THE DMA’S NEAR SYDNEY, AUSTRAILIA, MAY 2015. PHOTO BY MCLEAN STEPHENSON.
Australian three-piece the DMA’s played their first live show three years ago, before they had even released any songs. That show, they say, was so crowded, that a line formed around the block and they couldn’t let everyone in. “It was a lot of pressure, but it was definitely the most memorable show,” bandmate Matt Mason says. Taking the next step, Mason, Johnny Took, and Tommy O’Dell released their debut self-titled EP in Australia more than a year ago, but in the U.S., it only became available last month. Despite the prolonged start, the DMA’s are on the rise—and fast. This weekend, the band is playing alongside acts like Tame Impala, The Black Keys, and one of their own influences, Built to Spill, at Governors Ball in New York.
Recorded in Took’s bedroom, DMA’s is a meld of youthful, pop-inclined melodies, fuzzed, alternative electric guitar, and raspy vocals. When put together, the overall sound includes heavy flashes of ’90s Britpop, shoegaze, and classic American rock. Yet at times, the slightest notes of bluegrass also seep through, likely thanks to Took’s interest in the genre (he also plays in a bluegrass band with his brother—banjo and all). In fact, Took and Mason once wrote folk music together, and O’Dell and Took once played together in a local psych band. Now, as just the three friends, writing for the DMA’s is a unique collaboration.
“There’s a song on the EP called ‘The Switch,’ it’s the first song we wrote together, as the three of us,” Mason remembers. “We were literally laughing and rolling around on the floor as we were writing this song, because it was so much fun. It was fucking amazing.”
Now, the DMA’s have a full-length set for 2016 and half of their second album already written. We caught up with Took and Mason over the phone when they “were at a mate’s place,” at a party, somewhere west of Sydney. “I swear my greatest achievement in life is that I could ride a two-wheeler bike when I was two,” Took says, almost immediately. Did we mention they have a great sense of humor?
NAMES: Johnny Took (25), Tommy O’Dell (27), Matt Mason (25)
BASED: Various places west of Sydney, Australia
PLAYING LIVE: Matt Mason: We started off as a studio band, but we would like to be known just as much as a live band, so we change [the music] a lot. The live shows are very different, in a good way—a lot noisier, a lot more attitude. When we’re in the studio we’re quite mellow; we don’t get as wild as we do live.
Johnny Took: It started to get weird, because we had so many songs recorded—we had probably 25-30 songs—but no one, not even ourselves, had heard them played live. It was almost like they weren’t real yet. Then all of a sudden, when we started jamming them live, it was amazing to hear them change. We learned a lot from that because most of our early recordings were just us in a bedroom, thrashing out. We discovered a different dynamic when playing them live—how you want to sound and how you want to be perceived. It made [the songs] a lot noisier, more ballsy—just fucking real grunt. The recordings were very pop, and we liked that about them, but we also liked the idea of putting cool pop melodies underneath layered guitars.
THE WAITING GAME: Mason: The EP was released in Australia a year ago and we’ve already finished our next record. It’s like, that’s what you get when you work on the other side of the fucking world. It’s hard to communicate. It’s hard to sync everything up. [So] we’ve already toured [the EP] here. It’s not that exciting really [to release it in the U.S.], to be honest. We’ve already released it, we’ve already done the tour, so to re-release it isn’t particularly exciting. It’s exciting to get it to a bigger audience, but it’s not like “here’s our new music!” We wish we could release the album right now. Obviously the label’s not going to let us, but we want to do it now.
MUSICAL INSPIRATIONS: Mason: We’re all very different when it comes to the bands we listen to by ourselves. The English thing, which is blatantly obvious, mostly comes from Tommy, who has grown up listening to that kind of stuff because his family is from England. They moved to Australia from England and he’s been brought up on English music from the ’90s. Johnny, who writes most the songs, listens to a lot of Americana folk music. I listen to more ’90s-onwards, noisy, guitar bands from America, like Pavement and Sonic Youth. Sleater-Kinney, they’re one of my faves. I haven’t [read Kim Gordon’s memoir, Girl in a Band], but I’ve read about it. I’ve watched the interviews she’s been talking about it in on YouTube; my attention span is long enough to watch a YouTube video, but not long enough to read a book.
GROWING UP: Mason: I started when I was seven, playing the saxophone. My teacher was a dickhead so I hated it, but then when I was 10 I started playing the cello and my teacher was very cool, so I started playing in an orchestra and became really into strings. With woodwind instruments and brass you have to blow and use your lungs; it gives you a headache and you get all red in the face and shit, but with strings you can just chill out. My dad was in a band when he was younger—they weren’t very good, but he always played guitar.
Tooky’s dad was a roadie. He did lighting for a lot of [bands] back in the ’80s, when they didn’t have automated lights and literally had to have dudes standing up in the scaffolding. Every single light was done by hand. Johnny’s dad did that when he was younger, so he was obviously into a lot of cool bands that he did lights for when they toured. We’ve all been brought up around music. We started bands when we were [in our] early teens.
A SONG IS A SONG: Took: As far as I am concerned, a tune’s a tune, a song’s a song; if it’s good, it’s good. If you wind up with a banjo on it, or if you wind up with an electronic beat and an electronic bassline—whatever arrangement you decide, if it’s a proper tune and a proper melody, that’s all that fucking matters.
DMA’S IS OUT NOW VIA MOM + POP MUSIC. THE BAND WILL PLAY ON SATURDAY, JUNE 6 AT THE KNITTING FACTORY IN BROOKLYN AND ON SUNDAY, JUNE 7 AT GOVERNORS BALL. FOR MORE ON THE DMA’S, VIST THEIR FACEBOOK.