Now on their fourth album and with a well-earned reputation for indie bangers, Aussie trio DMA’S are living the dream.
Words: Steven Loftin.
Photos: Roman Jody.
“The beautiful thing about being a musician is it never ends. You’re never like, ‘Oh, I did it. I nailed music’. Well, no, it doesn’t work like that.” Swiftly defining the ethos of his band’s ever-changing sound, DMA’S guitarist Johnny Took, along with vocalist Tommy O’Dell and guitarist Matthew Mason, are primed for the future with their fourth outing, ‘How Many Dreams?’.
“DMA’S can kind of do any genre at this point, which is cool,” Johnny mentions with a relieved look. “And which I find liberating.”
The Aussie trio first came to prominence with a Britpop-soaked throwback sound on their 2016 debut ‘Hill’s End’. They wound up swiftly capturing the hearts and minds of those looking to relive that heady time and those dying to experience the faintest glimpse of what it may have been like. But that was then. DMA’S have moved on. And while this will always be a part of them, they’re ready for more.
DMA’S began recording ‘How Many Dreams?’ with producer Stuart Price (The Killers, Dua Lipa) in London for a couple of weeks, but soon after returning home, the Omicron variant started spreading. So, when they found some dissatisfaction with the sound due to it being “too much like a band in a room”, they went into a studio in Sydney, where the rest of the album was pieced together with the due care and attention of seasoned veterans. Which is all a sign of the DMA’S times.
Admitting that, “It could have been easy for us to have come home from London and gone. Oh, that’s the album and just got it mixed,” the trio know they want more than that. They didn’t want any phoning-it-in going on. Though he does admit that “maybe if we were younger, we would have done that. We knew at that point that it wasn’t good enough yet. And that wasn’t the sound we wanted to do at this stage in our career.”
“What I think is cool or what I find inspiring changes all the time”Johnny Took
Album four is indeed when the road opens up a bit wider for a band. The debut is the statement piece, the follow-up is often charged with building upon this without losing traction, and number three is the odd one where changes begin to take shape. But four? You’re ready for anything, fully confident in yourself, as is the DMA’S way.
“When we did [2020’s] ‘The Glow’ with Stuart, it was the first record we’ve done that has been less of a throwback album,” says Johnny. “Our albums before that were kind of 90s guitar throwback records. Stuart brought us into the modern-day music scene, and we learned a lot from him, and then we got to take the skills we’ve learned and experiment with them during the lockdown time. So then, when it came to recording, I feel like we put more of our own touch into this record.”
‘How Many Dreams?’ certainly has the aura of an album that’s been studiously picked over, and where you sit on the DMA’S fan scale will impact how it’ll sit with you. There’s a little something for everyone, but this is a band toting a big sound with even bigger ambitions, and there’s no room for a note out of place. “The extra time that gave us the ability to give that attention to detail made a big difference,” Johnny confirms.
Growth is an important part of being in a band. But when you’re also levied with the expectations of fans, “you get a little bit of a kickback, [but] I find this happens with every band,” Johnny says. “A few people go, ‘why don’t you sound like your first record?’ But the truth is, if you just kept making your first record again and again and again, they’d get bored and go listen to someone else. So I think subconsciously, even if some of them don’t know it, they like it when the sound changes because it means they get to grow with the band, and I think that’s really important.”
With ever-increasing success can come even internal pressures. It’s an understandable, if often unpleasant, facet of striking gold. To keep their hearts and minds away from such nosy intrusions, Johnny mentions one key ingredient. “One of my goals every morning is just to wake up and remember how I felt when I was 16 years old and I first started writing songs,” he says. “That love and the magic that I found in songwriting. If I focus on that, the rest just comes along with it. The moment you start thinking about, ‘Oh, you know, I want to do Wembley Arena next year, we’ve got to be able to fill those seats, I’m gonna write a song like this’, that becomes too contrived. People see through that straight away. So that’s one thing we’re conscious of, not forgetting why you love it.”
Building up from the bare bones for ‘How Many Dreams?’, it was about mining that creative spark in the initial demos. They then set out to construct a castle made of bangers and “building up properly and figuring out what sounds can make it better, as opposed to starting from scratch every time.” It’s something Johnny enthuses for everyone to have a go at, since “it’s great that you can do it because people are making Top 10 records in the bedroom these days!”
Dealing in bangers of all shapes and sizes, what this looks like to DMA’S is a constantly moving idea. “It’s always changing for me. When I was younger, I was adamant about having all these different parts to a song, you know, you need a great riff; great verse; great pre-chorus; great chorus; great middle-eight; and a great outro,” he explains. “And I wanted them each to be unique and different and whatnot.” Long gone are those days (though the elements still sit nicely amongst this future-focused vision), and in testament to this, the album closer ‘De Carle’ goes into full-on dance mode. “That sounds like that’s a banger to me, and that’s pretty much just nearly two chords the whole time.”
“My thoughts of what I think is cool or what I find inspiring change all the time. Maybe four years ago or two years ago, I was obsessed with, like, dance beats, right? And now whenever I write a song, I refuse to put a dance beat on the track… It’s kind of like, baggy jeans or something,” he laughs. “When I was 18, I used to wear tight jeans. And now I couldn’t think of anything worse than wearing tight jeans, but then they’ll come back in again.”
Given DMA’S’ start was shrouded in a Britpop revivalist cloud, the due care and attention may be a missed facet of the group, but bops don’t just drop from the heavens; they take work and dedication. Do DMA’S think they’re underestimated?
“I’ve never really thought about it,” Johnny shrugs lightly. “We just focus on what we’re doing; work hard, write songs every day. And the fans keep buying records and keep buying tickets, and we keep doing it. But whether or not we’re underestimated, it’s not really for me to judge.”
So, what is the secret sauce that makes this DMA’S’ amalgamation of bouncy Britpop and raucous raving so good? “To be honest, man, we’re kind of just making it up as we go along,” Johnny chuckles. While a fair enough response, the fact that they can let their little musical atoms bounce around at high velocity until bangers like ‘Everybody’s Saying Thursday’s The Weekend’ form, is quite marvellous. Though there is one little tidbit that helps. “The first thing, which has never changed, and hasn’t changed since the first record, is that we just try and write great songs,” he smiles. ‘Nuff said, really. ■
Taken from the April 2023 edition of Dork. DMA’S’ album ‘How Many Dreams?’ is out 31st March.