I can remember clearly the exact moment I discovered DMA's, and exactly how I felt listening to their music for the very first time; I was at work, 'Delete' came on the radio and I just stopped what I was doing and became completely caught up in what I was hearing. Every now and again a band comes along who you just know straight away are incredibly special, and DMA's are rightfully enjoying immense success worldwide since the release of their debut album 'Hills End' back in February of this year. What with the relentless touring and numerous festival appearances, I imagine it must have been quite a whirlwind year for the trio (Tommy O'Dell, Matt Mason & Johnny Took), who hail from Sydney, Australia.
Never in a million years did I think that a few months down the line from that first listen, I'd have the opportunity to interview them prior to their sold out Leeds show- the first date of their latest gargantuan UK tour. It was an honour to be able to chat in depth with Johnny, and one thing's for sure; it's an experience I'll never forget.
When I first heard your music I thought wow- these guys have such a quintissentially British sound, so when I found out that you're from Australia, I was quite surprised. Starting out, were you inspired by any British acts?
I still have a British passport... that counts right? I found that in high school there was a small group of friends of ours who were really into bands like that, particularly from that 90's era. So I first listened to The Stone Roses, Oasis, The Verve, The La's... stuff like that. Primal Scream, Happy Mondays... and we literally had a group of mates, some of them are based where Tom is and play in a lot of bands around Sydney. There was a small group of us who really loved it. Not heaps of people our age, or from Australia, were really into that. But we loved it... noisy pop tunes! Mason hadn't really heard of any Britpop bands till he met me and Tommy. He's more into like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, and those kind of American guitar bands.
Was music a part of your life from an early age? What did you grow up listening to?
I grew up listening to lots of country music. I grew up listening to lots of Springsteen, lots of Dylan, Joni Mitchell. I was a bass player and I remember hearing 'Coyote' by Joni Mitchell, and Jaco Pastorius plays bass on it... he's crazy. Till Year 7 or something when I first started high school, I wasn't really into music, or not crazy amounts into it. But I guess that kind of went hand in hand, and I think we got forced to learn an instrument at school, which was good. I was gonna pick between the clarinet or the bass... I think I'm happy I picked the bass!
You've done a lot of your recording at home- is that DIY approach to your music so that you can ensure that you always have complete creative control and that any decisions are your own to make- or is it simply a comfort thing?
It was more that I kind of got into it as a hobby at first. My old man got me a recording programme, which I didn't really do much with for a while. The main thing was that it was great to be used as a tool for songwriting. Before then, it was just sitting in your room with a guitar... which some of the greatest songs ever were made like that, but to listen to it subjectively and be able to hear it back and build layers... it turned it from an idea into being a real thing. So I guess that's why I like it, and then we just got a bit better at it!
How long have you been together? Did you know one another before the band?
Tommy and I met because we were in another band. He was the drummer and I was the bass player. I remember I would hear him, just 'cause we'd be hanging out a lot playing gigs and stuff... I would hear him when we'd be rehearsing and he'd be like 'You know on the chorus of Underlights...' and he would sing it. I was like wow, this guys voice. I was looking around the room and wondering why no-one was talking about it, and then when I got into recording he came over one time to drop off some drum gear... I was writing some lyrics out, and he'd never heard his voice recorded before. So I'm obviously putting up too much reverb and underlay on everything, like a young and inexperienced engineer, and I guess we both just fell in love with the sound of his voice. We didn't know, and he didn't know, and hearing it for the first time we kind of got addicted to it. Then we recorded for maybe three years before we ever played a show which was cool because it meant we were up to about 40 or 50 songs before we ever played. I'd been in bands before where you'd think if you have 9 songs you're ready to play a show but the truth is probably 2 of them are good and then the rest probably stink... then it's really not that much of an enjoyable 40 minutes, where as we took our time and wrote 40 or 50 and then you can pick 9 good ones. Then all of a sudden it's a much more enjoyable show. It made everything a lot easier because one thing I didn't expect was for things to get so crazy, for such a response and to be touring so much. You realise you don't get as much time to songwrite on the road, especially when you're a young band who don't have much money.
You've been quite well travelled this year and have played in some amazing places worldwide. Has anywhere in particular really stood out to you? Both in terms of the shows themselves and the country and it's culture.
Bilao in Spain, which we hadn't heard of before. That was really cool. I really enjoyed going to Paris again. Oh and Japan... it's so sick. It's crazy, they're just doing their own thing. It's so weird and so cool and wonderful. I remember the first gig we ever played there, we'd only sold about 100 presales but we had about 400 walk in's or something. We just didn't expect it, and they were really responsive and just so polite. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before. It's like Fuji Rock Festival there which we played a couple of months ago, we've played a lot of festivals but that one was pretty cool.
Can you remember the first show you ever played as DMA's and how it went?
We don't really talk about this much but our first ever gig was a practise gig and we played under a fake name. We'd been getting played on the radio in Australia and getting attention, but never ever played a gig. People were talking about us but didn't know if we could play live or not, or if Tommys' voice could hold up live. So we booked a gig, and I think our manager came up with the name... it was The Coachmen or something like that! Heaps of people in the industry found out quite quickly so we played a half hour set under a different name. Then when we had our first proper gig, we wanted to keep to the DIY kind of way we'd made our EP and how we'd recorded everything. We built our own stage and got in a PA. It was like a cafe attached to a store in Sydney, and yeah, it was cool! We had to turn away 200 people or something at the door. We sucked, but it was vibing!
There's an incredible music scene in Leeds, and I feel really lucky to be a part of that. What's the music scene like back home in Sydney? Are there many places to play and many bands trying to break through?
There are some great bands in Sydney, but we've been struggling over the last couple of years to find place to play. There's been certain things with the government... I don't know if you'd heard about it but there's been a big thing in Sydney with lockout laws, not letting people in after a certain time and you can't sell alcohol after 10pm. So these little things, and also the poker machines; a venue realises that you can put like 20 or 30 of them in a room and they're gonna make tens of thousands of dollars off poor gamblers. It's not like when you can gamble in England and you can win something like a maximum of £200... you can win ten or twenty grand from the pokies in Australia. They make so much money off it that they realise instead of having cool band rooms, you make a lot more money from chucking these poker machines in there. So thats made it suffer a bit, but there is a lot of good music coming out. It's not necessarily like a scene, it's not like we play the same type of music as anyone so not that kind of scene but that we're just all friends. We all play festivals and we all know eachother. I used to live with Paddy from Sticky Fingers for a couple of years and there's my brothers' band Planet, who are cool. Bad Dreams who are a band from Adelaide, they're awesome. Oh and Royal Headache, check them out.
Music, and now writing about music, acts as escapism for me from real life. Obviously it plays a big part in your lives too, but when you're not touring or recording what else do you like to do?
Having a drink with my mates! Just stuff that everyone else does, I like bumming around and eating pizza, watching TV. Not that I can do that for long because I get bored, I always end up feeling guilty so I have to start recording or writing or something like that. But you know I just like catching up with my friends that aren't in the band. I'm not really into the beach, but this Summer I think I'm going to try. To be honest we've been constantly touring for 2 years so I don't really feel like I've been doing much more. I do love it, but we've got a break coming up after this run and I can't wait to just chill out for a while. It's funny when you're touring... if there's ways you can get a little bit of consistency in such an inconsistent environment, which touring is, it's nice.
Do you all write together or is there a primary songwriter?
It's different every time, we all write the songs. Sometimes Mason will just bring in pretty much most of a song and we'll nut out bits like I was saying with the recording. We record it ourselves, cut this and change that. We'll sit there for hours and work stuff out in your own time. Or I might bring something to the table, or we might all three of us have seperate ideas and then we kind of just like Frankenstein them together and transpose them. Sometimes that's cool as well because you kind of don't expect or know how those transitions are going to feel.
If you could collaborate with any band or artist, past or present, who would you choose and why?
I really don't know. I guess I'd like to write a song with Paul Kelly one day, that would be pretty cool. But I'm pretty happy collaborating with the guys I'm collaborating with now.
With the release of 'Hills End', the constant touring and festival appearances, you've already achieved so much and continue to do so. Do you set yourselves goals as a band or do you just take things as they come?
One of our biggest goals, I remember talking with Tommy, was that we always wanted to play in FIFA. We always thought that would be pretty cool, to have your song on a video game and that happened on the last one so we're pretty happy with that. That was cool! Like you're playing a video game and your tune comes on, I reckon that's pretty sick. But no, I don't think about it too much. I don't even like thinking about this gig till 5 minutes before we walk on! It's better like that, otherwise it gets too tiring.
Finally- what do you have planned for 2017?
We're gonna have a lot of time off. Like I said, it's been pretty much 2 years of constant touring. Me and Mason have just got a new apartment together, which is very cute! We've never lived together before, I used to live across the road. I used to live with Tommy for a couple of years. But it's really great that we're living with eachother because it's just easier to get stuff done, and we're both pretty chilled dudes! Maybe other people might not like living with us, but we like living with eachother so it's cool. We just want to write better tunes, that's all. It's the only thing that really makes me happy.