DMA's interview: 'We're pretty straight up dudes.'

Marko Kutlesa caught up with guitarist Johnny Took, as the Australian outfit look forward to a slot at Liverpool Sound City in May, and talked about the Gallaghers, Cher covers and plenty more.

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 15th Mar 2018.
Originally published: 8th Mar 2018

Image: DMA's (credit)

DMA's are a rock band from Sydney who, through their near constant touring, have captured the hearts of European audiences since they released their self titled EP in 2014.

They now tour as a six piece, but the original trio of Matt Mason, Tommy O'Dell and Johnny Took have earned themselves a reputation for writing ballads and rocks songs that hold a touch of country influence and also that of British guitar bands like Oasis. They also have a reputation for being really nice guys to work with. 

They released their debut album 'Hills End' in 2016 but DMA's have a new album For Now released on 27th April. Prior to a forthcoming European tour, which kicks off late April and continues throughout May, taking in appearances at Liverpool Sound City. Marko Kutlesa caught up with Johnny Took to talk influences, controversy and, inevitably, Oasis.

Hi Johnny!

Hi! Can you hear me OK?

Yeah. It's a little noisy in the background, sounds like you're in a hotel lobby.

I'm in a bar.

It's a bit early for that, isn't it?

It's 10 o'clock at night, dude. I've just had my dinner.

Oh, right! I thought you were currently here in the UK.

Ha! No, we're in Australia, but we're coming back there soon.

Got you. I know you guys had different musical projects before starting DMA's, but what other jobs were you doing before you started the band? 

Tommy had been a painter for like ten years. His brother's a painter and his dad's a painter. Not like Van Gogh shit. Office blocks and stuff. I was doing random jobs, I was building stages for a while, I was working in pubs. Towards the end, Mason and me were doing cover gigs around Sydney.

Can we talk a bit about your influences? I can hear some country and bluegrass influences in your sound, especially when you play acoustic. And in your acoustic version of 'Step Up The Morphine' you play like a slide guitar called a Dobro. What are your country music influences and where did you get those from?

I grew up listening to Bob Dylan and also some really cliché country music, later I got into Neil Young and stuff like that. That's how Mason and me first met, we were playing in a country band together. He taught me how to play Dobro. At the same time I was writing music with Tommy which I guess was more in that British vibe. So, we met up and just kind of blended the flavours together. 

Do you all have the same influences? 

No, no. It's all very different. I come from more of a folky/country kind of vibe. Tommy's dad is a Scouser and Tommy's older brother was playing lots of Blur and Oasis when he was growing up. Mason's more into Pavement, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, American guitar rock stuff.

Is there a point where your tastes overlap, like, someone that each of you can say that you love, who you could play on the tour bus without anyone complaining?

Yeah, probably Bruce Springsteen. He's a favourite of all of us. And Bob Dylan too. 

In the video to your latest single 'In The Air' the sky is so grey it looks just like where I'm from, Manchester in the UK. 

Yeah, it probably is.

I thought it was always supposed to be sunny down under?

Ah, no, we filmed that in the UK. 

Where did you film it?

Around Wembley. We asked our old friend Errol, who did the video for 'Timeless' and 'Step Up The Morphine', to do it for us. We kinda wanted that simplicity and the beauty of the greyness. It assisted the soul of the track. 

When I first heard you sing in your debut single “Don't delete my baby” I thought, fuck, they're singing a sweet ballad about abortion! Only later I realised it's about deleting someone from social media. Thank goodness you didn't begin your career with the band on such a controversial lyric! But what is the most controversial thing that's happened to the band?

I don't know, man. Mainly some of the press talking shit, saying stuff that isn't true. We're pretty straight up dudes. We don't think about that stuff. We're not trying to rock the table politically or anything like that, even though we are all personally aware of it. We're just writing love songs, offering a bit of escapism from stuff like that. We didn't really think about that. That song wasn't written about that. I think the beauty of music is that anyone can make their own interpretation of it.

Who's the best band you've supported and who's the best band who has supported you?

Well, we haven't really supported many bands. We supported The Courteeners when we first came to the UK which was pretty amazing. To be honest I hadn't heard of them before, but they had such a great pull, their fans were so loyal and really beautiful. That was amazing for us. They were such nice guys. It was the same with The Kooks. We got the experience of playing some really big venues, arenas and stuff we really hadn't done before. 

My brother's band is supporting us in the upcoming tour. They're called Planet. They're a great band. I think it's cool that we're coming over to the UK and there's going to be two international bands playing.

There are only three DMAs, but when you perform there are more than three guys on stage. Who are these mysterious figures? Is it always the same ones?

Yeah, it's a six piece. It's changed a bit over the years, but over the last couple of years we've had the same line up and it's stuck partly because it's the best line up that we've ever had. The drummer is Liam Hoskins. He's been best friends with Matt Mason since they were like five years old. Our bass player, Tom Crandles, who also plays in a band called Au.Ra, him and me have been friends since we were eleven. Joel Flyger, who's the guitarist, is mates with Crandles.

Basically what I love about this DMAs line up is that we've got three other guys playing with us but they're nothing like session musicians, they're mates of ours. We've not hired some sterile sounding session guy to try and come in a put a vibe down, these guys are our friends, they're into the music and we have the best time touring together.

Like a lot of people, I watched the video where you covered 'Believe' by Cher. Whose idea was that and why did you choose that song? 

It was Mason's idea. He started playing it as a joke at the soundcheck to a live gig in Berlin. We just kind of all joined in one by one and when Tommy started singing it on the mic we all kind of just looked at each other. We were like, wow, that fits your key pretty well, man. 

Do you have a second favourite Cher song?

Nah.

If you were invited on the show again, what cover would you choose to do next time?

Well, we've talked about that. We'll probably just keep ignoring them and never do it again, ha! It probably couldn't get any better. You sometimes fluke that shit. Like, it's only going to be worse if we try it again, right?

You've been mentioned a few times in the same breath as Oasis. Have you ever met Noel or Liam?

I've never met Noel. Liam came to one of our gigs for This Feeling in the UK. We ended up playing early because he wanted to catch the kick off of the Manchester derby which was the same night. It was cool. We played, he's into the tunes, he liked the songs. Then we ended up going to a pub in north London, watching the match with him, talking about music, hanging out with his son.

You meet other musicians and you want to talk about music, this and that. It was all very easy, to be honest. Sometimes you might worry about if you meet someone who you've put on a pedestal, but it's like when you meet the in-laws and you realise they were once three year olds. You're just a bunch of kids who want to talk about music and it's cool.

Now that they both have their own solo careers, are you more fans of Noel or Liam's solo work?

Hmmm. I don't know. I think Liam did pretty damn well with that last record. Really well. And good on him, he deserves it. If you're Liam Gallagher, damn straight you should have some of the best songwriters contributing to your material. 

People who want to do music, I can't rinse or say anything bad about anyone who wants to do music. The world's so subjective. If anyone thinks that their one type of music is the only thing that makes this fucking world go round, then you're full of yourself, you're an ignorant piece of shit. Fuck that.

The fact that Liam's still singing and that Noel's still writing tunes, well, what were they supposed to do when they hit their 40s? You don't just tell an amazing songwriter like Noel Gallagher that he can't write songs any more. It's in your blood. You're born to do that shit. So, I support anyone who's writing, recording or performing music. It would be audacious of me not to. 

I have one other question where I'm going to try and force you to be subjective: ACDC, Crowded House or The Wiggles?

Ha! Crowded House, for sure.

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