DMA’S: “We’re definitely more fearless. We’ve earned it”

How DMA’S outran the Britpop tag to craft a bold and ambitious electronic album about “love, loss and everything in between”

“If people start taking us seriously, they’re in for a rude surprise,” says DMA’S’ lead guitarist Matt Mason with a grin, “because we don’t.” Semi-fresh from their biggest ever headline show at the 5,000-capacity O2 Brixton Academy in London, the band are playing it cool.

Brixton was completely sold out, says frontman Tommy O’Dell after the band’s photoshoot for their first NME cover, but “it felt natural”. We’re at the very fancy private members’ club Quo Vadi in London’s Soho, yet the trio don’t appear fazed by the business lunches going on around them (or the sideways glances their hoodies are attracting).

“We dreamt about playing venues that big,” says Mason. “We didn’t think it would happen, but we dreamt about it.”

But does it feel odd for DMA’S biggest headline show so far to be so far away from their hometown? “Not really,” replies O’Dell. “We’ve put a lot of work into building our audience in the UK. We’ve probably worked harder here than we have at home playing shows. People find it special when we do play here, because we’ve come all the way from Australia.” He adds with a laugh: “We’ve made a special effort to make it from Sydney to Hull.”

dma's nme cover interview
Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

DMA’S wear their UK influences loud and proud but – like fellow Aussie hellraisers Amyl And The Sniffers – remember where they come from. “We feel like an Australian band,” insists O’Dell, to which rhythm guitarist Johnny Took quickly adds: “We’ll always be an Australian band.”

“I feel like we’re an Australian band when I’m in Australia,” reflects O’Dell, “and I feel like we’re a British band when I’m in Britain. I think we sit somewhere in between.”

The other day Mason was chatting with Eamon Sandwith of recent NME Australia cover stars The Chats about how both bands are bigger in the United Kingdom than at home: “We were saying it’s because we’re playing [UK-rock-inspired] music, but we’re not from there. We don’t have a rival football team, so we can be friends. Australia really isn’t that different [to the UK], but we’re a little bit exotic.”

dma's nme cover interview
DMA’S on the cover of NME Australia #04

While DMA’S’ Britpop-inspired first two albums tapped into the energy and everyday celebration that made heroes of Oasis in the ’90s, their electronic third album sees them expanding, amplifying and toying with their influences. If you dismissed the group as just another lad-rock band, it’s you who’s in for a rude awakening. When Took commands the venue’s Spotify, he puts on Cigarettes After Sex rather than Brit Pop Essentials, while O’Dell is loving Tame Impala, Clairo and King Krule.

Liam Gallagher called them “biblical” and The Courteeners’ Liam Fray thinks of them as “adopted Mancs” and “legends already”, but DMA’S want to be more than the next Liam and Noel.

“[The term ‘Britpop’] doesn’t really describe us…” starts Mason.

“I think you can see a lot more of that on the new record, which is cool,” adds Took.

“Music is an outlet to forget about the shitty things going on”

And, sure, ‘THE GLOW’ still leans into that lust for life that’ll have people throwing their pints in the air, wrapping their arms around their mates’ shoulders and screaming the lyrics at the sky. But, as O’Dell puts it, “there’s more to our music than just that”.

“We’ve grown as a band,” insists O’Dell. “I’d never sung in a band – or at all – before we did that first record. But now I can hear how I’ve found my own voice a lot more over the past few years. I’m proud of that. You’re just constantly trying to improve your songwriting and your craft.”

He says it’s all about diverse tastes within the group: “The band consists of three guys who are all musically really different.” His sneered Britpop vocals come from his dad, a Scouser who was raised on The Stone Roses. The grungy guitars are Mason’s influence while Johnny Took brings folky, bluegrass sing-alongs to the table.

“We knew this record needed to be the record where we did push ourselves,” O’Dell explains.

“‘THE GLOW’ covers a lot of ground musically. There’s dance, electronic, old school Brit rock’n’roll but there’s also folk, a bit of funk and some ’80s moments that set it apart from the other records, which were similar stylistically.”

dma's nme cover interview
Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

Despite the record’s complexity, the writing process was simple and intuitive, says Mason: “There was no blueprint. If you sit down with someone and like everything they do, you don’t need to have a conversation about what you want to do. You just go with it and see what comes out. We started heading in a new direction with ‘THE GLOW’, it felt cool, so we went with it.”

The future is wide open, says O’Dell: “We’ve had ideas that maybe we’ll go back and do rock’n’roll, or push on further, do the more dancey stuff or even go and record some stuff in our bedroom again.” All in good time.

For now, though, says Took, DMA’S wanted to push their boundaries while still making a record that “had our essence”. Embracing the rave has been “something we’ve always wanted to do”, explains Mason, but the band “just haven’t had the time, budget or knowledge to pull it off”. DMA’S have always written with loops, keys and synths, while tracks 2018’s ‘In The Air’ and ‘The End’ also glance in that direction, but Mason says “it’s been turned up this time”.

Still, there must have been moments of worry about people pushing back, asking where the guitars are?

“You do worry,” admits Took, “but more often than not, if you’re enjoying making the record, that transcends to the audience. There are always going to be some critics, but that’s normal. Having things that are polarising, where some people love it while others hate it, is always better than a whole bunch of people who think it’s just OK. As DMA’S, that’s something we’ve dealt with from the start.”

O’Dell agrees: “That’s been part of our growth and our success.”

dma's nme cover interview
Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

And the band have come a long way. They started out making music in their bedrooms while O’Dell held down a day job as a painter and decorator and Took and Mason played four-hour cover sets in a handful of local pubs on the weekend; they’d drive the 14 hours between their hometown of Sydney and Brisbane to gig as DMA’S.

“That was as far as we thought it was going to go,” Mason says. “It was fun, but now there’s a bit more clarity. It’s been a slow burn.” Instead debut album ‘Hills End’ was released to acclaim in 2016, while the 2018 follow-up ‘For Now’ rocketed into the charts at home and in the UK.

“I hope our music helps people get through tough times”

DMA’S always felt like something special, though. When they first started demoing, they’d hold parties at Took’s house. “Our mates wanted to hear our songs,” he says. “I’ve never been in a band where people would want to listen to your music at parties.”

“That was a defining moment,” says Mason.

For O’Dell the defining moment came “when the audience started to sing the songs back to me. I realised the music was connecting on a greater level than anything I’d done before. It’s kinda what you want to experience sharing your music with other people. I didn’t have that in other bands I was playing in.”

dma's nme cover interview
Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

Battling jet lag, O’Dell is a little subdued. But his eyes still blaze with the spark that enables him to command huge crowds. He continues: “Even when we were playing in small rooms, our first gig in London was Electrowerkz, and Night and Day Cafe in Manchester. There weren’t many people in the crowd but you could tell that whoever was there was probably going to be at our gigs for years down the line. They were probably at Brixton!”

They flirted with viral fame thanks to their bizarrely brilliant cover of Cher’s ‘Believe’ in 2017, but DMA’S have worked hard to get to where they are today. It didn’t happen overnight, says Took: “There were five years of touring places we’d never heard of. We kept coming back. We spent more than 200 hours on planes last year, just flying between Australia and the UK. It’s made the difference for us, though. Our core following feels really solid.”

O’Dell adds: “When we first released stuff, we had no idea if people were going to like it. We hadn’t played a show; we were a little bit apprehensive. But now we’re definitely more fearless. We’ve got confidence; we’ve got loyal fans. We’ve earned it.”

dma's nme cover interview
Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

DMA’S chase their gut, writing whatever feels good and refusing to overthink it. ‘THE GLOW’, with its euphoric lifts and searching lyrics, feels like it could be a record about bringing people together and finding a common ground. “It was simpler than that,” says Took. ‘Life Is A Game Of Changing’ sees O’Dell sing, “I don’t know just how we got here, but I see that you’ve been struggling, dear,” inspired by Took’s 10 months of living in Edinburgh, Scotland.

“I’d never lived overseas before and things were different,” he explains. “It was just about embracing that. You know: ‘I’m here; I’m going to make the best of it.’ Change is good – that’s the general vibe.”

This also provides a subtle nod to anyone lamenting DMA’S push into electronic territory, which ties into that album title. ‘THE GLOW’, says Took, is “about how people are always looking for something better. It’s got that universal sense that anyone can relate to, that exhaustion you sometimes feel trying to achieve more or be something more”.

“It’s better to be polarising than have a whole bunch of people think you’re just ‘OK’”

You can hear that restlessness in the music. The opening blast of ‘Never Before’ feels like The Chemical Brothers meets Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust For Life’, while ‘Silver’ is made for flares and lighters. ‘Silver’, which is about attempting not to be jaded as the years advance, is a much more emotional song than most of the band’s lad-rock counterparts would dare to release. ”It’s how about I’m feeling at this present time,” explains O’Dell, “looking within myself and trying to express what’s going on in life.”

dma's nme cover interview
Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

Despite the turmoil going on at home and around the world, DMA’S have no desire to write political music.

“If you come to our shows and you see the atmosphere,” says O’Dell, “it’s about letting off steam and having some fun. I don’t think writing political music would really suit us. It’s never been our thing. I don’t think of music as a platform for that. I like to think that our music, in a way, can help people escape from those kinda things. We prefer to sing about love, loss and everything in between.”

He believes that’s why their music connects with such a full-bodied force: “The songs are written from the heart and they’re performed from the heart. I don’t say that in a cheesy way; it’s just honest songwriting and people can feel that.”

dma's nme cover interview
Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

Despite his protestation against political music, O’Dell is aware that his band offer a voice, talking about their emotions, getting honest, and that that means something. “Music is important,” he says. “It’s a way people can express themselves, have an outlet and forget about the shitty things going on. I didn’t really think of what I do as super-important until I started getting these messages in the last couple of years saying how much these songs meant to people, or how people couldn’t have got through something without those songs. That’s what really made me realise this music is affecting people and helping them.”

He insists that those messages haven’t changed the way he approaches the band, but helped him to realise “that what we’re doing does have meaning – it’s not just about yourself”.

More animated now, those eyes blazing again, he adds with a smile: “But I don’t want to take myself too seriously. I take this band a bit more seriously now than when we first started, but we still have fun. If our music helps people get through tough times or helps them have a real good time putting it on at a party, I hope we can do that for them.”

DMA’S’ album ‘THE GLOW’ will be released on July 10 – pre-order it here.

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