October 22, 2014 12:00 PM

LIKE ALL GOOD ROCK-STAR SUCCESS STORIES, 5 Seconds of Summer began with big dreams, a band of outsiders and … report cards? “I started teaching them music in Year 7, and they excelled but were very shy,” said Adam Day, who taught Luke, Calum and Michael at Norwest Christian College in Riverstone, Australia. “I wrote on their reports to seek performance opportunities to develop their confidence.” But the guys, who had performed only at school talent shows, didn’t immediately take Mr. Day’s advice, because (gasp!) Michael and Luke were frenemies. “We actually hated each other for a solid year of my life,” Luke once confessed. Michael’s best friend, Calum, even tried disliking Luke out of loyalty but admitted, “In the back of my mind I was like, ‘He seems like a really cool guy.’ ”

Thankfully a mutual love of Green Day thawed the ice, and “we became best friends,” said Michael. Then in February 2011 the trio—or, as Luke described them, the “weird guys in the music room”—began posting covers of Chris Brown and Justin Bieber songs. Though Michael called the videos “awful,” he, Calum and Luke (then only 15, 15 and 14, respectively) scored a gig at Annandale Hotel—Sydney’s famed music club where the Foo Fighters and Kings of Leon have played. For that, Michael tapped Ashton, a drummer two years older at nearby Richmond High. “He was the missing piece of the puzzle,” Michael told Billboard. At their now infamous first gig, on Dec. 3, 2011, only 12 people came—and that’s counting parents. But, Luke tells PEOPLE, “we knew we were unique from day one.”

At practice sessions in Ashton’s garage they made do with what they had. Without a bass, Calum strummed the low E string on a guitar. They shot their videos with an iPhone on a mic stand. 5SOS even tried odd things like rehearsing in the dark. But no matter what they did, they always made an impression. After manager Adam Wilkinson first met Luke, Michael and Calum during their visit to Sydney’s Studios 301 in November 2011, Wilkinson tracked them down online because “they just had this nervous energy that really excited me,” he says.

With Wilkinson and, later, comanager Matt Emsell on Team 5SOS, the band had a simple plan: Put out original music, and tour, tour, tour. Not easy for kids with exams looming. “We did it under the radar,” said Ashton, who often snuck his bandmates out of school in his Nissan Pulsar to radio shows and writing sessions. In April 2012 the boys recorded their first EP in two days. “Their professionalism shocked me,” says Wilkinson. They toured Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. “Sydney underground bands are heavy,” said Ashton. “We didn’t fit in. Their crowds would just be sweaty dudes, and they hated us.”

But fans online did not. By November 2012, 5SOS had 4 million YouTube views and were opening for Hot Chelle Rae. And once 1D’s Louis Tomlinson tweeted his love for 5SOS, their world exploded. Asked to tour with One Direction in February 2013, “we were like, ‘That’s a big step,’ ” said Calum. The first 5SOS-1D summit—set at Michael’s house—was pure comedy. “They speak really fast when they’re together, and we’d only met two Englishmen ever, so we needed subtitles!” said Ashton. “It was all this gibberish in one room,” added Calum. “That’s how we bonded.” To prep for their first time performing at London’s O2 Arena, which holds 20,000 people, Luke, Calum and Michael dropped out of school and moved to London with Ashton, fresh off graduation. “Everyone was like, ‘I’m going to be a bricklayer or a doctor,’ ” he said. “I was like, ‘I’m gonna play in my band overseas.’ ”

Ashton was right. 5SOS is now a chart-topper with nearly 2 million records sold. “We really tried to build something for ourselves,” said Ashton. “We’re not from elaborate mansions in the countryside. We’re from suburbs and struggling families. Just to be able to take my mum out to lunch is nice.” They’ve remained basically the same lads from that music class. “They haven’t changed one bit,” says Wilkinson. “I walked backstage and they told the same jokes. They’re great kids. They’re so humble, it makes me proud.”

SCHOOL OF ROCK

HOMEWORK AND TESTS? IN BETWEEN THE DAILY CHURN OF TEENAGE LIFE, THEY CARVED OUT TIME TO CHASE THEIR DREAMS

THE SOUNDS OF SUMMER

AFTER A TASTE OF GROWING INTERNET STARDOM OPENED THEM UP TO NEW POSSIBILITIES, THEY HIT THE STUDIO WITH ONE MISSION: TO PROVE THEY WEREN’T JUST ANOTHER COVER BAND

GREETINGS FROM RIVERSTONE

ALL ABOUT THE QUAINT SYDNEY SUBURB WHERE THE GROUP GOT ITS START

POPULATION

6,191

LOCATION

30 miles northwest of Sydney (about 45 minutes by car)

HISTORY

In 2010 the town celebrated the bicentenary of its first land grant. It’s surrounded by semirural land and often referred to as “the best little country town in Sydney.”

NUMBER OF MALLS

One, plus shops lining the main street

NUMBER OF SCHOOLS

Two public schools and three private schools

ANNUAL EVENTS

The Riverstone Festival takes place every May. It features a parade and showcases local businesses, schools and community groups.

PLACES TO EAT

Local hot spots include Chinese and Thai restaurants, fish-and-chips shops and milk bars.

ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS

Rugby league, soccer, netball, swimming and cricket

NOTABLE PEOPLE FROM RIVERSTONE

Aside from 5 Seconds of Summer? “Many of our locals have gone on to be successful in their relative careers,” says Rosemary Phillis of the Riverstone and District Historical Society. “We have a lot of quiet achievers.”

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