DMA’s were hyped even before their debut EP was released. With a look that drew comparisons to English bands from Oasis to the Stone Roses, NME took no time in hailing the band as the next big thing and Aussie media has swiftly followed. Their self-titled EP ranges from firing bursts of angst to tender ballads that juxtapose their harsh image. Delete has become somewhat of an anthem in a very short time, with the Splendour in the Grass audience lapping up a chance to sing-along to one of the year’s most poignant melodies.
We sat down with DMA’s bass player, Johnny Took at BIGSOUND in Brisbane to chat about the copious comparisons, what’s next to come from the band’s tune-cannon and what DMA’s stands for.
How’s it all going? Are you stoked about the tour selling out?
Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. I‘m looking forward to going to Adelaide in particular. Adelaide will be cool.
Have you been before?
I have, I’ve got some family that live down there. But I’ve only played a couple of random shows so I’m looking forward to really understanding the music scene down there a little bit.
Does it feel like it’s all happened quite quickly? I guess, to us, it looks like it did but was there a bit more going on behind the scenes before you got signed by I OH YOU and it all took off?
Yeah, a lot more, man. We were writing for a good couple of years. Between the three of us, we could record everything because Tommy’s a drummer, and most of the songs are just done with drum loops when they’re demoed. It kind of has happened quickly but we were writing and recording for quite a while before that, which is good because now that things have happened quickly, we’re kind of prepared for it and not completely freaking out.
Did you have a plan going into it? Was it like, “we want to release this music?” or was it just for fun?
We planned it about 3 years ago. So I wanted to hide away, record and then drop some tunes. We had about 50 or 60 songs.
Are there songs in the EP that were written really early on in the piece?
Yeah, like Delete was written six or seven years ago. Some of the next tunes that we’ll be bringing out I wrote when I was like 19, 20. So they’re all kind of picked from a six or seven year period.
Do you think they developed in those years?
Some of them have, if you ever heard the originals. Like, Delete is completely different with electric guitars and shit at the start and also an extra part added. When I think about it, Your Low, which is on the EP, has as well. Some of them have grown and some of them haven’t needed to. You know, a song is a song. In hindsight, growing up in the time I was in when I wrote it, it doesn’t need to change. It represents that part of my life and vice versa.
Did it feel like, coming from different musical ventures like Little Bastards, that you wanted to separate, in your mind, DMA’s and have a different sound? Were you trying to channel something different?
Yeah, Little Bastard is more a live band. Like people, wasted and shit, big hoedowns and whatnot. DMA’s was always meant to be more of a studio thing. Eventually we had to cater for that for a live audience.
The songs are kind of melodically strong and sound like, as you said, they’re meant to be played out loud. Was melody a massive thing going into it? Particularly, vocal melody?
Yeah, when I was younger and writing songs, I used to just do verse/chorus things and they quickly got boring so now, when we write, I always like to have a verse, a pre chorus, a chorus and then a riff. So as long as there’s five strong melodies in a song, I feel like that should hold it together. Tommy and Mason are both really strong melody writers and if Mason brings in the tune, a melody he’s been working on, that stimulates you to have an idea you never had and vice versa.We find that we bounce off each other really well in that aspect.
How did the three of you come together?
I met Mason when I was doing solo stuff, like folk music. I met him at a folk festival when we were about 21. And then I met Tommy when I was 19 and in a psych band. He was the drummer and I was playing bass. And then the other two guys were songwriters in their own right and there wasn’t really enough for space for us to write, so that’s when Tommy and I first started writing together.
So you’ve obviously been through quite a few genres. Was there an influence or certain music that you were listening to at the time that kicked off DMA’s?
Nothing in particular but between me and my mates, and I’m sure it’s with everyone with the internet, you listen to so much music. Like, one day I’ll be listening to Doc Watson and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and then Neil Young and all of a sudden you start crossing into heaps of stuff like Primal Scream, Stone Roses (Tommy’s a big fan), Dinosaur Jr, The Jesus Mary Chain…all those noisy guitar bands but, like I said, the way I think of it, Little Bastards is classified as a country band and the only thing that makes it country is the arrangement.
The lines are a bit blurred.
Yeah, you can play any song. You can play Made of Stone by The Stone Roses and put a banjo over it and all of a sudden it’s a country song. A good song’s a good song, that’s what I’ve always believed. How you want to arrange it, that’s your prerogative.
Do you guys like reading on the internet “they sound like this”, do you find the comparisons interesting to have a look at?
I think it’s pretty funny when people say stuff like that. We get the Oasis thing a lot. I like Oasis but they wouldn’t be in my top 10, you know what I mean? It doesn’t really bother me too much.
I guess you get those comparisons because you’ve got a ‘90s aesthetic about yourselves. Do you think that’s because you’re drawing reference on growing up?
Yeah, I guess there’s a bit of nostalgia, like early ‘90s. I was in kindergarden in ‘94 and it’s just like all those tunes that were being played at the house while growing up.
Have you been surprised by the attention you’ve received overseas?
Yeah, it’s been surprising but at the same time, a few years ago when we started writing, we felt the songs were strong and we were attached to them. But like I was saying before, we never really thought or cared too much about what other people think. The beautiful thing about the internet is that anyone can have their opinion. It’s an amazing thing and also the beautiful thing about this world is that it doesn’t take a lot for it to go around. I’ve never really listened to other people’s opinions and I’m not going to start now.
So you’re headed off to CMJ this year?
Will this be your first overseas tour?
Well, I went to New Caledonia with Little Bastard one time, which was pretty cool. We’re apparently huge in New Caledonia? That’s the only time I’ve done it. I went to Europe when I was 19 and I came back and told myself I wasn’t going to go back until I was doing music. Because I felt like I was pissing my money against the wall, not playing gigs there and whatnot. That was about 6 years ago.
So I suppose in that way it feels like a massive achievement to be going back there and playing?
Yeah man, it’s exciting and the live set’s come together. So I’m just looking forward to going there and having a laugh really.
What’s the timeline then? The Aussie tour and then pretty much straight overseas?
Are you recording at the moment?
I’m always recording!
Do you have a next release in mind?
I think we’ve got a couple of things in the bag, but…we’re…actually, I don’t think i’m allowed to say too much about it.
We don’t want to get you in trouble.
*laughs* Yeah, I tend to do that a lot.
Is it sounding good, though? Can we ask you that?
I’m happy with it. It’s been a bit of a process. I love recording at home because you can take your time. But I’m pretty happy with how they’re sounding. I feel like I’ve been in bands before where people can get really precious about that stuff, I think you can get too precious sometimes. I’ve seen so many amazing, beautiful songs by friends that never get released because they think about it too much or they’re scared of what people think.
5 Wacky Questions
Your band’s name is an acronym. What’s your favourite acronym?
Oh, DMA’s isn’t an acronym! It doesn’t stand for anything. It’s basically a bunch of letters we decided on with an apostrophe.
Favourite Danny DeVito movie?
Will you be purchasing the newly unveiled Apple Watch?
Nah, I think it’s a bit lame, huh?
If you had to merge into another band to create a super group, who would it be?
There’s too many. Maybe War On Drugs would be pretty cool. Big fan of Kurt Vile.
Favourite board game?
*pause* I used to play a little Risk when I was younger…that was pretty cool. Twister can get pretty whack as well. I’m gonna go with Twister.
DMA’s have completely sold out their Australian tour.