IN CONVERSATION WITH: DMA’S
DMA’s are one of the best up-and-coming bands in the world, and we at The Mic have supported them since day , Here, as a happy new year to all of our readers, is what happened when Sean and Luke from The Mic went to meet them. And Happy New Year to all of our readers – keep an eye out for more exciting content coming in 2018!
Since the release of their debut album Hills End in 2016, the Australian trio known as DMA’S have established a lively following here in the UK. After back and forth touring throughout most of 2017, the band brought their Britpop-flavoured guitar anthems to several UK arenas during the tail end of the year (supporting The Kooks). Now that the mix of their second album has been completed, 2018 could be the year one of the most exciting bands around are launched to new heights.
A few hours before DMA’S donned the stage at Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena on the evening of Friday 24th November, Sean and Luke from The Mic met with the Aussie lads at a pub not far from the venue and had a pint and a chat with guitarist Johnny Took.
Well we were going to ask you about your pre-gig routine but I guess this is it? What do you do before a gig?
This. Drink beer. I’m not superstitious or anything like that.
We’ve always wondered about that. Are all bands pretty much pissed-up before a gig?
No, you don’t wanna be pissed you just wanna be…
…A little bit perked up?
You just wanna be relaxed. It’s pretty hectic man, to get up on stage in front of shitloads of people you don’t know – actually, it’s better if you don’t know them – if you play a gig in Sydney and see your mates and their stupid heads, it can be pretty distracting.
Do you have a playlist or certain songs you play to get psyched-up before a gig?
Do you know Paul Kelly? He’s like the Australian Bob Dylan, or Springsteen maybe. His songs tell stories about Australia. Very nostalgic. He’s got this 6 minute song called ‘Bradman’ about Donald Bradman, the cricket player. We pump that.
We’ll have to put that on later. What’s it like coming from Australia to be big in the UK?
It’s pretty cool, man. We always had plans to do it. During my high school years, me and my friends got into The Stone Roses, Oasis, The La’s, The Verve, Primal Scream and The Jesus and Mary Chain. We didn’t know many kids our age who were into that shit. So when started recording we wanted to do that because there was none of it in Australia. There’s a few bands doing it now.
Is that because of you?
We beat them to it. But as a kid, I didn’t understand how incredibly big that scene was. When we came over here it was a surprise. A guy in Perth one time said to us that a lot of bands in England are intimidated by it because they’ve grown up knowing how huge it was in the culture. But we kinda didn’t really get it in Australia so we didn’t give a fuck. We just played the music that we wanted to play. At the end of the day, if you’re being honest and writing real lyrics with good melodies people are gonna relate to it. If you’re being a prick about it people can see through that shit.
The band has a certain casual fashion about them. Is that a conscious style?
Everyone here says we dress like shit. I thought I look pretty fucking good y’know.
You look cool now, yeah.
[laughs] People give us a hard time online saying “oh the music’s good but they dress like fucking dogs” I’m like…I thought we were looking alright.
Too many posh Londoners, mate.
I don’t get it. What do they want me to put on? Leather pointy shoes, you dickhead? I don’t know. They don’t get it.
The hipsters ruined everything.
Tommy’s dressed the same since he was like 7 years old and so has Mason. I think it’s like an inner city Sydney look. It’s a pretty big city so there’s definitely like a culture to it. But to be honest I’ll wear whatever the fuck I wanna wear and being in a band is a good excuse for that.
It’s pretty cool how the music and fashion can merge.
Yeah, it’s a funny one. When the ‘Delete’ video first came out, I was wearing just a denim jacket and a white t-shirt. It’s not exactly fucking groundbreaking. But Mason was wearing an Adidas jacket and now Adidas give us free clothes which is pretty sick cos’ I’ve always wanted free clothes from Adidas.
It’s the dream.
[laughs] There’s gotta be some fucking perks to this game. Basically any company that tries to give you free shit just wants to know you’re playing big festivals. I’m into it.
Speaking of festivals, you were recently announced for the Neighborhood Weekender 2018 festival. The lineup of which is built on indie rock bands and guitar pop music such as Noel Gallagher, Courteeners, Blossoms and yourselves. Tickets sold-out in minutes. Obviously that type of music has a huge audience but, in the current climate, doesn’t get a lot of airplay on mainstream radio. Do you think we should hear DMA’S and that kind of music on radio more?
Yeah, it’s a funny one isn’t it? You’ve got to move with the times. Lots of people find ways to complain about shit that’s going on – like the fact people don’t sell CD’s anymore, everyone downloads and uses Spotify. We’re not a band that’s gonna sit back and whinge. Look at what you can work on: we’ve a got a good live show, that’s where the money is these days so we’ll fucking tour hard. Even though we’re from Sydney, we’ll go to smaller towns and cities in the UK, like we have for the past year, and build that up and show commitment. At the same time, with the new record, I know the tunes are good and with higher production values maybe radio will pick them up more. But it’s nice to know you don’t need that to have a career.
How do you achieve a good live show?
There’s no babysitting in our band. There’s six of us that play live but the other three are not session players. They’re mates of ours we grew up with and played in other bands with before, not just hired guns, and that makes a big difference when you’re playing live with each other. And we’re not scared of the album and live performances being completely separate beasts. I think that’s cool. If you come to a live show wanting it to sound exactly like the record then go home and fucking listen to it there.
You’re also a band that’s really good at covers. Your version of Cher’s ‘Believe’ was a big hit for you online and your cover of ‘Beautiful Stranger’ by Madonna is really cool and psychedelic as well. Although now you’ve stopped playing covers live?
I thought ‘Beautiful Stranger’ was cool, doing the riff on the guitar, all droney and shit. It was fun to play live so one tour over here we played it. The only reason we learnt ‘Believe’ was for the segment on Triple J’s Like a Version. I think we were playing over here in Milton Keynes or somewhere and Mason was playing it as a joke and then Tommy started singing it and it was just like “oh that sounds pretty good”.
Me, Mason and our drummer used to play cover gigs 3 or 4 times a week, 3 hour sets when we were younger. It’s new for Tommy but we’ve been playing covers for a long time. The best way to work on your songwriting is to learn other people’s songs.
However, If we’re gonna put new songs in the set we’re not gonna put covers in. We’ve never played ‘Believe’ live. I think Mason wants to do it but I think it makes it special if we leave it as that one-time thing.
You must get tons of requests to do it so you have to respect the commitment to your own music.
We’re songwriters man, first and foremost. Me, Tommy and Mason started this band and we’re all fucking songwriters. You don’t want DMA’S to be remembered as the band that did the Cher song. We wanna be remembered for our own songs – ‘Timeless’, ‘Step up the Morphine’ and these songs on the new record – one’s called ‘In the Air’ and ‘Time and Money’.
How’s the new album going?
Great. Things are good, dude. Feels like the right progression. We’ve been working with this guy in this band back home called The Presets. They’re a band with a more electronic/dance vibe so it’s nice to bring in some of the production elements you find in that kind of music. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do as when we first started writing music everything was done with drum machines and shit like that.
The second album often makes or breaks a band. You’ve established an audience with the first one so do you feel obliged to differentiate from that or go for more of the same?
You always have to change. Bands often get “oh why wasn’t it just like your first record?” Well, I’m a fucking artist so there’s no point making the same fucking record as Hills End. With everything you do, you have to grow, experiment and take risks. What’s the point in releasing the same fucking record? I’m not gonna live those three years again. I’m ready to do something different.
So is 2018 set to be a busy year for you?
I hope so. It’s gonna be so hot in Australia over Christmas so all the festivals are happening over there now. And then just when you think you’re gonna get some time off, it’s summer over here. Basically, we’re just chasing summer festivals.
Is it difficult to prioritise one country over the other?
There’s just a lot more people in the UK than Australia and it’s like fuck I wanna make some money, man. There’s still ways of being a sell-out but a lot of those ways kinda died with the 90’s. I reckon if our band was around in 90’s and doing well I’d probably have a fucking apartment by now. Instead I’ve got 200 fucking dollars in my bank account. It’s not that cool.
You think if you were around when Britpop was huge then you’d be huge as well?
Easier said than done, but I think you understand where my point’s coming from. There was money to be made back then. It’s really hard to make a buck playing music these days. It’s a shitload of touring but that comes with expenditures – you’ve got to house 6 guys in our band plus crew, it’s not cheap.
Have people accused you of being a sell-out?
No, but it’s something I think about occasionally in relation to how times are changing. We’ve been in lots of bands before. I spent a decade learning about sound production and recording. We recorded Hills End in my fucking bedroom. We’ve worked hard. We’ve kicked the shit as well and come over here and shared beds for two years. Now it finally feels like people actually have their ears open and wanna hear DMA’S in the UK. And y’know what? Quite frankly I think we’re fucking ready to give it to them. I’m not gonna lie, I wanna be one of the biggest bands in the UK.
We want you to be as well so we can say we were there from the beginning.
During our time at university we’ve definitely witnessed the band getting bigger.
I feels organic as well. It doesn’t feel contrived. You mentioned radio earlier, we’ve never tried to write a song for radio and we never will.
But I’m saying a song like your latest single ‘Dawning’ sounds great and would be perfect for the radio.
People just don’t like guitars as much anymore. But I reckon give it a few years, it’ll come back again. It works in trends – fashion is like that as well.
So we’re not going to see DMA’S ft. Flo Rida anytime soon?
Who’s Flo Rida?
And finally, the standard Mic question that we always finish with is if you could’ve written any song throughout history it would be?
Oh shit…maybe ‘#9 Dream’ by John Lennon.
Someone once told me I looked like John McClure.
He’s the lead singer of Reverend and the Makers isn’t he?
Yeah. I don’t think so either, maybe it was just one weird photo. And Ramsey Bolton from Game of Thrones.
I saw a tweet saying you look like Shrek as a human from Shrek 2.
Yeah, I get all this. [laughs] I’m way hotter than those motherfuckers.
You probably won’t know who this is but people think Tommy looks like MC Devvo.
Aw yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve seen that guy. And also the kid from This is England, he’s like a little fat version of Tommy.