“We wanted to do something different for us”: An interview with DMA’s guitarist Johnny Took
DMA’s are a three-piece rock band formed in 2012 in Sydney, Australia. The band is made up of Tommy O’Dell (lead vocals), Matt Mason (lead guitar, backing vocals), and Johnny Took (acoustic guitar). They have released three albums: Hills End (2016), For Now (2018), and the upcoming album The Glow (to be released in July 2020).
We caught up with Took ahead of the band’s show at the O2 Academy on the 6th of March. We spoke about the new direction of their latest album, their musical inspiration and creative process, and the song Life is A Game of Changing.
Hi, Johnny. Congratulations on the new album.
Hey, thank you. Have you had a listen to it?
Yeah, I really enjoyed Life is A Game of Changing.
Nice, nice. Thank you very much.
Could you tell me a little about what inspired the album?
I don’t know. I guess really it was just like… it was just where we were at with what songs we had. You know, there were a lot of songs that we’ve been holding on to for years that we’ve never properly finished. But I guess overall the album is generally about changing and how people cope with change and how it’s fine. When I was writing my parts of it, I was living in Edinburgh for a time. I had never lived out of Sydney before. You know, all those kinds of things, which is nice. And I guess we wanted to incorporate some more electronic themes after doing two pretty guitar-heavy records – obviously it’s still a guitar record, this last one, but we definitely wanted to get some more synths and stuff in. And [producer] Stuart Price was a good person to kind of help us with our interests, working around with those kind of sounds, which is cool.
What was it like working with Stuart Price and what direction did your music take with him on board?
Well, I guess he’s really cool ’cause he’s based down in LA and he’s great at making big pop records, obviously. And he has dance experience working with Pet Shop Boys, New Order and Madonna and stuff. He was just really calm and cool, and such a creative person. Yeah, just a really easy person to show your music to. We did leave room in the songs, you know, to change and to add riffs and to add melodies and that kind of stuff, and he was just really fast – you know when you have an idea – at picking it and working on it and that kind of thing, which was pretty amazing. For example, the riff in Game of Changing was a vocal melody that Mason had, and then we tried to play along on the guitar and then it ended up as an arpeggiated synth part. Little things like that were pretty special.
You mentioned you were in Edinburgh before you made the album. Did that impact it at all?
I guess for me the verse and the chorus for Life is A Game of Changing I wrote about living in Edinburgh and moving away. And I was walking around the city a lot, listening to Underworld and Chemical Brothers and Soulwax and things like that, and listening to different electronic artists. But still listening to Wilko [Johnston] and [Bruce] Springsteen and, you know, trying to still stay focused on classic songwriters that we’ve always been so fond of, but maybe [thinking] how you can incorporate elements of electronic stuff. I guess for me that’s what I was doing… you know… We always just keep writing, even if it’s just a memo from when you’re walking down the street and an idea comes into your head from more formulated songs. We’re always just trying to work with melody and good vibey songs.
Bruce Springsteen is someone you’ve mentioned before that all the band members agree on as an inspiration. Are there any new ones added to that list – with Springsteen and Bob Dylan?
The Chemical Brothers, definitely. But we just play pop music, you know? All different types of pop music. We very much could have taken this last record [in the direction of] an unplugged record or something like that, and I think it still would have been a good record, just different, you know what I mean? Or we could have done it more similar to our first or second [albums], but we didn’t really want to do that… we wanted to work with [Australian producer] Scott Horscroft on those first two songs and Stuart for the rest of the record, and try and do something different for us.
Life is A Game of Changing is a very different sound to what fans have come to identify as DMA’s. I’ve noticed many people say it has a Pet Shop Boys sound. What do you say to that?
I’m into that. That’s cool. That makes me happy. But you know, it’s obviously going to sound like different things, but I guess we just went in there with these basic kind of song structures and just wanted to have fun with them. I guess it kind of makes sense as well that Stuart had worked with New Order and Pet Shop Boys, which a lot of people say it kind of reminds them of, which is cool.
This video was set in Thailand. What is it like to have a music video in which you don’t feature at all?
Yeah… it’s really nice. I like collaborating with different artists, and we’ve worked with Bill [Bleakley, the director] before, so it was kind of like… it was nice to kind of give someone the creative control on that and I think it’s a nice way to collaborate with people in that regard.
What made you decide to set the video in Thailand?
It was a couple of things. It was like the idea of the director, he had a friend who he went to art school or film school with and he kind of organised to do that with him, which is cool, and also a friend of Mason’s who he’d been in contact with on the internet, I think, who was into DMA’s who was from Thailand and who features in the clip as well.
You say that you’re not political as a band but this act of the Thai people in the video being spoken for is in my opinion a very political act. What do you think was the message of the song that you are trying to convey?
I think they were just kind of, they were just putting together a story and incorporating parts of their everyday life, so there was a bit of story in there which was cool. I think he did a good job. I think everyone had a good time making it, which is cool.
So, you’ve got the upcoming gig in London at Brixton Academy which is sold out ahead of the 6th, and your December 2018 tour was also sold out at O2 Forum. Are you excited for such a reception in London?
Yeah, we are actually. It’s going to be really great. We played at this venue when we first came over to the UK supporting The Courteeners, so to come back and be able to headline is pretty cool. It’s such an amazing venue.
Thank you very much, Johnny. Have a good day.
Photo: Mike Garnell
For further information about DMA’s visit their website here.
Watch the video for Life is a Game of Changing here: