DMA’s guitarist Johnny Took discusses the Aussie band’s origins and influences, as well as the vision behind their more refined sophomore album.
Johnny Took is enjoying a change of scene…
“We played in Edinburgh with Kasabian back in August before heading on tour for a while,” he tells me. “When I came back, my girlfriend had found a job here and we sorted out an apartment. Man, Edinburgh’s pretty cool. I’ve never lived anywhere quite like it.”
The guitarist grew up in Sydney, where he and his good friends Tommy O’Dell (vocals) and Matt Mason (lead guitar) formed the rock band DMA’s in 2012. “It’s good for creativity to change things up a bit,” he says. “My old room back home has turned into Mason’s studio, so he’s happy. Plus, the band’s doing a lot of stuff in the UK over the next few months – it’s good to stick around.”
He’s not wrong there: DMA’s embark on another sold-out UK tour this month, as they attempt to satiate the British demand for their Aussie ode to Britpop. The band’s debut album, Hills End, came packed with melodies and recognisable riffs that formed the basis for euphoric live shows. The follow-up record, For Now, gained positive reviews after its release earlier this year; fans and newcomers alike were quickly lapping up its selection of anthemic tunes on the summer festival circuit. The new album – declared “biblical” by Liam Gallagher – also represented a chance for the band to broaden their sound. Ahead of DMA’s sold-out show at the O2 Academy in Sheffield this December, Exposed spoke to Johnny about the band’s drive to improve and some intriguing musical origins.
I start off by asking Johnny for his and the band’s reflections on For Now, six months down the line from its release. “Yeah man, we’re loving it. It’s cool because we’re still bringing new songs from it into the setlist.” The Australian is sincere. “Dude, it’s been really nice with this record just seeing it grow. Once you get to about half a year after the album release, people have had time to get to grips with it. At least, that’s what I’ve found with my favourite albums; you gain a deeper understanding of where the band was coming from.” Johnny identifies the second record as an important moment in a band’s development. “It makes it a lot easier for fans to grow closer to you. It gives a bit more depth to the whole project in general.”
For Now finds DMA’s in a new phase of their musical progression; one that would have made any attempt to recreate the raw DIY sound that shaped their debut album seem forced. “Hills End was cool because it was just us working it out. We fucking recorded the thing in my bedroom, you know what I mean?” This time around, the band wanted something more polished. Kim Moyes, from Sydney-based electronica duo The Presets, came on board to guide DMA’s in the studio. Johnny credits the producer for the album’s “fuller” sound – “he made things a bit more refined, something that I think needed to happen.”
For Now’s tidy finish is perhaps most clearly exhibited on the immediately catchy track, ‘Warsaw’. It’s an oldie – Johnny remembers it as “one of the first songs I wrote” – but the song matured into its final form in the studio. As usual, the band recorded the song’s bass, drums and acoustic together. Johnny and Mason then set up their guitars and pedal boards, producing two distinct electric takes. “It was the first time we’d done that,” Johnny says. “Two completely different sounds – through different amps, pedals and shit – played at the same time. Doing that gave the song so much more depth.”
“When you’re young,” Johnny explains, “you kind of chuck as many overdriven guitars in as you can. You know, ‘MORE GUITARS, YEAH! MORE PEDALS!’ We were really conscious of making the guitars purposeful this time, not just putting them in for the sake of it. Plus, because we were recording in slightly better studios, we didn’t need to drown out the record; you can hear the instruments clearly anyway.”
Johnny’s favourite song off the album? “That’d probably be ‘Tape Deck Sick’,” he decides. “Mason wrote that one. It sounds a bit different to all the other tunes and really seems to resonate. I also think ‘The End’ shows another angle to us. It’s maybe even a little bit Eighties.” Talking to the guitarist, it becomes clear that DMA’s approached For Now as an opportunity to display their full range of influences; the bassline to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Racing in the Street’, for instance, underpins ‘Time & Money’. Johnny stresses his admiration for The Boss as he alludes to his folk and country-tinged youth: “He’s probably my favourite ever songwriter, dude.”