L]ie, I’ll taste it just the one more time…I’ll try to love without hating you.”
Ashton Irwin “can tell a perfect lie,” but it was only the rawest of truths that came forth on Superbloom.