The DMA’s success cannot be overstated. This October, the Australian band will headline Alexandra Palace in London which holds over 10,000 people. Their forthcoming third album entitled The Glow serves as their long-anticipated follow-up to their critically-acclaimed sophomore album For Now. The Glow unquestionably sees the three-piece expand the scope of their sound, with their latest single “Learning Alive” serving as a testament to their sonic evolution.
While that sonic shift might come as shock to some, the band’s ability to create anthemic and resonant music is showing no signs of waning. Already released tracks such as “Sliver” and “The Glow” have been welcomingly received by the band’s ardent fanbase. That warm reception might partly due to the band’s ability to stand off the shoulders of the musical giants that have preceded them while still bringing a refreshingly innovative streak to the table.
We caught up with the band’s lead guitarist Johnny Took to discuss the band’s upcoming third album, their sonic evolution, and the incredible story behind their wildly successful “Believe” cover.
To get the obvious out of the way, how was lockdown been for you? It’s been good. I’m got my own studio here, so I’ve been able to self-isolate and still get a lot done. At the moment, Australia is kind of back to normal, the pubs are open, and gigs are still happening. I guess like everything’s getting back to normal. But one thing about isolation and stuff is because there’s no gigs going on a lot of artists I know have been collaborating.
So I’ve just been working on heaps of different genres of music and working with other people who I usually wouldn’t be working with. I don’t think if lockdown hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be doing either. People have much more open to collaboration and working all different kinds of people because people need to fill their time.
It’s obviously been delayed but you were playing Alexandra Palace this year, how does it feel to be playing such an iconic and huge venues? I’m not too content with the idea of it until it sells out, to be honest. I think maybe I’ll start celebrating and patting myself on the back when it sells out. Until then I don’t really feel anything about it because if you don’t really sell at a venue then you shouldn’t have booked it. I’m gonna wait until it sells out before I fucking crack the champagne open.
I saw the intense videos from your headline show at Brixton, how does it feel to meet with such a crazy reaction? It was fucking psycho but with our in-ear monitors, I can’t hear anything. With all the videos and stuff like that, I stay away from watching them, to be honest.
The album starts with “Never Before,” why did that feel like the right track to start with? It’s well known in our like party that I stay clear of writing set lists and album tracklists. In my opinion, all the songs are on there and it doesn’t really to me it doesn’t matter what order they’re in. I think “Never Before” definitely belongs on the record. It’s quite a big throwback to where we started musically and it’s absolutely a homage to where we started. It’s sort of got that real sort of brit-poppy swag about it. So I think that’s why it’s on the album, but I couldn’t tell you why it’s the first song.
Out of the unreleased album tracks, which ones you most excited for people to hear? Actually “Learning Alive,” which was released a couple of weeks ago, is my favorite song off of the album so I was really happy that it got released as a sort of unofficial single. The last song on the album “Cobracaine” is really special to me. I actually wrote it about 12 years ago and I’ve been wanting to get that song out since I wrote it. I’m pretty eager to get that out.
How comes it ended up being on this project as opposed to some of your earlier work? I always wanted it to be an electronic song and we haven’t really had the ability to do that properly until we worked with Stuart Price. So, I was sort of saving it until the perfect moment. Often when we would when we record albums with a producer, we have a SoundCloud link that has probably got about 100 plus songs on it.
We give the producer that link and they then pick the songs that they connect with the most off of that link. I think that’s smart because then we’re going to get a better result out of it. Like then they’ll be songs that the producer has personally chosen that they think that they could work well with.
I guess they just didn’t get picked before that. The song on this record called “Round and Around” has been recorded the four times and it has been picked for each record so far, but when we recorded it just sounded shit so it never actually made the cut. The first three times we recorded it didn’t sound good, not good at all actually. So, this was like its last chance. I think if we recorded it, and it was too bad to be put on the record, and I do not think it would have gotten another chance.
I’m super intrigued about the dynamic with the like SoundCloud link approach. Like what’s the dialogue that occurs? Do you literally just say take a listen and take your pick? Yeah, it’s totally up to them. I don’t care which ones they pick because I like all the songs.
Is like handing over the songs to someone else and the whole process more freeing in a sense? Yes, absolutely. When we recorded our first EP, we did it at home. If there was a technical problem like the headphones not working or something, it was all up to us. Everything was up to us. At the time, that’s all we knew so we were cool with it. But looking back on it, and like the freedom that we get now and the fact that we were not responsible for any technical problems or anything like that, is quite freeing.
It really allows you to focus on just melodies and guitar parts and stuff and not have to worry about making other decisions. So yeah, having someone else make those decisions for you and allowing you to focus on just like little guitar parts and stuff like that is very freeing, and it helps the creative process flow.
What are the biggest changes you’ve noticed within the band over the last few years? And how has like the live show getting bigger like influenced your sound? Yeah, the will the live shows are getting bigger. We’ve always wanted to do that though. It’s not something that we’re like only recently wanting to do. It’s just that we have a bigger budget now and we can do the things that we’ve always wanted to do, you know? When we were on tour in the UK, and we were playing to fucking 30 people in Manchester. We were carrying our own amps and setting up our own microphones and shit. We’re probably pretty tired too. So like, you know, setting up extra keyboards and having all these other instruments and shit, even though we probably wanted to do that at the time, wasn’t feasible. We were completely responsible for ourselves and we only had one guitar tech that was doing the drums and everything.
We’ve always wanted to do these things but now we have the ability and the production and the crew to pull it off.
Where do you think you’re going to go next now you’ve got that freedom of like having the budget and stuff? We have the ability to do whatever we want really. We can just say like this or that and it’ll just be there on the stage. So, we’ll see. I just think maybe just more electronic stuff. I don’t think it’ll get like too different but we’ll probably just make things sound bigger and epic through adding in like synthesizers, sequences, and more percussion.
What was the experience of traveling overseas and like playing small venues in the UK for the first time? I’ve seen videos of it and old photos and stuff, and I guess there’s like a bit of a romantic aspect of like going overseas. We were a lot younger than as well, man. I think I look back on it quite fondly but then if I think about how I actually felt at the time, we all felt like shit all the time because we were just drinking so much.
We just partying every night. If people are fans of the band, you know, then they’ll say, “oh, come back to my house I’m having people over and stuff,” and that happens every night without rest for a month. You started to just die. As fun as it was, we don’t really remember much of it. Also, to be honest, I think the gigs were pretty shit.
So much has changed for you in the like six years since that time and before lockdown, you were obviously so busy with touring, how did you stay grounded and sane? At the start, we were just partying the same at home. We’d all lose our voices and a massive part of our band is that Tommy has this amazing singing voice. We’d go on the town and all smoke like a pack of ciggies and the night day he couldn’t even sing. We were playing these little clubs and we were turning our amps up so much and we couldn’t like hear anything.
We are a lot more professional now. I think even though there was sort of a sense of freedom back then and we were a lot younger, but I think now we have a lot more fun on tour now. There’s so much less stress.
Do you ever get used to playing these absolutely massive crowds? Yeah, that’s completely normal now. We used to go into a little green room and all huddle together in this tiny fucking room with like one couch in there. That was normal but now it’s kind of normal for us to have our own green rooms and shit like that. Bigger venues are good. We’ve played some arenas before and I think the only thing I can complain about is that you just get lost in them all the time. You play a different one every night like they were they’re pretty tricky to get around backstage. If you play a different one every night, those turn into one big blur and you can really get lost. It’s hard to get around. I guess that’s kind of actually like a shitty thing to say.
How does it feel supporting compared to playing headling? It’s a lot different. You certainly don’t make the rules when you’re supporting someone else. If it’s your gig, you can walk around and no one is like constantly questions like, where are you going? Supporting Liam Gallagher in an arena was a humbling experience in a way because we couldn’t just do what we felt like. Also, ever since that bombing in Manchester, there were so many precautions and checks. They had sniffer dogs like on his tour, like the same people every day, searching the venue’s out for bombs. No one was allowed to go anywhere and if he was in transit, no one could be walking around and gentle. Like, the security was just next level.
I was reading an interview where you mentioned you all have different influences. How do you go about combining them as a group? Pretty naturally to be honest. We’ll sit around in a room and throw ideas out. I don’t think anyone askes where the ideas come from, it’s just like if someone calls out an idea that we like then we’ll add it in. Everyone that’s putting in ideas to a song that will come in from different places and different influences. We’ll just be sitting in a room and someone will be like, “Hey, what about this melody?” You know? It can be super interesting because their take can be coming from a genre of music that they’re very heavily influenced by.
“Sliver” was the first track you put out from the album. What did feel like the first track to start the campaign with? That’s completely a label thing. Like even if we wanted to argue and adjust the order, they’d listen to us but in the end, they’d have their way. To be honest, I don’t think bands such have too much of a say in that stuff because I do think labels do know what they’re talking about when it comes to that sort of stuff. I don’t think that they should tell a band how to mix a song, what lyrics to write or anything creative, but when it comes to ordering, they have a big plan that they’ve worked months to formulate.
Have you always had that like level of confidence and trust in your label and the label system? So, we signed to an independent record label from London called Infectious Records. If you’re a band and you’re worried about that sort of stuff just make sure you sign with the right label, then you don’t have to worry. At the end of the day, labels probably spend more time thinking about the best plan of attack and you’ve just got to trust them.
Your cover of “Believe” has been so popular, why do you think it’s resonated with so many people? I have no idea but I can tell you a story about it. There’s this thing in Australia called Like A Version and it’s really cool. It’s like a proving ground and if you fuck it up, you’ve kind of ruined your chances in Australia. Basically, we approached them with a cover we wanted to do and then they turned it down. Then they turned down our next seven song ideas after that. It was an ongoing process that stretched out over months. They finally agreed to that Cher cover but we sort of just put that idea forward as a joke.
I can emulate that autotune sound really well so I used to just sit in the studio and sing it as a fucking joke. After we kept getting rejected, we’re like fuck what other covers do we know? And I was like, “I know we used to sing as a joke, but the song actually fucking slaps.” Then Triple J agreed with it. I think anything Tommy sings is really good but I’ve no idea what resonated.
I think people always joke about how in the clip about how we looked. Like we look strange but sing really nice and I think that’s one of the reasons that kind of resonated with people because people would take one look at us and then not expect for that to come out. I think that’s like some Susan Boyle shit. We’re like the Susan Boyles of Australia.
Those Like A Version’s are so good. It’s like a less pretentious Radio 1 Live Lounge. There are so many incredible ones. Yeah, Triple J don’t take them themselves too seriously so it’s cool. There’re some amazing ones on there and some shit ones. We’ve actually been asked to do it again but we don’t want to in case we fuck it up.
There’s that amazing Childish Gambino “So Into You” cover, that’s absolutely unreal. There’s a strange story about that. 10 minutes before he did that, the band had never played it before. That was the first time they ever played. With our “Believe” cover as well, that was the third time we’d ever played it properly. We just like properly learned it that morning before we went in. It’s got like 20 million plays on Spotify now which is ridiculous.
Obviously you do so many interviews, and like a lot of interviewers always want to delve into the meanings behind songs. How do you feel about like providing meaning behind songs? Like are you apprehensive about doing that? I think it depends on the song. There’s one on the album that’s written about something really horrible that happened to a very close friend of my mum. I told her about it and I said like, “Hey, I’ve written this song.” She said if they found out that you’d written like a rock and roll song about this fucked up thing that all these people are gonna hear, they would be mortified. So never tell anyone what that song is about. Then there are songs that I’ve written about things that I’ve just made up. I think every songwriter does that; It’s like a little story. I’ll talk about those but I won’t talk about things that I’ve written, that are very personal about people that I know because I might not want them doing that. It’s probably not fair to them too to let everyone know about them.
What are you most excited for? Like I said before, I’ve been working on so many different projects with loads of different people. I suppose that a band isn’t really a band until you play a live show so I think I’d like to start playing gigs with a bunch of people that I’ve been working with. Also, we’ve been talking about us I’m recording like a really quick sort of punky guitar EP to put out maybe within the next 12 months or something. I think a lot of our day one fans will be pretty pissed with all the poppy stuff on the new album. I know for a fact there a bunch of like OG fans of ours, who I still have mad respect for, that are going what is all this ballad bullshit. So hopefully we’ll like a quick guitar-based EP to make everybody happy.
Also, I think we’re going to start like a DMA’s tech DJ set, which is a lot of our songs remixed with Tommy singing on a mic. It’ll be an electronic dancey set that we’ll do with no guitars or anything. I’m looking forward to doing that.
You mentioned that some of your like original fans might be pissed off with your new direction. What are your thoughts on that and how do you deal with it? It doesn’t bother me a lot. I know it’s happening, but I don’t care. Actually I do care a bit. You want to make everyone happy but you can’t. The way we’re going to deal with it is by hopefully making this EP and then hopefully they’ll stop whinging about it.
But at the same time, we’re going in the direction that we want to go and we’re not going to write songs a certain way because people ask us to on the internet. There’s not really much we can do about it. People are like “oh, you’re changing,” but we’re just trying something out different and we might go back to what we were originally doing or we might not. We’re still the same guys but we’re just trying out different avenues of music to see where it’ll lead us.