It’d be hard for you to have missed the DMA’S hype. From Noel Gallagher admitting he’d boo them if he ever saw them, to being hailed as the Australian Oasis, they’ve got their name out there with just one album under their belts. Before their set at Live At Leeds 2017, we caught up with guitarist Johnny Took to talk everything DMA’S.
They formed back in 2012, and spent the next three years hidden away in guitarist Johnny Took’s bedroom writing what became Hills End. “From an outsider’s perspective, it might seem quick,” begins Johnny. “But it wasn’t like we were some one hit wonder. We haven’t even had one song that’s gone crazy.”
“It’s been an organic growth from the start. It was two years before we released the EP. It did feel non-stop because we released it in Australia maybe six months before we did here, but there’s nothing else we want to be doing.”
The band have worked non-stop. Since the release of the record, they’ve been around each other nearly 24/7 with touring around the world. Rather than pushing them apart, it’s made them “learn so much”.
“With doing something like touring, it can be so long and tedious,” Johnny says reminiscing over their travels. “You have to have quite a lot of endurance and patience. It’s given us all a nice perspective on the world.”
In the early days, DMA’S put a hold on any live dates. “We didn’t have to play any shitty gigs in front of four people like we did in previous bands,” he jokes. “The Sydney music scene was in such a deplored state. A lot of venues were shutting down and there was a lot of restrictions the Government were placing. We didn’t want to be a part of that.”
Instead of battling the top, they locked themselves in Johnny’s bedroom to write “decent songs”. “We decided you could probably get more runs on the board that way. We were lucky Triple J are into our stuff, so we got a song onto the radio before we started playing any live gigs.”
They’ve ticked off four continents already, and the bigger shows don’t daunt them at all. “We know we’ve played enough shows so we know we can do it,” he laughs casually, before admitting some places do still cause the jitters.
“Sydney is still the worse place to play because all of our mates are there. We recently played Bad Friday Festival, a street festival near where we grew up, so we saw all of our mates and their bands. I was just thinking I’d rather be playing in Leeds right now where I don’t know anyone and won’t get nervous.”
Being so far from home has meant they’ve got the best of both worlds when it comes to popularity. When they made the long haul flight over to the UK, they were destined for the club show venues such as Bedford Esquires and Birmingham Hare and Hounds, but back down under they were faced with the big-name venues. “That’s just a part of it,” Johnny puts simply.
“It was exciting to start from scratch again, and build everything back up again. We had a really special gig at Electric Brixton last week, and it’s nice to see we can come over here and start playing the bigger shows.” He pauses. “There’s still a long way to go!”
After the release of their debut record, Hills End, DMA’S toured relentlessly around Europe, America, Australia and the UK. With so much time on the road, it’s a wonder they managed to fit in time to get back into the studio for their follow-up record.
Being so close through touring has led to the three of them influencing each other through their favourite musical styles. “We’re always experimenting as we love all different kinds of music,” admits Johnny.
“Mason’s massively into lots of American guitar bands, while Tommy and I love the British influence like Jesus & Mary Chain and Oasis. I also grew up listening to Springsteen and country. It makes it so when we write tunes it can go either way. If they’re honest and have Tommy’s voice on it, people are going to be into it.”
Their influences have led to more experimentation with their new material. At the moment, they’re finishing off a lot of songs, recording and “trying to do lots of weird shit”.
“We’re incorporating more keys and making it more electronic,” Johnny explains about the new tracks. “There’s nothing too crazy!” He reassures. “We were happy with Hills End. It was where we were at as a band but we’re looking forward to moving on about making a completely brand new record.”
With the follow-up album now definitely in the works, Johnny is quick to make it known they’re doing it their way: “If anyone tells you there’s a certain answer to doing something in this industry, they’re full of shit because there’s not.”
“Anyone can do a good first album,” he states boldly. “Not everyone can do a great second album. Then breaks his severity, joking: “Well, you can tell me next year how we did. We don’t know if tunes are shit or not! We just write it and if we’re happy with it, we’re happy with it!”
Though they may have changed slightly since their EP and album, the band aren’t ones to throw away older unused material. “I’ve learnt a song is just melody, chord and lyrics. The arrangement is a completely different thing,” he puts his serious explaining face on.
“You can have the exact same song, but if you did it with just an acoustic guitar and Tommy’s voice it would sound folky. If you did it with distorted guitars, drum machines and synthesisers, it’d be a completely different vibe! I know the songs are there and they’re good, but it’s just how we’re going to do them is what we’re working out at the moment.”
With the newer songs, they’ve become “less particular” in their production. After giving up trying to give a skeleton analogy, Johnny clarifies: “If you try and replicate what you did before perfectly, it’s going to sound too contrived and soulless.”
“We don’t want to release an album that sounds like a major label has pumped loads of money into it so it sounds like all the sterile shit out there. It actually has to have some depth and soul. Hills End was recorded in my bedroom, and though it’s not the nicest studio, nothing else sounds like my bedroom so sonically it’s unique.”
Their persistence on the live circuit has meant they’ve gradually introduced some newbies into the setlist, not too many though.
“I’m playing keys for a couple of songs, so it seems like a natural progression,” he says before explaining the difficulties of new material. “When you hear a song for the first time, especially at a live gig, it’s difficult to soak it up. We don’t expect people to get it straight away.”
“We didn’t want to bring too many new songs in but there’s some really special tracks on this next record that we’re looking forward to giving to people. Hopefully we can play a few of them live, but more at our own shows when we have more time and it feels more special.”
Our chat soon falls onto their Britpop love. The other week saw them meet Oasis superstar Liam Gallagher, who turned up at an acoustic session they did and resulted in them watching the footy in a pub together and chatting about music. “It was crazy,” Johnny recalls with a smirk on his face.
“When you meet someone like that, you never know what they’re going to be like, but he was just another normal dude. He was cool as fuck! I’ve heard some horror stories about people meeting their idols but you realise everyone is just another bloody human being. They’re vulnerable and real. You just want to meet nice people and have real conversations.”
After finishing his almost-fangirl moment, things draw to an end with their stage time drawing ever closer. Johnny ponders over their summer back in Australia which he spent in the sun, swimming and relaxing (us Brits are jealous), and how he was getting over touring.
After the lazy days, they’ve realised they actually want to be back. “It’s so good to be back in the UK as it’s been too long for us,” he says, but we still don’t believe he doesn’t miss the sun. “It’s really humbling seeing the response and people getting on board.”
“Believe me, when we were writing tunes in my bedroom in Sydney four-five years ago, we didn’t think we’d be on the other side of the world playing to you guys. It’s so cool!”