The Aussie trio are gearing up for their just announced ambitious fourth full-length, ‘How Many Dreams?’.
Words: Finlay Holden.
Photos: Kalpesh Lathigra, Roman Jody.
Once known mainly for their indie-slash-Britpop sound, DMA’S began experimenting with dance and pop production on 2020’s ‘THE GLOW’, a throbbing record full of as much bouncing energy as emotional sing-along moments. With their just announced fourth record, ‘How Many Dreams?’, the band are pushing their style further than ever before.
Taking a tonal break before throwing listeners into the deep end, four-track EP ‘I Love You Unconditionally, Sure Am Going To Miss You’ arrived last summer as a way to tide-over fans between records. After the surprising scale of ‘THE GLOW’, its more vulnerable songs – ‘Junk Truck Head Fuck’ being a solid example – leant back towards DMA’S original sound.
“We have a love for rock and roll music, and we don’t want to ever leave that behind,” frontman Tommy O’Dell explains. “You can’t do that with every album, though. That EP came from a bunch of songs we wanted to record in a more DIY style. It allowed us more room to be experimental on the new album.”
“Those five tracks just seemed to fit together,” guitarist Johnny Took adds. “We went back to where we recorded our first album, Hills End, and self-produced it alongside the same engineer. We just had fun and went ham with it – if we wanted to drench things with delay and fuzz, we wouldn’t hold back. We love that type of music and always will.”
“We have a love for rock and roll music, and we don’t want to ever leave that behind. You can’t do that with every album, though.”Tommy O’Dell
While that indie-rock style has undying appeal, the trio are capable of exploring so much more. Through various side-projects and a range of co-writing collaboration sessions, DMA’S are expanding upon their own identity and learning something new every step of the way.
“No matter if it’s a younger artist just coming into the scene or someone who’s been around a bit longer, every single time we do a co-write, we pick up on something we didn’t realise before,” Johnny shares, while Tommy reflects that, “everyone has their own individual ways of working. We were working with Nick Littlemore, and he’d throw idea after idea at just a 30-second part of music. That’s something we started to do more after seeing his working style. That’s the coolest thing about working with other people. “
He goes on to explain that Johnny, Tommy and lead guitarist Matt Mason are all still very much learning from each other and bouncing ideas around within their own group. Incorporating new ideas into their process, previous single ‘I Don’t Need To Hide’ is a potent package that displays how they fuse different facets of inspiration into a fresh trajectory.
The song has already found its way into live set lists, making an impression at Reading & Leeds festival earlier this year when their hit ‘Step Up The Morphine’ was actually dropped in favour of their current advancements. Combining rattling percussion and slick guitar lines, Tommy shares that it came together surprisingly easy during rehearsals and gives a good idea of what to expect next. “It’s a perfect indication of the album to follow,” he states. “A mix of our love for pop, dance and rock and roll. That, in particular, is why we wanted to release it first. It’s an introduction to where we want to be going.”
It’s a vibe that latest cut ‘Everybody’s Saying Thursday’s The Weekend’ continues. Bright and bubbling with that dance-tinged pop energy, it’s a universally relatable statement presented with broad horizons. “We’ve all thought it, we’ve all felt it,” Johnny offers of a song “about letting go of the things that weigh us down and embracing the future with a sense of optimism.” That’s precisely the positivity and reassuring confidence they’re carrying through.
DMA’S have previously built up a formidable bank of demos to pull from, allowing producers to shape up records from this list and giving them a significant amount of control over the direction of the band’s output. Now, though, they are taking things back into their own hands. “As we’ve got older, we’ve gained more confidence in what we’re releasing as a band,” Tommy reflects. “It always helps to have a producer who is passionate about your tunes, and there are always songs we like that won’t fit, but this release was driven more by us as a band.”
Funnily enough, this process ended up being more sprawling and collaborative than ever before, as the Australian outfit called upon three separate producers to help materialise their vision. “We ended up working with Stuart Price, Rich Costey and Konstantin Kersting – three people with a lot of brains,” Johnny elaborates. “An Englishman, an American and a German-Australian. We did the tracking in London, but then Omicron broke out. In Sydney, we were then able to take a little bit more time with it. It’s not an experiment you could do twice just because it was so chaotic, but the fact that we went in and recorded most of the album as a band in a room together, then later we ‘Screamadelica’-ised it… I would like to do that again.”
It’s this combination of live recording and studio reworking that gives ‘How Many Dreams?’ its distinctive blare. The extra investment into cutting things up, swapping sections around, piling up synth layers and switching up lyrics was a clear mission on this record. “There’s a lot more detail in this album,” Tommy explains. “Where we would once have only had one melody going, we’ve layered a lot more sections together, but they’re very clear and thought out rather than just going for a wall of sound for the sake of a wall of sound. We wanted to do that because it makes things a bit more challenging. It’s easier to throw a million guitars on a track; it’s harder to get one guitar to sound really good.”
“Your favourite bands become your favourite bands because you enjoy growing with them”Johnny Took
Challenging themselves was another core goal for DMA’S’ fourth album. Having swaggered in with their momentous debut album, recreating that was never on the cards, no matter how many fans it may have accrued. “If they stopped and thought about it for a little bit longer, they’d realise that your favourite bands become your favourite bands because you enjoy growing with them,” Johnny emphasises. “When you build rapport with your fans, it’s because they’ve grown with you as your sound has changed, and that’s really important. Stuart Price once said to us: I know we’re moving into different genres here, but even if you guys tried, you couldn’t not sound like DMAS.”
Tommy, Johnny and Matt’s DNA is firmly embedded into every challenge they tackle, and Johnny is ready to share some specific moments that push this statement to its limits: “‘De Carle’ is pretty much our first one hundred percent dance song. It’s probably my favourite song on the album. There’s maybe one subtle guitar on it. There was a shorter, commercialised version of that before we realised, ‘what the fuck are we doing? This is a dance song’. If we’re doing dance music, let’s do it properly.”
Despite the album contending for their shortest to date, this refusal to condense their spirit is a recurring practice. “‘Fading Like A Picture’ opens up with a big guitar riff,” he continues. “On pop records these days, they’re always trying to squeeze a song into a three-minute runtime and make things as concise as possible. Instead, we thought – you know what? This is rock and roll. Let’s run that again.” ■
DMA’s new album ‘How Many Dreams?’ is out 31st March 2023. Their new track ‘Everybody’s Saying Thursday’s The Weekend’ is out now.