Even If They Tried, DMA’S Couldn’t Stop Sounding Like DMA’S

30 March 2023 | 1:21 pm | Mary Varvaris

"Even though we love lo-fi jangling, we also love big, pop, hi-fi stuff and synth-programmed beats. I guess it’s about finding the best way to get it all out of your system.”

(Pic by Kalpesh Lathigra)

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DMA’S - the anthemic trio comprised of Tommy O'Dell (vocals), Johnny Took (acoustic guitar), and Matt Mason (lead guitar, backing vocals) - have made waves in the Australian indie rock and pop music scene since their formation eleven years ago.

The Sydney outfit often gains comparisons to Brit-pop auteurs Oasis and The Stone Roses with their singalong choruses, songs sung in a nasal tone, and the combination of acoustic and electric guitars. Never too heavy nor too soft, DMA’S tracks hit the heart with their wistful leanings and stunning storytelling capabilities.

The magic of the band stems from this simple fact: “we're really lucky with our band because, the truth is, Tommy, me, and Matt are friends; we're mates before we're band members,” Took shares via Zoom, discussing the band’s whirlwind couple of years and their upcoming album, How Many Dreams?. “I think it's what's given DMA’S the longevity that we’ve had.”

The trio and their touring members are heading on a massive Australian tour this September - a celebratory homecoming run, DMA’S return home after a mega European tour from now until July. 

Seeing the band live, you encounter a bunch of guys in oversized hoodies jamming to slick rock songs. They’re a far cry from the egotistical attitudes of ‘90s Britpop. There’s always a big crowd singalong at a DMA’S gig, namely for Silver, while you can hear a pin drop during their intimate first single, Delete

It’s modern Australian rock and pop music accessible to all, and their new album, How Many Dreams?, out this Friday, keeps up the band’s string of unbelievably strong records. It’s filled with the band’s signature soaring highs that could make any listener feel invincible, with enough vulnerability and heart-on-your-sleeve moments to appease the die-hard early fans.

Their first album in almost three years, How Many Dreams? is an ambitious, carefully crafted landmark record from the Sydney group.

2020’s The Glow landed at #2 in Australia, will How Many Dreams? take DMA’S to the very top? Gleaned from over 70 early demos, the band draw from a more expansive sonic palette than ever before – chartering a course of dizzying highs and crushing lows. 

With songs to rave to and songs to cry to, DMA'S emerge from a darker place and showcase their exhilarating future sound without barriers at the top of their game.

Upon its announcement in February, Johnny Took said about the album: “There’s something super freeing when you make your first record, you’ve never made a record before, and in a way, there is nothing to lose.

“Our palette for this album was a lot broader because we’ve learned so much since our debut, and we’ve listened to so much more music between then and now, which has shaped us. It felt like a first outing all over again. The excitement was the same.”

Things are thrilling in the DMA’S camp, perhaps most so in their personal lives. 

At the start of the year, Matt Mason met The Wiggles - a childhood dream come true. Meanwhile, Tommy O’Dell became a father to Louis last year, and when we catch up with Johnny Took, it’s only been a few weeks since he married his longtime partner, The Jezebels singer and solo artist, Hayley Mary.

“It was a really awesome day! It was just a big party. You're walking around, and there's a couple of old friends who you’ve never met, but you see them talking at the party. That kind of stuff makes me really happy,” Took grins. 

There were plenty of music industry folks at Johnny and Hayley’s wedding - sound engineers, guitar technicians, the whole crew - all there hanging out, outside of work mode. 

We also catch up with Took just one day after DMA’S announced their upcoming 16-date Australian tour, taking the band to hubs they’ve never performed at before. “It’s crazy - we’ve been making music for eight, nine years, and the only regional slots we’ve done have been at Groovin The Moo,” he shares, thrilled by the opportunity to perform in new places. 

DMA’S have taken the Groovin stages at regional centres across the country twice - in 2015 and 2019 - and would fit in perfectly again this year, but Europe beckons. “I love touring quirkier parts of Australia,” Took continues.” And the fact that we haven't done that with DMA’S is really exciting. I think it's gonna be awesome.”

Before the massive homecoming tour, DMA’S have an album to release. The Glow catapulted the Sydney lads to overseas success and a bunch of ARIA Award nominations. With that level of triumph attached to their previous album, did DMA’S go into recording How Many Dreams? with more pressure and expectations on their shoulders?

“You know what, maybe a little bit," Took starts.

"I feel like The Glow was a particular sounding record for us, in that trajectory of music and whatnot, and I felt like it wasn't completely done - we still had more to do and say in the realm of The Glow,” he explains. How Many Dreams? is something of an extension on The Glow (albeit a bit more personal) and their surprise 2021 EP, I Love You Unconditionally, Sure Am Going To Miss You. 

“But actual pressure? Not really. I knew that we enjoyed the songs, and I knew that we had a lot of great songs to work with,” he continues, refusing to cave to outside pressures. 

“All in all, at the end of the day, there's as much pressure as you want it to be. If you're happy with the songs and you're having fun making the album, then that's all you can really hope for. And then the rest is all just a bonus, you know?”

Overall, Took feels great about the album; why shouldn’t he? “It's so funny because you sit on an album for quite a long time before it comes out. We've had it in our mix for a while now. But, the fact that it's so close to being out to the rest of the world never gets boring; it's always exciting.”

Throughout the band’s recent mammoth tours, DMA’S learned a lot, which they threw into their songwriting. They began thinking about the live show more often - “have you heard the album?” Took asks, and at this point, I had only heard it once or twice. The album’s opening number, the euphoric title track, is one the band brainstormed between hitting stages.

“You know how it goes for about two and a half minutes before the vocals come in? Stuff like that, I wouldn't really do that much in the past. But I imagined when I was writing that song; I imagined opening up a live show with it and having this elongated start,” he explains. It’s a mark of the band’s willingness never to stop learning, keeping themselves open to fresh ideas and pulling from blueprints of their past.

The five songs on I Love You Unconditionally, Sure Am Going To Miss You, could have easily fit on the new album - although, having the EP and How Many Dreams? separate likely makes the tracks shine more, and the flow on the pair is impeccable.

“That EP was kind of important for us because a lot of the music we've been making recently has a lot more programming and some more hi-fi sentiments to it. It was kind of nice to go back a little bit and make a record like that for our fans,” Took notes. 

“But the thing is, we just love so many different types of music. Even though we love lo-fi jangling, we also love big, pop, hi-fi stuff and synth-programmed beats. I guess it’s about finding the best way to get it all out of your system.” And those big pop songs work so well for DMA’S. 

Even with all the synths breaking out of their mostly-acoustic beginnings, songs like Never Before or Fading Like A Picture still feel like quintessential DMA’S songs because they continually highlight the band members’ hearts and their taste for melodies.

Took laughs at that comment, “It’s funny you said that; the producer Stuart Price said that when we worked with him [on The Glow],” he explains. “We were talking about songs like Life Is A Game Of Changing, which is a heavier, more dancey song, and we raised concerns about it like, ‘Is this too much of a stretch for DMA’S?’ and he said, ‘Even if you guys tried, you couldn’t not sound like DMA’S,’ [chuckles] and that’s a compliment!

“You know, it’s Tommy’s voice; it’s very distinct. It’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I know exactly who that is,’ and even if we change up the production, his voice is still right there,” Took continues, describing his bandmate’s voice as “almost like a genre of happy, sad, and nostalgic all at once. In its essence, that’s DMA’S.”

DMA’S’ fourth album, How Many Dreams?, is out this Friday, 31 March via I Oh You. Their 2023 Australian tour takes place this September and October - find more details here.