JOHNNY TOOK of DMA’S: Planning Ahead For Momentum
An interview by Sarah Kidd.
If you haven’t already heard of the DMA’s then you may wish to rectify that situation immediately because hands down, this is music that you need in your life. Formed in 2012 the trio hailing from the hustle and bustle of Sydney, Australia took the world by storm upon the release of their debut single entitled ‘Delete’ and their self-titled EP in 2014.
But it was when they unleashed their album ‘Hills End’ just last year that things really started to steam ahead for the DMA’s. With tracks such as ‘Play it Out’ featuring on EA Games FIFA 17, the album was soon a monumental hit and the three Aussie lads quickly found themselves thrust into the limelight with comparisons being made to the legendary Oasis. Soon to be back in New Zealand for their first ever headlining shows, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to catch the band live that slayed at Laneway earlier this year.
I caught up with guitarist Johnny Took recently to talk about what life is like a year down the track from releasing their debut album, Cher and the lengths Liam Gallagher went to to see their show.
Let’s start the conversation off with your debut album Hill’s End which really put the DMA’s on the map; just over twelve months later how do you feel about that album now?
“Yeah it’s done the job; I don’t think you are ever going to be completely happy with anything but it’s done the job. We’ve learnt a lot from it you know and it was recorded quite a long time ago now, I think it was like the summer of 2015 or 14 and 15 or something like that.
It was recorded in my bedroom pretty much and it was where the band was at, at the time. So yeah having a bit of a platform now and being able to release music is good because you can sometimes think about it a little bit differently”
I believe you are currently working on your follow up album and that you guys are working with Kim Moyes from The Presets, how did that collaboration come about?
“Actually our manager knew Kim just from the industry and around and when we were deciding on how we were going to record the record it was like, ‘Are we going to try and track it ourselves again?’ like giving us that control or ‘Are we going to get a producer on board?’
There were lots of options that we were weighing up and one of the things that we decided was, that we wanted the drums to sound in a particular way and to record drums you kinda need a bit more gear, knowledge and experience to get the sound that we wanted. All the rest of the instruments and everything else we could track ourselves, so basically we were just looking for someone to come on board just to record how we wanted to record the drums to tape you know, and get a really solid sound, and then just do our guitar thing on top.
Kim knew of the band but hadn’t really I guess listened to like heaps of our music. There were a few tracks that stood out to him and what not but basically he was like ‘Yeah, cool, I will jump on board with that’ and then when we sent him the demos for the album he called us back a fortnight later and kinda expressed how the songs had grown on him and how he wanted to be part of it and bring a different aspect to it. So I guess we are kinda co-producing it together now.
That and he’s a great guy you know, and he’s from a different kind of side of the industry as well to us which, you know, I think we’re learning a lot from each other which is cool.”
So one of the first songs off the new album has the working title of ‘In the Air’; you have described the song as organic – so what’s the theme of the song?
“Well we’re not necessarily sure to be honest if that is the first song that is going to be released, it’s just one of the ones that we have recorded. I wouldn’t really say there is a particular theme to it, I have never really thought about it like that; I wrote it pretty quickly to be honest with you.
But when I say organic I mean the way it was just written on the piano; piano and vocals. I’m thinking about the way that the whole track, the outro and then musically [the way] it came together, it kinda grew organically.”
I see, so would you say there is a theme behind the album itself?
“We’re not really like a themey kinda band – we don’t really think of it, we just like writing honest tunes about relationships; not just necessarily between partners but between all types of people, in all walks of life.
I guess ‘In the Air’ is kinda a bit of that thinking of confusion and looking for which way to move forward I guess, if there was one [theme] you know it’s that feeling that we all have”
The current deadline of October – are you still working towards that? Or is it more it will be finished when it’s finished kinda thing?
“It will be finished when it’s finished. We’re definitely gonna get something out before the year is done – we have been touring so much over the last couple of years – but like I said we will definitely get something out before the year is done. But I think when the album is ready it will be ready, we’re not really gonna rush an album out.”
You just mentioned touring – you guys are on the road a lot, especially through the European festivals. Do you find that it inspires you or that it’s actually kind of distracting from the writing process?
“I find it distracting but at the same time … for example, we finished these first few tracks off the record before we went over and did these summer shows and festivals in the UK; and even though it is distracting sometimes, I think forcing that space in music where you can stop and you can put your energy into something else is also healthy.
But I don’t know, it’s all a part of it you know and you can’t be … you gotta do what you gotta do you know what I mean? And we have all been through that kinda thing we just do what has to be done.”
So do you test out new material on audiences?
“Lots of the songs are pretty well thought out between me, Matt and Tommy before they’re done and to be honest, all the songs – pretty much 90% of the song has already been written before, like you know maybe like six months to maybe six years ago. Because when we wrote the first record, we wrote close to a hundred songs so we had a few left over.
Which is one of the reasons we initially decided to do that, because we knew that if we did generate any success it was going to get fucking busy very quickly and the last thing we kinda wanted was to feel the stress of not being able to release a second record that is better than Hill’s End you know, which we are expecting this one to be. We still wanted to be able to cater for fans in the UK and get over there and do all the appropriate trips and it is harder to write on the road and to get stuff down.”
And you need to follow that momentum of a first album most definitely…
Speaking of inspiration and so forth – who are some artists that are currently inspiring you?
“To be honest I have been listening to a lot of Brian Eno and Cluster at the moment; a lot of the Go-Betweens … I am a big fan of The Raveonettes; love their sound and massive Jesus and The Mary Chain fan!
Basically between the three of us we listen to a whole range of stuff but that definitely is the kinda vibe we are in at the moment. Matt and I we are kinda very into Australiana kinda music, you know your Paul Kelly and your Go-Betweens and that kinda stuff, we’re all about that.
We’ve been listening to so much music that sometimes … I guess even if you think something is sounding a certain way when you hear the end result it’s quite often different to what you expected, but it kinda blossoms into something new and creative which is what seems to be happening now when getting these first mixes back.”
While discussing different types of music, interestingly enough the DMA’s covered Cher’s song ‘Believe’, which was actually a very cool cover, but why that particular song?
“Oh we just had to pick one for that Triple J segment, but I think the way it came up is we were in Milton Keynes or something like that, somewhere weird in the UK and Mason is playing songs as a joke in sound check; like not always but you know what I mean, every now and again it’s something a bit ridiculous.
He started playing that [‘Believe’] and as a joke Tommy started singing along to it and then we kinda stopped and went ‘Wow that actually sounds pretty good’. And then obviously people are like ‘You need a cover’ and we’re like ‘Well fuck it we’ll just pick Cher!’
Also I guess it’s pretty out there, it’s not what people would expect from us which I think if you are going to do a cover it’s nice to do something different!”
Obviously the DMA’s do get compared to Oasis quite a lot and a couple of years ago Noel Gallagher spoke about how he was going to boo you (rather tongue in cheek) from the side of the stage at the Governors Ball in 2015 – did it actually ever happen?
“Ah no. Yeah, I don’t think he had even heard the band yet, I think someone said ‘Oh they sound like Oasis’ and he goes ‘Oh they sound like Oasis I’m gonna have to boo them!’
We have played a few sets with them and we haven’t seen him booing us yet (laughs) We once did a Manchester City game with Liam Gallagher listening to one of our gigs live which was pretty cool but we have never met Noel.
I do remember we were playing an acoustic show in London and he [Liam] wanted to watch the Manchester City match so he called up the promoter and got the promoter to move our set an hour later so he could watch the show and also watch kick off which I thought was pretty fuckin funny – yeah it’s crazy, I can’t believe they did that!”
The DMA’s are hitting New Zealand for what promise to be two pretty amazing shows next week. For more information (including where to buy tickets) you can check out this post. For more information on the DMA’s you can view their website here, or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.