Nearly a decade of songwriting has lead to one of the most exciting, fierce and brilliant albums of 2020 – DMA’s The Glow.
Delayed from its initial April release – we dive into the reasons why, the evolution of the DMA’s sound and finding a collaborator that helped them make their proudest music yet.
Nic Kelly’s in bold, Johnny Took of DMA’s is in not-bold.
I’m blown away by this album. It’s one of the best pop albums of the year. It’s ridiculous. What people have probably known about DMA’s so far – as passive listeners – is that there’s a Britpop feel, a lot of very guitar-driven pop music, but it’s now so much bigger than that. What changed heading into The Glow? What evolved for you?
I think when we first came out with an EP, it was very throwback. We didn’t shy away from our influences and what we liked, from all that Britpop in the 90s, you know. That was cool for then. When we worked on the second record For Now with Kim Moyes (The Presets), we started introducing more electronic sides of things but it was still pretty much a guitar-rock album, a little bit more high-fidelity. Basically, in the last couple of years, we’ve been getting more into things like sequencers and beats and synths and finding a nice way to, I guess, incorporate the noisy guitars and those new things together. I’ve been, like, obsessed. I lived in Edinburgh for a year and I’ve been obsessed with acts like Underworld and Chemical Brothers and stuff like that, then working with someone like Stuart Price who’s done New Order, The Killers, Madonna… he was able to help us kind of transition into this new world where, for the first time ever, it kind of felt like DMA’s weren’t a throwback band, but more of a band that was doing something that was a step into the future, which is cool.
What do you think it was about Stuart that managed to unlock something in you guys?
Firstly, his demeanor as a producer. When you think of someone who’s worked the caliber of acts he has… there’s a chance they’ll be a prick. But he is actually just the most lovely guy. His demeanor is like, no idea is stupid, he’s so softly spoken and not only was the production amazing, he’s also a bit of a musical genius! And considering Mason’s kind of in that realm of musician where he knows all about the music theory side of things, it was really good working with someone like Stuart that Mason could bounce off, that was also really important. And yeah, it’s his experience, you know, his years and years of experiencing making pop music and electronic music whereas for us, we really just started – only a couple of years ago really – having a stab at it after being such a guitar-driven band for so many years. I think it was really important getting someone like him on board to help us with that transition.
It’s amazing looking at some of the the records he’s worked on. When I saw that he worked on All The Lovers by Kylie, in an unexpected way I found some connection between that record and a song like your Life Is A Game Of Changing.
Yeah, yeah! It was an amazing experience and we learned so much from him. It’s also funny as well, we did two days with Scott Horscroft when we did Silver and Round & Round and then we finished the rest of the record with Stuart in the month after, that was probably around mid-to-late last year. It’s funny because now, with this new stuff we’re working on, we’re ready to take it even another step. Not taking anything away from this record, but it has been with us for a long time. It feels like it’s already been released to me. With the whole pandemic and pushing it back three months, we have been able to slowly leak out songs but I’m just so excited to get the whole thing out to people and let people sit with it for a bit.
Tell me about the decision to postpone. I read that was more to do with the fact that you’re really not just a streaming band, a big part of what is important to you guys is being able to release through those independent record stores and give people that tangible experience. That was a big part of the decision to postpone, wasn’t it?
That’s right. And even to the extent that, like, most of the vinyl factories were shut down! But also, like you said, being able to work with independent record stores – they are the people that gave us a leg up in the industry on our journey. It was also to be closer to a point where we can play them live, we’re also such a big live band, you know. We’re really excited about that with these songs, we’ve always had like, the upbeat, rocky tunes, we’ve had the anthemic singalongs, but incorporating songs like Life Is A Game Of Changing and the final track Cobracaine into our live set’s where it’s gonna get really exciting for me, ‘cos we’re going to make people dance, you know.
I know Cobracaine‘s been with you guys for a very, very long time. Are you able to tell me a bit of the story behind the last track on the album?
It was written when Mason was nineteen, in the same week that he wrote Delete. It was about ten years ago now. Then we tried to record it on the same release as Delete. And once again, we didn’t have the production knowledge, we tried to go wall of sound but just the guitar and it just wasn’t right. And sometimes songs are like that. Even Silver was written in 2014 and it wasn’t ready until last year to make it the song that it is, so Cobracaine was kinda like that. We finally did a demo… actually, it’s funny. We did a songwriting session with Louis Tomlinson from One Direction and we played him Cobracaine – our synthy version that we’d been kind of heading towards – and he made a comment, “you could get to the chorus a bit quicker there, boys,” and we were like “oh, okay!”, and we ended up using it on the album! We gave that to Stuart Price and just some of the sounds he brought to it made it probably one of my favourite tracks on the album. But once again, it just proves that sometimes a band has to be in a certain stage in their career, to really get the most out of good melody ideas that they may be sitting on for years.
I think that’s the thing that ties all these tracks together. The production twists and turns across it, but the melody ideas and the melodic side of things is just remarkable the whole way. You look at something like Criminals which starts out with just a beautiful melody and then kind of explodes into this big synth-pop song with a couple of horns and samples, but you never lose that melodic component that you can sing along to.
That’s right. We wanted to make a big pop record, in no way that we’ve done before. And choosing the songs was really hard because we wanted it to be a journey throughout. But we’re pretty chuffed with what we’ve done and our kind of rule in the past has kind of been, we’re not writing for anyone else. We’ve always written for ourselves and that’s always proven to work for us in the past, even if the initial reaction might be from some older fans or whatever, “oh, what is this?” After they have a few listens to the record they really start kind of getting what kind of mindframe we were in and where we were at with it and they end up growing to like it. It’s a part of growing up in the public eye and your fans growing up with you.
What was your connection to pop music growing up in your part of Sydney? I know that for a lot of people that grew up in the Sydney basin and in the Inner West and stuff it’s been a journey to get to loving pop, were you always a pop fan going back?
I kind of grew up listening to a lot more kind of like country influenced things, like Wilco and Springsteen, I kind of came from that world. But then, in my teens, I guess that’s when I first started getting into pop like Oasis and Blur and The Verve, which slowly turned into Happy Mondays and Primal Scream, which then turned into Chemical Brothers and Underworld. But it’s funny, because I consider pretty much all of those bands to be pop, but I get that a lot of people wouldn’t. Oh, but then also there was that stage when I finished high school and you’d go into the city and I remember going to like Candy’s Apartment and watching Van She, The Presets, Mercy Arms and bands like that. It’s been a bit of everything, everywhere.
It’s a massive melting pot. Do you think being able to kind of go all around the world and particularly find that big fanbase in the UK and in that part of Europe, do you think that kind of helped you work out what this album was going to sound like?
It helped with just kind of understanding music on a different level. Obviously everyone starts from a certain point, but then you tour and you see names on posters, or you play with bands and festivals and you just keep doing it. I just feel like you never stop learning with music. You never stop discovering a new genre, especially with our love of production, that’s a really beautiful, exciting thing. I also think these days, people listen to heaps of different styles of music, you know, with streaming it’s not just “you’re just a rock guy… or “you’re a dance guy“. You know what I mean? It’s a lot broader these days, which I think is a good thing as well.
I find myself learning that I like different different sounds all the time. And to be honest, the first couple of DMAs records, I didn’t connect with as much as I have with this one. And it’s been a really exciting evolution for me to really connect with this album, and then go back and discover those things that I’ve learned to love about the rockier side of the pop spectrum. So it’s been a really exciting journey and I thank you for that.
And I guess that’s the kind of thing that we that we want to be as a band! That’s sometimes when it means the most, when someone’s like, “you know, they weren’t really my flavour, but they’ve got something going on here that I’m really resonating with now,” I think it shows growth and I think it’s cool.