Culture, Interview, Music

“We were meant to play ‘Lay Down’ but our drummer read the setlist wrong”: DMA’S’ guitarist Johnny Took on their forthcoming ‘Live at Brixton’ album, an unreleased track and the strangest way he’s written a song

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Featured Image: Andy Cotterill


As a band often compared to legendary Mancunian bands such as Oasis and The Stone Roses,  described as “biblical” by Liam Gallagher and as “adopted Mancs” by Liam Fray – it’s not surprising that most listeners mistake the DMA’S’ heritage as British. Since their formation over a decade ago and the acclaimed release of their debut single ‘Delete’, they’ve garnered a cult-like following, particularly for their love of classic songwriting. The band has made a conscious effort to tour the U.K whilst always maintaining their Aussie identities on their sleeves.

DMA’S consists of frontman Tommy O’Dell, lead guitarist Matt Mason, and guitarist Johnny Took. Transforming from a three-piece to a six-piece on stage for their live shows, they’re joined by Joel Flyger on rhythm guitar, Thomas Crandles on bass guitar, and Liam Hoskins on drums.

Their obvious Britpop elements can perhaps be traced partly to O’Dell’s Liverpudlian father and his and Took’s strong love of the genre. Make no mistake though, they have a varied range of influences between them, which manifest in their music. Their latest and third studio album release The Glow (2020), followed in the successful footsteps of Hills End (2016), and For Now (2018). Notably, The Glow boasted the track ‘Silver’, which became their fastest streaming track with almost 13 million streams to date. ‘Life Is A Game of Changing’ premiered on BBC Radio 1 and was the Record Of The Week on Radio X. With each release, they pushed the boundaries of Indie-Britpop by increasing the use of synths of rock elements – but always keeping the anthemic choruses which helped them cut their teeth. 

Their MTV Unplugged Live (2019) beautifully re-imagined their tracks acoustically with the addition of ethereal violins and cellos. Now, the band has returned to capture their live sound, this time at Brixton’s 02 Academy, which was their last and biggest headline show to date. The album is a mixture of tracks both new and old, which truly showcases their wide-ranging discography. So far, the band have released two tracks from the forthcoming live album. We’ve heard the melodic ‘Silver’ and guitar-driven, ‘Lay Down’, and 5000 voices can be heard singing along with O’Dell’s soaring and inimitable vocals. Both songs encapsulate the infectious energy of a DMA’S show, indicating the heightened atmosphere of a true, well-earned homecoming.

Live At Brixton” Album Cover

The seventeen-track album is as follows: ‘Feels Like 37’, ‘Dawning’, ‘Too Soon’, ‘Hello Girlfriend’, ‘Silver’, ‘Time & Money’, ‘The Glow’, ‘The End’, ‘Step Up the Morphine’, ‘Delete’, ‘Life Is A Game of Changing’, ‘In the Air’, ‘Tape Deck Sick’, ‘Play It Out’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Lay Down’, and ‘Your Low’.

DMA’S have commented: “Our first ever show in the UK was the opening slot at Brixton Academy so this is totally emblematic of the support that has grown overseas and we are ever grateful for. It’s still the greatest show we have ever played and we will never forget that night. See you all soon. Stay safe.”

Touring has always been a large part of DMA’S’ life and after selling out shows all over the world, it’s fitting they’ve dedicated an album to one of their most electric nights yet. They’ve also long been a mainstay on the festival circuit, including the likes of Reading and Leeds, Glastonbury and Coachella. 

Last year, during Covid the band managed to play a televised New Year’s Eve special from Sydney Harbour and are planning to return to tour the U.K this April, which includes a massive 10,000 capacity gig at London’s Alexandra Palace. They’re also set to make an appearance at several headline outdoor shows, so fingers crossed they can go ahead with their plans.

aAh! Magazine caught up with guitarist Johnny Took over Zoom, to find out more about people’s misconceptions about bands, his touring essentials, and his favourite guitar.

Photography: Press

So, you’ve got a new live album out, and actually, the first album I listened to and reviewed was the MTV acoustic one. I really liked ‘Step up The Morphine’ on that one. I love all of yours, but that’s my favourite because of the added violins.

“Oh, nice. That’s cool. Yeah, that’s our mate, Jenny McColl. She’s cool. I’ve known her for ages, as we went to audio school together back in the day. She’s an old friend. She’s really amazing.”

That’s really cool, it’s a really special album. Your new forthcoming live album was recorded at Brixton, which was your biggest headline tour to date. What was your favourite moment of that show?

“To be honest, I was pretty nervous. At the same time, once you start getting into it, you don’t really think about it again. I just thought the whole day was a great experience. Even loading in, seeing the venue and setting up and having a really good soundcheck and all that kind of stuff, you know, adds to it. I guess there wasn’t one particular moment. But it was just a really good vibe. Also because it was a lot of people’s last show, and, it was our last show before the whole big lockdown happened.”

You’ve previously said that when your mates wanted to play your songs at their parties, it was kind of a turning point for you. So, now does it feel strange to have around 5000 people singing your lyrics back to you?

“Yeah, it’s super weird. But it’s been quite a natural progression for us, I think. We’ve toured a lot. We’ve never kind of stopped touring, I guess.”

I’ve read that Matt Mason has said that people always set off flares when you play ‘Lay Down’ in the UK. So, what’s your favourite thing about a UK audience? 

“I guess the main thing is that we’re not from there, and it’s now probably become our biggest market; it’s probably bigger than in Australia now, and that’s super cool. So, that makes it extra special, going there and then to learn, like, the last gig we booked was 5000. We sold that out and we’ve never done that in Australia. I know there are more people in the UK. So it’s a bit different, but I’m envious because, particularly, Tommy [O’Dell] and I have really strong British and Britpop influence. I guess that it’s the fact that we listened to the songs as kids, and then we get to play that type of music and get to be in that scene. That’s really good.”

Yeah, I can imagine as I admire how you’ve all got your different influences. The Brixton show was before The Glow was officially released. Were all of the new tracks from this album received as you thought they would be? 

“Oh, it’s always hard playing new songs. It’s just funny because you can see people like maybe try and sing along. It was also super annoying because we’d obviously just worked out how to do them. How to do the electronic tracks live in a way that we wanted to do them and the new tracks off the record. We’re really excited to tour this album properly.”

You’ve previously said that ‘Time and Money’ is your favourite live. Is it still your favourite track and if so, why? 

“Not anymore. I think ‘Game of Changing’ is now. It’s good for me because I get to play a sample. Now and more since, I’ve been getting more into that sort of production naturally, and we did a little bit of that in, ‘Time and Money’. I guess when we did the album [For Now], we hadn’t really used a tremendous amount of synths or drum loops, or anything like that. ‘Game of Changing’ was another step up and using the sample live and all that syncing coordinating was really fun. It sounds good when you pull it off.”

Yeah, I think it really does. You opened the set with ‘Feels Like 37’, which is kind of a throwback to your first EP. Why did you choose to open with that one, in particular?

“I think musically, because it starts with just the acoustic, and then the whole fuck*** band comes in, which is pretty impactful sonically. It was also the first track on the first EP. So, it’s kind of fitting. It is a bit more old school and incorporating the set with songs, like ‘Game of Changing’ make the sets more three-dimensional. We opened with ‘Feels Like 37’, because it’s where we started sonically as well, and there’s something else about it.”

I think it was the first time that you’d played ‘Your Low’, since 2016. Why did you choose to finish with it after all this time?

“We finished with ‘Your Low’ because we were meant to play ‘Lay Down’, but our drummer read the setlist wrong and forgot that we were meant to be playing it. He just went into ‘Your Low’ and we thought that since we hadn’t played it for years, and we’d practised it, we decided to end with it. It went down well.”

Yeah, I noticed that. I think it was a really good track to finish with. A happy accident, I think.

“Yeah, that’s what I mean. It kind of makes the gig even more special.”

Yeah, especially when you think of it being recorded as well as a live album. So, it felt like a natural kind of ending. But in October, you covered ‘Did It Again’ by Kylie Minogue. And, she also congratulated you on, The Glow. Have you had any other perhaps unexpected fans of, The Glow?

“I definitely think, The Glow, has been our most accessible record. It’s the most hi-fi we’ve ever recorded. And, between Stuart Price and Scott Horscroft, they were two of the more high-end producers that we’ve ever used. I think naturally, in lots of ways we didn’t lose any fans. I think we’ve definitely broadened our listeners to the people who wouldn’t even initially think to listen to DMA’S. I’ve tried to do that recently when I discover a band and then you go back, and you discover their more recent stuff. Even if it might be their third or fourth record.”

Yeah, I’ve noticed that. But I think because a lot of your influences are quite mixed as well, that might make it even more accessible. I love the band name as it’s obviously grammatically incorrect, but it just makes it stand out even more. What’s one thing from either your playing or anything about DMA’S that you think makes you stand out as a band? 

“I don’t know. Some people have this weird misconception that you have to dress a certain way for your voice to sound a certain way. Or something like that, which is kind of a strange one. People sometimes say, ‘What’s that voice coming out of Tommy [O’Dell]’, or something like that, because he usually wears a polo hat which is weird. I think the main thing is that we’re into classic songwriting and we like that. I think people were missing that for a while and they’ve enjoyed that side of it.”

I think that’s true as well. I also quite like how you’ve focused on building your fan base in the UK, and how the Brixton show was your biggest headlining show. On the night, you dedicated the track ‘In the Air’ to Leslie Harris, the late wife of Mark who co-ran the DMA fan group. How did this thoughtful gesture happen?

 We had been made aware of Mark Harris, and the work he’s been doing with DMAnia, which is super great. We’re big supporters of that group. Obviously, it’s super humbling for them to be into the band and keep across all things. We heard that this guy who was such a big fan of the band, who from all accounts we’d heard was a really lovely guy, and was going through a terrible, terrible situation. We just knew that it was the least we could do in that situation. It’s something simple, but something really nice.”

Yeah. I just think it was a really special thing. When you used to travel for hours between Sydney and Brisbane to do your gigs and stuff, what kind of kept you going to keep doing that?

“We were lucky to be honest, mate. We’d been on Triple J, which is one of the national radio stations in Australia. We got on that quite quickly. I think ‘Delete’ was on a rotation before we’d even played a show. It was kind of weird. We’d never played a show, but the song was getting a lot of exposure in that regard.

“In saying that, I’d been in a lot of bands before, and we’d never been able to fly our bands from Sydney to Melbourne or Sydney to Brisbane. I think once when we did a residency in Melbourne, it was every weekend for a month, every Sunday for a month. We were a seven-piece band in this old band I was in. We just did that drive, which is alright. It’s like a nine-hour trip. If you leave at 5 am you normally get there at 5 pm, just in time for soundcheck. We’ve done a lot of that in our time before DMA’S. You never do see that side of it.”

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by DMA’S (@dmasmusic)

Yeah. Since then you’ve toured with the likes of The Kooks, The Courteeners, and Liam Gallagher. Has anyone ever given you any advice that you’ve held on to?

“Not off the top of my head. I think being a part of those experiences is like advice in that regard. Being a fly on the wall and being in those experiences, you pick up things that you take with you forever, and next time you’re playing your own show. Even the way that the crew treats other bands and other bands treat the crew, and little simple things like that. It’s super nice to pay attention to what you like and what you don’t like about those little interactions.”

Absolutely. I think with music it’s more about seeing than what anyone can tell you. But what’s one thing that you always take with you on tour?

“Besides your mobile phone?”

Yeah. 

“The most important one is noise-cancelling headphones. If you forget them, you have to buy a pair. Especially, if you’re on the bus and people are still up, or even just trying to relax in the green room while lots of people are working and stuff. You have to zone out and switch off, otherwise, you’re involved for the whole day, and then you have to do something that’s quite emotionally stimulating, like playing a gig. It can be just a bit too much. You’ve just got to be able to put those headphones on and switch out and tune out for a while, which I think is super important.”

I can imagine that. I also noticed that during the first pandemic, you said that you started naming all of your guitars. Which is your favourite one and what have you named it?

I think my favourite one is my Fender Mustang from 1978. It’s got a maple neck and like a black body, which is super beautiful. It’s kind of classic. I named it ‘Hot Freak’.”

 That’s a cool name actually!

“Yeah, it’s pretty good. I named it that because I put humbuckers in, which is a particular type of pickup. When they’re on, they run really hot. It kind of makes it freak out. I’m glad you like that name.”

Aw, I do! I saw that on Twitter and thought it was pretty cool! You’ve also said, that you’re “touring less than ever / writing more than ever”. Can we expect some more music on the horizon, or are you collaborating with anyone at the moment? 

“Nothing I can announce but we’re always writing and we’re always doing heaps of collaborations. Not heaps, sorry. But we have been writing a lot and talking to people and stuff. It’s a very Coronavirus thing, with people finding new ways to be inventive. We’ll definitely have some stuff soon but I can’t say when.”

I get it, got to keep it quiet for now. 

“Yeah, yeah that’s right.”

What’s the strangest place that a song has come together? 

“There’s been a couple where I’ve been lying in bed. I wrote one recently, where I was at a party or something. It was late. There weren’t many people there. But they were like, ‘Go on, you should play a song’, or something like that. I played this song and I was thinking about it, like, I shouldn’t have played that song. I should have played a different song. I was lying in bed. And, I said to myself, like if I had a song now that I wish I could’ve played at that moment. What would it be? And then, I started singing an original idea in my head, and then I got up out of bed. It was like, one o’clock in the morning or two o’clock in the morning. I just went in and I wrote it. Just lying there going, ‘What song do I wish I sang, even if it hasn’t been written yet?’ That was pretty cool. It hasn’t been released yet.”

I’m looking forward to that already.

“Yeah, it’s called ‘Dear Future’. I don’t know if it’s gonna be released. But it should be. I like it.”

I think that sounds really cool. Which lyrics, that you’ve written so far, are your favourite? 

“Probably, ‘Step Up The Morphine’. Because I wrote it about my grandmother and it was a kind of homage to her life, which is super special and meant a lot to my family.”

It’s my favourite and a really beautiful track. You’ve got a forthcoming April headline tour, with a 10,000 capacity at London’s Alexandra Palace. How are you feeling about it and have you got any other future plans that you’re looking forward to?

“I hope Alexandra or Ally Pally, as we like to call it, sells out because if it goes over about two years that we can’t sell our gig after two years, that would be pretty strange. We’re super excited, obviously. I think more so, I was excited to play the Castlefield Bowl and Edinburgh Garden because I lived in Edinburgh for nearly 10 months to a year. After being there for a while, it would be super special to go back there and play a gig like that. We supported Kasabian there but to do our own show there would be super cool.”

Yeah. What was the biggest change for you, when moving to Edinburgh from Australia?

“I guess the biggest one was, I didn’t really know anyone. It’s just me and my partner, which was cool. It gave me a little time to reassess. It’s not too dissimilar to now being in Melbourne and even during COVID actually, because I was seeing fewer people. I had more time to myself to think about what type of music I wanted to write, work on other aspects of my skills and listen to new bands. I think of it as almost having a time of studying. You can really listen to others actively going, listen to the types of music and be inspired, and listen to work on different facets of your production. You can basically take control of your art, rather than just being the songwriter and jumping in the studio while a producer does all the work for you.”

I think that’s been one of the positives of lockdown. Are there any new bands that you’ve discovered that you’d recommend?

“They’re not a new band but they are a band that have been new to me. They’re called Holy Fuck. Do you know those guys? I think they’re Canadian.” 

I need to listen to them!

“It’s right up my alley. It’s with sequences and electronics but it’s kind of punky. It has electronic drums, so it’s more like punky live drums but still with all electronic, industrial-sounding synthesisers and polyrhythmic sequences.”

I’m going to have to check them out. I think that sounds really cool. Finally, is there anything which you’ve never been asked but you wished that you had?

“Not off the top of my head. I just always like talking about songwriting and music production because they’re my two big loves in life. If I see anyone who’s writing original music or producing sounds, or whatever, I’m super into it and I support it.”

That’s really cool, especially with everything that’s going on at the moment.

“Yeah, totally.”

Scheduled Live Tour Dates:

APRIL

Sun 04 – NEWCASTLE – Academy

Wed  07 – SOUTHAMPTON – O2 Guildhall

Fri  09 – LIVERPOOL – M&S Bank Arena

Sat  10 – LONDON – Alexandra Palace

Tue  13 – DUBLIN – Academy [SOLD OUT]

Wed  14 – DUBLIN – Academy [SOLD OUT]

Fri  16 – NORWICH – UEA

Sat 17 – HULL -Bonus Arena

JULY

Sat 10 – LEEDS – Millennium Square

Sun 11 – MANCHESTER – Castlefield Bowl [SOLD OUT]

AUGUST

Wed 04 – NEWCASTLE – Times Square

Fri 06 – EDINBURGH – Summer Sessions

DMA’S forthcoming live album will be available from the 5th of March and you can pre-order it here. You can stream their latest live versions of ‘Silver’ and ‘Lay Down’ here. The remaining tickets for their shows are available here.  

Keep up with DMA’S:

Spotify | Youtube | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Website

About the author / 

Camilla Whitfield

Third Year BA English with Overseas Study | Music Editor | Manchester & Cumbria | Music & Gig Enthusiast

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