HIGH tea at The Windsor is a posh Melbourne institution, and DMA’S have turned up exactly how you’d expect them to: tracksuit tops, tatty baseball hats, and aviator shades.
In fact, they’ve taken so much liberty with the “neat-casual” dress code they get mistaken by the lobby staff for some layabouts trying to use the bathroom.
Once the mix-up is cleared, the band’s three core members – Tommy O’Dell, Johnny Took, and Matt Mason – take a seat at a back table and tuck into the three-tiered smorgasbord like ducks to water.
“I feel more comfortable here than some shitty pub,” says Tommy, articulating why we’re here in the first place: to put DMA’S in a context other than a pub.
Yep, the most pubbiest band in Sydney are all pubbed out. Johnny and Matt (who goes as Mason) still live above a pub. They played a listening party for second album For Now at a mate’s pub in Sydney the night before. And the band recorded most of its predecessor,
That room would double as their rehearsal space until a stray punter left a present for them after-hours one night. “It all went downhill after someone vomited in control room,” says Mason after a mouthful of scone.
Encountering DMA’S in their unnatural habitat is a deeply entertaining experience. There’s Johnny, the charming one. Mason, the sardonic one. And frontman Tommy, the supposedly quiet one, until topic turns to his favourite subject (or least favourite given recent results): Everton Football Club.
“It has been pretty dire this year,” he says. “Look at all the signings. They’ve been fucking heavy.”
Between further mouthfuls of scone, glasses of French sparkling, perfectly symmetrical ribbon sandwiches and fancy AF gateaux, the band chat about working with The Presets’ Kim Moyes, mid-tour breakdowns, and their hatred of Norwegian bottled water.
How has your day been going boys?
Mason: Great, just flew in and came here. Had a bit of time at the hotel and now just walked here from the park.
Johnny: We had that listening party thing last night, which wasn’t too fucked. You know, they can kind of be weird, those things.
Have you done high tea before?
Johnny: I’ve never done it, no. I’ve seen it in movies.
Mason: I didn’t even know what it was until today.
I guess it ties in with Tommy’s English background?
Mason: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Fuck yeah.
Johnny: Yeah, both mine and Tommy’s parents are Brits.
Would you guys consider yourselves Anglophiles?
Johnny: Nah, not really. [To Tommy] Your old man still has a pretty thick scouse accent, hey?
Tommy: Yeah, unfortunately for him.
Johnny: Bangers and mash and shit. [Laughter]
So what was the starting point of the record? Was there a song that kind of set the tone for it?
Johnny: I think ‘Do I Need You Now?’. It was one of the earliest tunes we did, also Mason had made a beat for it so it introduced some of the more electronic aspects that the first album didn’t have. Beats, synthesisers, and shit.
Tommy: We purposely didn’t want to overlay it, that song. We wanted to keep it minimal, not too many guitars.
And, with that song, did I read that right that there was a demo that was sitting in someone’s basement?
Mason: Yeah, that was Kim Moyes from The Presets. He demanded that I go and get the original beat that I made, which was quite nice to hear.
Tommy: It did tie the song together though.
Mason: Yeah, it was a compliment cause I don’t do much with beats, but I went underneath my mum’s house.
Tommy: I picked you up and had to force you to do it.
Mason: Yeah, I wasn’t going to do it … We had to go to my mum’s house and look through her fucking basement, and I found the computer and it was covered in fucking mould. I had to go and clean all this dust and mould off the hard drive.
What did you make it on? What computer?
Mason: Just a super old PC. Every time people would come over to record, people would be like, “How the fuck is this thing going?” [Laughs] Like one of those backlit, back-projected screens.
It’s kind of like The Avalanches still making their second record [Wildflower] on a really old Mac. I know it’s weird to talk about digital equipment having an organic, analog quality to it…
Mason: One-hundred percent. We’ve got a couple of MBox 2s hanging around … Johnny and I have been talking about, maybe in a couple years time, just recording through an old MBox.
How did the Kim Moyes collaboration come about?
Mason: I think it was good timing. [Pauses] Sorry I’ve got a mouthful of scone. Originally he was just going to do the drums, and then we sent him a few of the demos and he got back to our management and said, “Hey, I’d love to produce or co-produce this record.”
On paper it seemed like a weird fit, but i guess you guys were heading into that beats-driven direction a little bit anyway?
Tommy: Well, when we first started this band, it was a recording project and we always had in mind that it could be beats-driven. Then we formed the group and started rehearsing and it took on a more rocky thing. It was always meant to be beats, so for us it’s not really very weird…
Mason: We said it in a lot of interviews, before we actually recorded it, that it was gonna be more electronic. But it sort of ended up being rocky anyway.
Tommy: Well, we didn’t really have the ability to record drums when we first started, so we just used beats anyways. So a lot of our old demos are just with drum loops.
What did you learn from Kim about the beats part of music, in particular?
Mason: He was super particular about the energy behind the drummer. He would just keep on saying, “Give it 20 percent more”, even though, to us, it all kind of sounded the same. But he was like, “No, this one has a little tiny bit more energy behind it.” It’s at the same tempo, at the same volume, but he could hear something that we couldn’t, you know?
Johnny: Nothing too crazy, but the thing I learned a lot from him was just thinking about different rhythms and drum beats we wouldn’t normally do. But it actually did feel way more appropriate.
Was there any trepidation at the start about bringing him into what’s been a pretty insular writing and recording experience?
Tommy: No, we were cool with it.
Johnny: Well, he kind of let us do our own thing with the electrics, which is what Mason and I have always wanted to do – and we did it on the EP and the album [Hills End]. So we got that foundation down…
Tommy: He zoned in on the vocals a lot for me. I never really worked with a producer before, so we spent 10 days on the vocals, like a song a day. It was quite a concentrated period. He was influential in trying to bring out some aspects of my vocals that I wouldn’t normally focus on.
Mason: Like honing in on how particular syllables sound?
Tommy: Yeah, just pronunciation and shit like that. So for me it was quite a new experience. I think I learned quite a bit.
Mason: He’s got a nice little studio in his house.
Is your studio [above The Lady Hampshire pub] in Camperdown still the band’s HQ?
Tommy: Not really man. We haven’t done anything there in ages.
Mason: It’s not that productive having a studio in a pub.
Tommy: Spaces get a bit old, you can’t stay in the same spot for too long, for me anyway … Also the pub had access to it so there would be people in there. Sometimes we would get there and things would be moved.
Mason: We got there one day and there was just vomit on the floor.
How did you get that space in the first place?
Mason: It’s our mate’s pub.
Johnny: Paddy Coughlan, who also owns The Lord Gladstone [in Chippendale] where we had a listening party last night. He was super chuffed about that.
I guess, just going back to the start, no one has ever nailed down the proper DMA’S origin story. It seems like this band coming together was quite an accidental thing?
Tommy: Well, originally at the very start of this, me and Johnny were in a band. I was playing drums, he was playing bass, and we started writing tunes on the side … It was just meant to be a bedroom kind of hobby thing. And then, once Mason joined, that’s when we….
Mason: Hit the big time. [Laughter]
Tommy: Hit the big time, yeah! They [Mason and Johnny] were in another band at the time as well.
Johnny: Me and Mason were playing bluegrass music together.
Mason: We still play banjos and doboros stuff. We’ve still got it.
Tommy: Yeah, some of the songs were bluegrass songs and we turned them into more poppy/rocky songs … ‘Timeless’ was one of them?
Johnny: Yep, that’s right.
Mason: ‘Health’ was.
Tommy: Oh yeah, ‘Health’ on the new record was originally a kind of country song.
Mason: And then Kim got one of those Volca beats on it.
Tommy: So yeah, that’s the story behind it. It was just a side project, we were all in other bands.
Would you describe the past 18 months as taking you all by surprise? Were you prepared for the response?
Tommy: I don’t know. I always kind of knew the songs we were writing back then were pretty good. I didn’t know that people would want to sign the band.
Mason: We didn’t intend to really play gigs at first.
Johnny: Yeah, it’s also cause the Sydney lockout was happening, and it really wasn’t the most inspiring place to play at the time. Mason and I were getting more into recording, so it just kind of seemed appropriate.
How has the attention changed the band’s worldview, and how has that filtered back into the songs? Did you feel that second record pressure?
Tommy: I was saying this in an interview the other day. I feel that in order to feel pressure with your second record, your first record has to go reasonably well. [Laughter] I don’t get why we keep getting asked that. Pressure for what?
The pressure of people actually knowing who you are and having to deliver a product.
Johnny: To be honest man, I reckon it’s less pressure because you can release slower ballads and people actually want to listen.
Mason: People will buy it even if it’s shit. [Laughter]
That’s a good position to be in.
Tommy: I would feel more pressure on the third album than this one.
With this record I feel like you’ve really expanded what that initial DMA’S sound was, and you can take it in a lot of different places now. I think this project could really go anywhere. I know it’s weird to ask this when the record hasn’t even come out, but do you have thoughts on where it’s gonna go next, and what sound you’d like to explore?
Johnny: I would like to go more punky and distorted.
Mason: We do read the comments that people write online, and people have just been complaining that we’re releasing too many slow songs. So I think the next thing we do will be a bit faster.
"Last time we played in Glasgow, there was this dude up the front who had 10 pints lined up … He would just be skulling them and pissing in them and lobbing them behind him."
It’s definitely not a record full of ballads, it’s probably just the one ballad [‘In The Air’] that you’ve put out already.
Mason: I just feel a bit bad when we go to Glasgow and northern England and everyone is there ready to go, and we’re just kind of like…
Tommy: It’s a tempo thing. A lot of the songs are medium-paced. There are only a few fast ones. All the record had more songs that were quicker, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re soft though. That’s just the tempo. But I don’t really know the answer to that, personally. Like, what the next album is gonna sound like. Fuck, I don’t know … It would be cool to write a record, and then get someone to remix the whole thing.
Mason: Oh, I like that.
I was gonna say a few songs on the record, especially
I do have a feeling ‘The End’ is gonna be a big song for you guys.
Tommy: Oh, that’s nice
Mason: We just did a clip for it … with [Sydney-based actor] Richard Green.
What’s the story behind the clip?
Tommy: It’s not really a story, it’s just an idea that the director has gone with and it seems pretty cool.
Johnny: It’s kind of like a few situations with a bunch of completely different people, like strangers.
Tommy: Strangers in places.
Johnny: Right, and then all of a sudden they kind of embrace and go into a slow dance.
Mason: You know they recorded that fucking part in my bedroom? … They smashed all this fucking glass, and now I’ve got glass lodged inside of my foot. Every time I get up to play a gig it stuck back in … I’ve gotta get it cut out.
Tommy: So these two [Mason and Johnny] refuse to be in the clip … They left me to do it on my own again, a second time. [Laughs] So just to let you know, I don’t actually want to be in it on my own.
Johnny: Well the first one [‘In The Air’] was cause Mason spilled his sparkling water all over his passport. They didn’t let him on the plane. [Laughs]
Tommy: Yeah, he missed his flight.
Mason: And it was that Voss Water. Yeah, I hate that shit. I was in the line to go check in, literally three people behind, and the fucking Voss shitty lid came off and went all over my passport. And I get up to the lady at the desk and she’s just like, “What happened here?” And I said, “Oh, I just spilled it just then. It’s the Voss bottle, it’s got a shitty lid on it.” She was like, “I can’t fly you.”
Tommy: Yeah, it wasn’t even that bad.
Mason: Yeah, and then our manager came over and started yelling and she threatened to call security.
Tommy: Anyway, I had to fly out on my own at six in the morning and film it from an airfield outside of London. It was heavy…
And what’s the story behind ‘The End’?
Mason: Didn’t you have a breakdown or some shit?
Johnny: It was pretty heavy. It was at the end of a year-and-a-half of touring.
Mason: We went to America and lost a lot of money, played to a lot of empty rooms.
Johnny: We played in Hamburg, it was at the end of about 18 months of touring.
Tommy: Five-thousand shows.
Johnny: It was all getting a bit self-destructive, and I went out with these German guys and rolled my ankle as I left the venue.
Tommy: You’ve done that a couple of times now, played with the moon boot. [Laughs]
Johnny: So I went out with these random German dudes and lost my wallet and so I hobbled down the road with my bowling ball ankle and I called up my manager.
Tommy: That should have been the fucking film clip dude.
Johnny: Yeah, I know. And then I called up the manager, it was like 10am, and I go, “What the fuck are you doing to me?” I’m miserable…
So ‘The End’ is you in that terrible state with a moon boot on…
Johnny: Well, everyone goes through similar situations like that, where it all gets a little bit too much. Trying to see, “Is there something more?” Trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel…
Tommy: You were talking about Kim’s influence before, that song wasn’t actually going to be on the record. We were planning on not recording it and saving it for a bit, because it’s quite different.
Johnny: It was one of the first songs I had written on Ableton, so it had a bit more of that beatsy electronic vibe. And when we went away with Kim, obviously knowing his history, I hit him up and was like, “Oh dude, we’ve got this demo that I’d like to pick your brain on.”
Tommy: He basically wanted to record that more than any other song, so that’s why we did it…
I feel like he must have been holding himself back a little bit, because it really could have gone a lot more in the disco direction.
Johnny: He wasn’t holding back at all. He was pretty intense. [Laughs]
Is that one of your favourite songs on the record?
Tommy: Personally, it’s not mine.
Johnny: ‘Do I Need you Now?’ is probably that.
Tommy: Yeah, and
It’s the same chords as ‘Racing In The Street’ by Bruce Springsteen.
Tommy: I didn’t know that.
Johnny: Yeah, you didn’t know that. I was playing that song that week and was playing it during soundcheck.
Tommy: You decided to steal it!
Johnny: Well, you can’t steal D, G and E minor chords. [Laughs]
Yeah, so it really is quite a diverse selection of songs. Do you feel like people are asking the Manchester questions a lot less these days? Do you feel less pigeonholed?
Johnny: Yes, a lot less.
Mason: I guess I’ve never listened to that music, so I’m so stoked.
Tommy: It doesn’t bother me. [Laughs[
Johnny: Also when you don’t have a lot of music out, people have nothing to write about, nothing else to talk about, so they start making shit up.
Mason: It’s kind of true. But at least now we’ve got more shit out there that we can talk about.
Tommy: I like to think that it still has a bit of that kicking around in it though.
Mason: Aye, definitely.
Johnny: I’m excited to go to England.
Tommy: Yeah, we love touring the UK. It’s like our best fanbase there.
What’s the response like over there, compared to crowds here?
Mason: I think that your average English music fan goes to a lot more shows.
Tommy: They give a lot more respect to support acts. The doors open at seven, and I’ll be there at seven to watch the support act.
Johnny: I remember playing in Leeds and before we went on they were going, “Yorkshire, Yorkshire,” and I definitely thought they were going, “You’re shit! You’re shit!” I was just like, “Fuck, what’s going on?” [Laughs]
Mason: They probably throw one [a “shit”] in there every now and then.
Mason: Last time we played in Glasgow, there was this dude up the front who had 10 pints lined up … He would just be skulling them and pissing in them and lobbing them behind him. Apparently that’s quite common in Glasgow. People are like, “Oh mate, if it hits you and it’s cold you’re good, if it’s warm you have to go home.”
Tommy: If they’re enjoying the gig they throw beer at you. It’s not a sign that you suck, it’s a sign that, “You’re good enough for my beer, so you have it.” [Laughs]
Have there been other signs that things are going well?
Tommy: When we played in Manchester, we had like 15 old, bald men come to the gig. And now we’ve got like 2000 young people. Girls and boys, which is good. That’s a sign that we’re doing good.
Mason: Also we’re flying our English tour manager to Australia. That’s a treat, cause he’s a mad dog. He’d actually fit in here, he’s quite posh.
Johnny: We’re taking my brother’s band on tour. They’re called Planet.
Tommy: So we actually have a say in supports now.
Johnny: Little stuff like that.
So do you think high tea will be a regular fixture of the band going forward?
Johnny: I’d only eat this way if I could.
Mason: Some of these cauliflower pies were pretty good … We’ve actually taken a lot of food off of the rider cause we were getting fat.
Tommy: They go to Tesco’s and buy processed salami and shit.
Johnny: We put fucking shit in our rider, and the poor promoter has to run around and grab it all day. If we don’t eat it, it just ends up getting smushed into the carpet…
Tommy: Yeah, and the dressing room after the gig smells like fucking cheese. “Yeah, come back and have a drink”, and it fucking stinks. [Laughs] So now we get mixed nuts and some fruit.
Mason: Beers can only come out a half-an-hour before we play. Yeah, that’s the rule.
So what’s the next few months looking like for you guys. Do you forecast that far ahead?
Tommy: Just that. Bad salami, bad cheese, and fucking shitty bars.