DMAs

It’s rare for a band to sell out a tour before they’ve even released an album. But for the Sydney-based DMA’s, who embarked on tour almost immediately following the release of their debut ‘Hills End’ on the 26th February, the trio prove it can be done. Their show at Manchester’s Ruby Lounge on the 5th March marks the end of the band’s UK run; but having already performed at the Night And Day Café and The Deaf Institute over the years, it won’t be the first time that Tommy O’Dell, Matt Mason and Johnny Took will experience the Manchester atmosphere through a live audience.

Just a few hours before the band take to the stage, I sit with guitarist Johnny backstage to discover what it is about Manchester crowds that set them apart from any other. “One word to sum up Manchester is rowdy”, he declares after some thought. “The Deaf Institute was one of the loudest crowds we’ve faced by far. We get asked a lot if there’s a big difference between Australian crowds and English crowds. I always say that there’s a real togetherness here, which I think might even come down to the football culture. The whole chanting of the team and that kind of thing crosses over to the music. It’s not really something we have in Australia.”

It’s not just the people of Manchester that have a profound effect on the band either, but the music itself. As DMA’s slowly emerged in the UK, so did their fan’s comparison to existing Britpop bands. Among the voices of appraisal is Dave Rowntree of Blur, who stated the band have “the swagger of Oasis, and the inventiveness of Arctic Monkeys.” For Johnny and the rest of the band, those groups formed the soundtrack to their high school days.

“That stuff isn’t as populist in Australia,” he explains, “but in school we did listen to The Stone Roses and Oasis for the first time, as well as The La’s and Happy Mondays. At the same time I also grew up on Springsteen and Dylan. A big part of our sound though is Tommy’s voice. His dad’s from Liverpool, so he saw a lot of those bands live”.

As Johnny mentions this, Tommy is visiting Liverpool himself, taking the opportunity to support Everton in their Premier League match against West Ham.  That’s the surprising quality about DMA’s – despite where they’re from, any unassuming listener or observer would believe the band are born and raised in North West England. The Sydney stereotype is something Johnny especially doesn’t conform to.

“I’m not really a surfy dude”, he says.  “My mates are really into it, but it’s not really my cup of tea. I prefer it when it’s raining enough to stay inside. It’s because I don’t really like the hot weather that much that’s why I like coming to the UK. I’ll reckon I’ll get into surfing in my later years, when I think I’ve smoked too many cigarettes and need to do a bit of exercise. Or if I get a horrible cocaine addiction.”

By the time DMA’s began recording ‘Hills End’ in the confines of Johnny’s bedroom, the band had over 50 songs to choose from before eventually cutting that number down to 12. The remaining tracks, as Johnny heavily hints, will be used for future releases. The chosen songs were then sent over to Grammy-award winning producer Mark ‘Spike’ Stent for mixing, whose massive discography conveniently includes Oasis’ ‘Standing on the Soldier of Giants’ and ‘Heathen Chemistry’. But it’s the slightly rougher cuts that Johnny, who studied Sound Engineering for a short period, much prefers. “Spike was in LA when we sent him the songs to work on. We had mixed some songs ourselves, but I wasn’t happy with them. They just weren’t us. I like albums that have that raw sound to them, and Spike did an amazing job of capturing that”.

‘Hills End’ is a commonly known name in Australia, being the title of the classic children’s novel written by Ivan Southall in 1962. A book all three members of DMA’s studied in high school, the story follows a group of children and their teacher who are trapped inside a cave after a storm destroys their home town. But when asked if the band’s debut refers to this heavy reading material in any way, Johnny quickly dismisses the idea.

“I’m actually reading ‘Hills End’ on the tour now, it’s great. But the album’s not linked to it really. We keep getting asked that kind of thing about our songs – like ‘what do they all mean?’ There’s a song on our album called ‘Melbourne’, which people assume refers to the city. But it’s not what they speculate”, he laughs. “The song’s just about anxiety and depression.”

Lyric meanings – or lack thereof – aside for the time being, Johnny discusses the big difference between recording ‘Hills End’ in his bedroom studio to performing each song in front of a live audience.

“Playing live is a completely different beast to recording an album. We never really try to replicate a song exactly the way it is on ‘Hills End’. I have friends in other bands who like to extend their outros and jam it out a bit. So if we feel the vibe’s good, we just keep going.”

It’s not long into DMA’s set at The Ruby Lounge in which they prove tonight is no exception. With the addition of their backing rhythm section, there’s little room for the band to manoeuvre on stage as they plummet through the extended renditions of tracks that form the hour long show.

Both guitarists seem to commandeer songs such as ‘Lay Down’ with dual authority, with Matt relentlessly soloing through till the end which Johnny signals with a nod of his head and a glare in his eye. Stood between the two is Tommy, armed only with his Gallagher-esque voice and a tambourine. If Tommy was fazed by Everton’s result earlier, his face doesn’t show it now.

Johnny’s previous prediction is also spot on; the crowd are irrepressible. With all arms stretched towards the stage – which just stands at knee height level – the same short chant takes up the space between songs: “D, D, DMA’s”. In a bizarre way, the scene almost replicates both sides of a football match – except tonight there’s no rivalry in the venue.

After the assemble of crowd surfing and discarded beers, the mood shifts from chaotic to temporarily calm as DMA’s go into the popular ballads ‘So We Know’ and ‘Delete’, the latter of which has recently received airplay on BBC Radio 1. It marks a triumphant end to the band’s UK visit, but it won’t be until after hitting the US and Europe when DMA’s bring their album tour to Australia.

“Yeah, it’s weird to be playing at home last,” Johnny once again summarises with impudent clarity, “but it will also be better. It means that the set will be fucking mad.” Perhaps even with the laid back nature of Australian crowds that DMA’s are all too familiar with, the band can carry over the vigorous spirit they’ve witnessed in Manchester.

‘Hills End’ is out now via Mom + Pop Music.

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Josef McDermott