The background story to DMA’s is certainly worth delving deeper into. Despite building up a remarkable global following in recent years, the Australian outfit enjoyed no overnight success. Singer Tommy spent ten years working as a painter and decorator, while the band’s lead guitarist, Mason, learnt his craft playing in pubs around the world. “Mason and [DMA’s live drummer] Liam used to tour around Europe, playing six-hour cover gigs. They literally wouldn’t repeat a song. I think they were trying to replicate what the Beatles did in Hamburg,” he laughs. Nonetheless, their commitment to performing and command of popular music made a mark on Johnny. “When I met them, I was like, ‘how the fuck am I going to get as good as that?’ They knew their instruments so well.”
Soon after, Johnny and his brother began playing cover sets around Sydney. “I learnt the slide guitar, he learnt the banjo. We put Springsteen in the set – ‘Dancing in the Dark’ – which was pretty cool to play on the slide guitar!” The lessons learnt through those cover gigs – both the practice of soaking up popular music and the immense amount of playing hours encouraged – are something that Johnny would recommend to any young musician. “Those gigs really taught us a lot,” he reflects.
I pick up on the mention of a slide guitar take on ‘Dancing in the Dark’, which sounds pretty good to me. After DMA’s cover of Cher’s ‘Believe’ for the Australian radio station Triple J went viral in 2017, I suggest to Johnny that the band should reimagine the Springsteen classic next: “I’d be so into that!” he replies. “Although, I don’t know if Triple J would be; they’d probably want something more modern…”
Johnny thanks his father for his early avenues of musical exploration. “My dad was a roadie, back in the day. He toured with Tom Waits, Neil Young, Kiss – he did a whole bunch of shit.” Johnny’s dad built up a respectable record collection over those years. “That’s how I got into some really inspiring artists as a kid – I’d just grab a random CD off the rack and see what it sounded like.” Thankfully, he doesn’t disappoint when I ask if he’d heard any stories from his dad’s roadie years. “Yeah man, he was on the Crazy Horse tour with Neil Young! At the end of the tour, Neil had everyone from the crew back to his ranch and they would all celebrate with a six-week holiday. Neil always treats his crew so well, you know.”
Like so many others, Johnny discovered the British guitar bands that DMA’s are so strongly associated with during his teens. “I had a group of mates who got me into Oasis, The Stone Roses, and Blur when I was about sixteen,” Johnny remembers. “Our singer, Tommy, had an older brother who would be always pumping the Oasis stuff. That’s how he got into it. But outside of those small pockets of friends, we didn’t know anyone else listening to this stuff.”
Living in Sydney, Johnny and his bandmates had to dig around to embrace all things Mancunian – something the internet came in handy for. “When you’re first getting into something new and living so far away, it’s such a useful tool. It’s giving you more access to music that you might not be able to get into. That’s the age when you start playing as a band as well; I met Tommy then – he was the drummer and I was the bass player in a band called Underlights. We listened to heaps and heaps of British music,” he reminisces. “Jesus and Mary Chain, man, they’re probably my favourite ever guitar band.”
Listening to the DMA’s guitarist share his passion for anything from country to dance, the diverse influences that complement his band’s love for Oasis become clear. Johnny writes every day, valuing the importance of creative curiosity. He mentions the possibility of “more punkier sounds, guitar-wise” in future DMA’s music, but also his growing personal fascination with the electronic world. “I’m loving it. It’s just so different to all that I’ve done before; coming from bluegrass and country, then guitar bands. I feel like you need to never stop learning, with anything in life really. It’s a whole new world for me – and I’m having a fuckin’ ball.”
If you could travel back in time, would you catch Bob Dylan before or after he went electric? Both! I love it all. Dylan goes electric, and people are all like, “Woah, what’s he doing?” He’s a fuckin’ artist, just let him grow.
Favourite Stone Roses track? ‘Begging You’ at the moment, from their Second Coming album. I put it in my DJ set, it’s a total rave.
Best tip for jet lag management? I’ve tried the partying through tactic – when you stay up until your new time zone’s midnight, or whatever. But then you’re just getting wasted and you feel like shit the next morning anyway, so that one isn’t a great help…There are so many myths, but I don’t think any really work. I just take a few natural sleeping pills to get me through.
Christmas by the beach or by the fire? Oh! Well, you know what, all my life I’ve done Christmas by the beach, so I’ll have to say that. But this is gonna be my first Christmas by the fire with my girlfriend in Edinburgh. I’m excited to be in Scotland for the festive season – Hogmanay and all that. Maybe this’ll be my first white Christmas.
What’s your go-to pair of sunglasses? The last pair that I got are Vogue sunnies – the Gigi Hadid ones. They’re good lenses too, which you kind of have to have in Australia. It’s a shame that people don’t get to wear sunnies as much in the UK.
What’s the last item of clothing you bought? I just picked up a fisherman’s hat from Leith Market, down by the shore in Edinburgh. That’s pretty cool. I wore it for the MTV Unplugged set we just recorded.
The DMA’s play O2 Academy in Sheffield on 16 December.
Words: Jamie Haworth
In association with www.sivtickets.com, the local box office.