Noisy Guitars, Pop Melodies & Springsteen: A Dive Into DMA’s New Album With Johnny Took

The DMA’s. Good bunch of lads. Yes they sound a little like brothers Gallagher, but these three can put it across with attitude and emotion. It’s rock ‘n’ roll. Their second album, For Now, arrives with big emotional ballads, densely psychedelic rockers and plenty of anthemic moments. It’s instantly catching. It may only be their second album but it’s clear they know their craft.

With their new LP arriving today, it’s the perfect time to catch up with the Sydney trio. In the face of a hectic schedule guitarist Johnny Took remains good-humoured, breaking down the new songs, the band’s history and life in general with easy charm.

But you’ve probably guessed this already. As you were, as you were.

MF: DMA’s have seen some dramatic leaps in profile over the past few years. How are things travelling at the moment?

Johnny Took: It’s good man. Everything’s cool. We’re excited about this record, I think we did the best we can.

The growth on For Now from Hills End feels organic. We haven’t strayed too far from Hills but the production has stepped up. I guess there’s a bit more thought that’s gone into it. It kinda feels right, y’know?     

MF: The group are quite an independent recording unit. But with For Now, you’ve had a little of the big studio experience co-producing with one of The Presets. Were there things you were looking to do differently this time around?

JT: Pretty much most of the record – besides the drums – was done in the bedroom. In past we were very, “Aw yeah, this sounds nice!” and would just go along with it. But having Kim [Moyes] onboard this time and being a bit more particular about our sounds and whatnot, it really did change it.

Another thing was that we were only going to get Kim onboard to sequence drums. But after the demos were done he kind of approached us and was like, “Hey! I’d love to do a bit more. To be a part of this, you know? And potentially produce it.” Getting him onboard to do that was cool as then we ended up going to [Central Coast recording studio] The Grove to get the foundations of the tracks down.

We tracked them live. We did it in takes – you only get six takes! Kim had a really great ear for hearing the different energy in-between takes. I think that’s a big part of For Now as well.

Music Feeds: It couldn’t be a DMA’S interview without mention of a Gallagher brother. You’ve hung out with Liam before and he was here in Australia on tour earlier this year. Did you have a chance to check out any of the shows?

JT: Yeah, I went to the one at that Hordern Pavillion. We actually got offered that show, but it didn’t work out with our timeline. So it was a bit like, “We can’t play the show but we’d really like to come and see it! If you have any shows in the future it’d be cool to do it.” And that’s how Finsbury Park came around [DMA’s will be supporting Liam Gallagher for a sold-out show at London’s Finsbury Park this June!]. And you know I’d trade Finsbury for the Hordern any day!

MF: Have you had any time to spend with Liam’s latest LP As You Were?

JT: A little bit, a little bit.

MF: Assuming you’ve listened to both, how does stack up against Noel Gallagher and The High Flying Bird’s Who Built The Moon?

JT: I actually haven’t listened to either of them that much. I just think it’s cool that they’re still releasing music! I don’t think you have to put an age on that stuff. I think that if anyone is writing, releasing and recording music it’s just a good thing for the world.

MF: Could you see the DMA’s getting to that point in their career?

JT: [Laughs, before quickly slipping into a thoughtful tone] I don’t know. Look I think that… I saw this movie one time. There was this couple. They were both artists.

One of the partners, she goes, “Do you even think of me as a real artist?” The other is more established and he’s like, “Well, if you’re asking yourself if you’re an artist then maybe you’re not! Because if you’re truly an artist you have no choice! You have to wake up and you have to do this shit every day!

I kinda have that feeling. I can’t really imagine myself waking up and not writing music. So whether it’s DMA’s or – actually I hope we’re together! Me and Tommy [O’Dell] have a very old friendship and [Matt] Mason is one of my best friends as well. It would be a real shame if we weren’t doing this in future.

MF: I guess what’s interesting about the band too is that there are these three distinct personalities, each with different musical tastes. Tommy loves his Britpop but there’s this noise element from acts like Pavement and Sonic Youth also filtering into the music. You’ve covered Cher for triple j Unearthed! What’s the common thread that ties you all together?

JT: I think it’s just pop melodies man! We love pop melody whatever arrangement you put behind it. You know when Mason and I first met we were playing country music together. Bluegrass! I came from a big Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell and Wilco kinda background but obviously got into more British influences like Oasis, The Stone Roses, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Verve and all that kind of stuff later. Really, we like pop melodies and we like noisy guitars.

MF: Do you believe in the notion of ‘classic songwriting’? That idea that a good melody and chord progression sound great no matter how they’re played? Do you see DMA’s music in that way?

JT: Totally! I think we’ve really focused on that. We don’t really rely heavily on production. We feel like that, if it’s a good tune, it’s a good tune. No matter what way you do it. I thought about that a lot when I did country music. Especially when you could do covers with banjos and fiddles and things like that.

MF: Overall For Now it seems to have a really triumphant tone. Is it capturing the mood you guys are in right now?

JT: Hmmm. It’s hard to say man. There’s a song on the record called ‘Tape Deck Sick’ and that tune is like ‘Delete’ era. Mason wrote it when he was 19, you know? Then there’s a song called ‘The End’ which I wrote about a year and a half ago.

So, the span between all the songs is different. But I think the production and the tones is. Definitely. Hence the name of the record, For Now. It’s kind of where we’re at for now. We’re blending electronic beats and a few more synthesisers, but still having that noisy guitar.

For the next record, we feel like we could go one of two ways. We could go pretty damn electronic and dancey or more punky and distorted. We could go back to being lo-fi. That annoys me. I like the transition from Hills End into For Now, but you know how most bands just keeping getting more and more hi-fi?

MF: It’s a thing!

JT: Yeah well, it’s like you know, our band doesn’t have to be defined in that sort of box!

MF: Is that frustrating then? That as more and more people discover your music the group becomes a little more beholden to expectation? There’s a noise element to your music I think, but if you went too raw next time around that’s going to throw a lot of people off. Is that something you worry about?  

JT: You’re right and no. Because once again you come back to the fact that if it’s a good song – if it’s got a good melody and some honest lyrics to it – it’s a good song. I reckon the lo-fi element can be quite an affable feature!   

MF: What’s the favourite song that you’ve worked on for this record? Something that’s stuck with you?

JT: Probably ‘Time & Money’. I just like the way that song was written. I was going back to my roots and listening to old Springsteen at the time, doing my little cover of ‘Racing In The Street’. I think we were playing a gig in Fremantle and just during soundcheck I was playing those chords when Tommy started singing over it.

And then the chorus was written in Bilbao when we were playing a festival in Spain. I don’t know, just the way that song kind of naturally grew then we jammed it live. I think that’s one of my favourites and maybe ‘Health’ as well.

MF: Do you guys write when you’re on the road? A lot of bands don’t…

JT: Yeah! We’re getting better at it! It’s a bit easier now because we get a bus when we’re in the UK. Which we’ve only had for a couple of tours.

We’re a six-piece live. Most of the time it’s us just squeezing into a little Sprinter van! So it’s kind of hard for that. But on the bus, you can walk around, you can play guitar. You can also use Abelton, midi keyboards, and things like that. You can actually write a bit without guitars which is cool.

MF: Today For Now, tomorrow the world. What’s next for you guys? What are you excited about and what can fans expect?        

JT: I don’t know man. I just want to keep writing good music. Music that people can relate to and just try to keep pushing our boundaries as musicians and songwriters. It’s been really exciting just travelling the world meeting great people, seeing the band naturally and organically grow.

It wasn’t like we had one crazy song that went ballistic and then people came to our gigs to see one song. You play a gig in Motherwell [Scotland] and people are singing every song back to you. That’s an inspiring thing for me. I’m pretty happy with the natural trajectory of the band.

DMA’s new album ‘For Now’ is out today! Grab it here.

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