The DMA’s Johnny Took on the Perils of Touring and Fine Cheese


Photos by Lincoln Jubb

There are very few bands that I get excited about, but when I first heard DMA’s back in 2016, I got the horn–proper.

In fact, I got the horn so bad, I even went and saw them play at the Enmore Theatre; which is a big deal for me because I don’t like crowds, loud noise, flashing lights, beer or fun. But I’m glad I got along–that show was nothing short of religious. God, it was good. I recently had the pleasure of phoning DMA’s guitarist Johnny Took and asking him about the new album, the perils of touring, fine cheese, and when he plans to get serious and buy a Porsche. Read on.

Congrats on the new album.

Thank you!

Are you stoked?

Yeah, it’s nice to have another record out, y’know? I don’t think any of us have ever been in a band that actually made it to a second record.

What’s the best part about having a second record?

It’s just little things, like having more songs in the setlist.

Right.

And, also, I feel like it’s harder for us to be pigeonholed into one sound now.

Right, so you’ve got a bit of breathing room.

Yeah, exactly.

Were you worried about making the ‘difficult second album,’ as they say?

Not really. I guess we never really thought about it like that. I mean, with our first album, it went well, and the response was great, but it’s not like when The Strokes released their first album, you know?

Right.

We weren’t in the position of, like, ‘Oh my God, there’s so much pressure.’ Plus, we did have a few songs leftover from Hills End, so having that up our sleeve probably took a bit more pressure off as well.

I read somewhere that Hills End was recorded in your bedroom, but the new album, For Now, was in a studio. Was that a positive transition?

Well, it wasn’t all in the bedroom. We did some drums and some bass tracks in a tiny shed in Coogee, just to get the ball rolling; but then we came back to the bedroom to do all the guitars and vocals and keys, and all the kinda creative stuff. But, when Mason (Matthew Mason-guitar) and I were doing the guitars in my bedroom, you know, you’ve got the amp right there, and you’ve got your little laptop, and you’re like, ‘Well, I think that sounds good…’ But you can’t really hear it because you’ve got the amp blaring three metres away.

Right.

It was kinda fun to do that for that record, kind of appropriate, I think. But working with Kim (Moyes) and going to a proper studio, it wasn’t better or worse, it was just different. Maybe it was a bit easier though, easier on us.

And easier on your neighbours, too.

Oh, yeah. There’s a song called ‘Blown Away’ on Hills End, and Tommy (O’Dell-lead vocals) played drums on it. We got about thirty seconds into the take, and the bloody hairdresser down the street complained about the noise…

Oh, no.

Yeah, and he got me kicked out.

Out of where, your house?

My house! I’d been living there for six years.

No shit.

Yeah, but we used the take anyway, so it was all good.

Johnny Took, guitar

I got a friend who lived in an apartment building somewhere… Boston, I think… and there were these kids upstairs from him who were always rehearsing. Really loud. But he never complained because he’d run into them on the stairs occasionally and they were always really friendly. This was in the 80s…

Yeah?

Anyway, turns out they were The Pixies!

Woah!

How random is that?

That’s great. I love when shit like that happens.

Anyway, that hairdresser won’t be able to tell a cool story like that because he was a dick. He’ll be kicking himself.

Nah, he didn’t want anything to do with us.

So, you guys have played Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds, Coachella, Lollapalooza… You’re a seasoned touring band now, right? You’re not amateurs.

Well, we’re still amateurs in some ways.

How?

I think we’re still amateurs because we know what to do to make touring better and to be healthier, but we’re not quite doing it yet. It’s like, ‘Okay, I know I can do this and do this, and it’s going make my touring life easier…’

Right, so what’s the hold up?

Look, I reckon we’ll implement it next record or something.

That’s what Motley Crüe always say.

Yeah, well, we’re getting better, I think.

Have you got the rider down to fruit and coconut water?

No, not really.

What’s on the rider these days?

Our rider used to be like cheese and cured meats and stuff, but we’ve kind of fucked all that stuff off.

No more cheese.

No more smelly cheese. It’s maybe cool for, like, the crew and stuff when you first get in, but after the gigs done, no one wants stinky-ass cheese, you know what I mean?

Yeah, that sounds awful.

Like, hanging around the green room with some prosciutto…

And a big block of Stilton.

Yeah. It’s like, fuck off; get it out of here. So now it actually is fruit, and a couple of cases of beer; so, you know, all good.

Tommy O’Dell, vocals and drums

I was listening to the new album again today, and, tell me if I’m wrong, but does Tommy’s voice sound even better? He already had an amazing voice, but now it sounds like it’s getting better.

It totally is, man. Definitely. Also, I think the thing was, we didn’t have a producer on our first album–we just produced it ourselves, and there’s a real art to recording vocals. Like, with Hills End, we’d record the vocals, and Tommy and I would look at each other and be like, ‘That sounded pretty good; that’ll do.’ Do you know what I mean?

Yeah, yeah. So, having Kim Moyes producing the new album made a huge difference in that respect.

Yeah, Kim is really good and really quick when it comes to recognizing the best parts of a take and then comping it together.

So, taking the best parts of multiple takes and then patching them together for the perfect take.

That’s right, man. And doing it quickly. Kim has an amazing ear for what’s good, you know? He’s cool.

Are you guys still in other bands?

No, not really, not at the moment. Although, I do have a band with my brother.

What’s it called?

Big Time.

How often do Big Time get to play?

Oh, we’ve only played one gig.

How was it?

It was cool, man. Yeah. It was good.

What’s the Big Time sound?

It’s kind of like Wilco meets The Jesus And Mary Chain, if you can imagine that.

Yeah, I think I can hear that.

Can you hear it?

Yeah, I like it. So, where are you guys right now, Calais?

Well, last night we got the ferry from Calais and played the Hurricane and Southside festival, and now we’re in South Hampton. So, we’ve got South Hampton tonight, Exeter tomorrow, Reading the day after, and then that show with Liam (Gallagher. Duh) at Finsbury Park Friday.

Man, I wish I was talking to you after the support gig with Liam so I could ask about meeting him.

Oh, we met him before.

Is he cool?

He’s heaps cool, man. He just, like, loves music and shit, and he’s really funny.

And he digs DMA’s. It must be awesome to get the nod from someone like Liam.

Yeah, totally. I think when anyone from your industry is into what you’re doing and, you know, gives you the thumbs up, it’s pretty cool.

Yeah, but Liam Gallagher; there’s not much he actually likes, as far as I can tell. He always seems to be shit-canning something, so having his endorsement must be even better.

Oh yeah, man, absolutely. I mean, it could’ve been horrible.

Had it gone the other way, you mean?

Yeah. That would’ve been horrible.

Matt Mason, guitar

What are the band doing when they’re not working? Let’s start with Tommy, what’s he doing on his days off?

Tommy usually just watches football and hangs out with his mates that don’t play music.

What about you?

I just sit on the couch and watch Netflix. But I feel pretty guilty when I do that.

Why?

I just feel guilty I’m not writing.

Really?

Yeah, I mean, we’re already thinking about our third record because, you know, there’s a lot of luck in this game–and obviously a lot of hard work, but still… People say music is timing in more ways than one, and if you’ve been given this opportunity, you’d be a fool to piss it up against the wall, y’know?

Right, right.

And it’s kind of inspiring. It’s like, hey, I’ve been given the chance to do this for real, you know? And especially with this third record, if we can make a great third record it could really cement a career for us.

That sounds like a good way to approach it. So how far off is that Porsche, if you don’t mind me asking?

Man, I don’t know if you can get rich in this game anymore–unless you’re some mad rapper or something. It’s not the time for guitars. But that’s alright. Look, we don’t have to have second jobs now which is really cool, and we don’t lead extravagant lives, so it kind of works for us.

Last question: What was your second job and did you go out in a blaze of glory?

No, nothing like that. I was just doing sort of odd jobs; working in bottle shops, I built stages for a bit, played cover gigs around Sydney… That was when I met Mason. He was playing three or four cover gigs a week, and he mentioned to me that he wanted everything he did and all the money he made to be through music, even if it wasn’t crazy great. Just playing cover gigs and getting by like that. And I think that’s when it changed for me, like, my perspective on music changed. The moment you decide music is number one and is going to be everything you do, and all the money you’re going to make is going to be through music…

That was the turning point.

Yeah, man. That’s kinda when it changed for me. It was really cool, Mason teaching me that.

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