Interview: DMA’S Johnny Took On Their New Album ‘How Many Dreams?’

Photo of band DMA'S
Lottie Murray

On the 31st of March, the sensational, genre-defying three-piece band DMA’S released their new record ‘How Many Dreams?’. The album is rightfully a project that they “couldn’t be more proud of” and it showcases the remarkable diversity of DMA’S sound. Impact’s Lottie Murray chats to Johnny Took about the 12 new and experimental tracks featured on the album, his take on the process of creating new music, and what he enjoys doing in his free time!

The Australian rock band DMA’S have been producing music since 2012, when Johnny Took, Matt Mason, and Tommy O’Dell formed it in Sydney. It is evident that their sound has been developed and altered over the years. Their experimental approach to music means that they continually create music which is unanticipated by their fans, but is still evolutionary. By doing so, they have grown a huge listenership, of around 944,000 a month on Spotify and 155k followers on Instagram!

I wanted kick off the interview by asking Johnny about how the new album differs from their very popular past material. Jonny outlined that the pandemic has influenced DMA’S approach to their craft and gave them the chance to explore their sound a little bit more: “We just liked experimenting and trying new stuff in the studio, especially where we had a lot of time at home in the studio over COVID because we weren’t spending the months on the road. So, we really had time to kind of experiment with stuff.”

they really enjoy “delving into the world of sampling, synthesisers, drum machines”

Despite their reputation in the ‘indie’ scene, DMA’S are certainly not afraid to delve into various genres and they do a sterling job at incorporating an electronic feel to their music. In tracks such as Life Is a Game of Changing and Something We Are Overcoming, DMA’S explore the differing intensity of the ‘trance’ feel.      

There is usually a certain criterion to follow for artists who are writing a new record, but this process certainly isn’t linear, and is unique to each artist and the nature of their new material. Within the writing process, the musicality and lyricism of an album work in conjunction with one another, but the process of creating them are undeniably different.

For DMA’S they really enjoy “delving into the world of sampling, synthesisers, drum machines, and that kind of thing” and so this is certainly demonstrated in ‘How Many Dreams?’. As Johnny described the journey of the band it was interesting to learn that a few of the tracks on the album were written a while ago and completed when the discovery was made that they were a suitable fit for featuring on ‘How Many Dreams?’: “It fun to revisit those songs and learn something new. With every album and every tour you get to learn something new so to be able to put them into the new record is really fun.”

Lyrics […] can be relatable to both the artist and the listeners, and it creates this subconscious bond

When discussing their “kiddie of about 70 or 80 songs” Johnny particularly refers to Get Ravey which is a track off the new album which “had been around for quite a while, but we hadn’t completed it.” The beauty of lyrics is that they can be relatable to bpth the artist and the listeners, and it creates this subconscious bond between them.

When asked about whether DMA’S songs are generally written based on personal accounts or left up to interpretation, Johnny responded by saying that “every song is completely different.” He stated that with songs such as Jai Alai “it could be interpreted as a long song, but I think it’s about the support and that’s one of Mason’s songs lyrically. So, I think that’s pretty cool.”

He then goes on to talk about the tracks on the new record which are “more ambiguous” such as “How Many Dreams? which I like, because it’s got that dance element” and “Dear Future which I don’t think I want to talk about too much because I think that song can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. It means something specific to me, but I think it will mean a lot of things to other people.” Johnny finishes by saying “sometimes it’s nice to leave it up to interpretation.”

It was intriguing to get a taste of which artists the band members listened to growing up and try to grasp whether they have had any influence on the “happy sad” sound of DMA’S. Johnny began by describing his music taste and outlined that he grew up listening to artists such as “Stone Roses, Oasis Primal Scream, Bloc Party. But then I also listened to like a lot of Wilco, a lot of Bruce Springsteen, and a lot of Bob Dylan.” After a little more thought, Johnny also was eager to add that he would “listen to a lot of bluegrass music as well. And then later on, I got more into like the Jesus and Mary Chain, New Order, and Neil Young was always a big one.”

Although Mason couldn’t run me through his music taste during the interview, Johnny was able to give me a little insight! He said that “For Mason, it was kind of like a lot of Sonic Youth to use and Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement. So, he was kind of more interested in 90’s American thing. But yeah, yeah, that’s a rough guide.”

“one piece of advice I was given was ‘always make the second verse different to the first’”

The music industry is perhaps one of the hardest industries to ‘make it’ in and Johnny spoke about the advice that has impacted their band the most, he stated that “one piece of advice I was given was ‘always make the second verse different to the first’.” He follows up by saying “whether it’s like, you add drums or you changed the melody little bit. I think just lyrics is not enough. I think you have got to sonically change something, or you know just at least add something new.”

DMA’S have a very mixed listenership and many of their fans are young people and inspiring musicians. Johnny’s advice to inspiring musicians would be to “just put in the hours and write more songs if you’re a songwriter and if you’re a guitar player, play more guitar and learn more songs than anyone you know.” He claims that “with all the musicians that I’ve met, and I’ve been doing a lot of song writing sessions recently, one thing I found is that yeah there’s a people who are naturally talented, but the really impressive ones are the ones that you can tell have done the 10,000 hours and they’ve really just put everything into their craft.”

Alongside the release of their new album DMA’S are currently in the process of planning their accompanying ‘How Many Dreams?’ tour. Johnny discusses just how important touring is for their band – from gaining new listeners, to discovering new styles of performing, and assessing which songs are more popular.

He draws upon the long-lasting effects that COVID-19 has had on their approach to tour life, he describes how “I was quite exhausted from touring before COVID happened, and we sometimes go over to the UK five or six times in the year and that 20-hour flight doesn’t feel shorter.”

“we really love just finding new and original ways to incorporate new songs or make extended outros”

Now, as the music industry is shining post-pandemic, DMA’S have begun to “realise that even though that travelling is hard, we just feel so grateful that we’re able to come to the UK and that you guys have taken us under your wing. Being these three guys from the in the west of Sydney I think that’s super cool. We don’t take it for granted!” As Australian musicians, Johnny describes just how much they love travelling around the world and “when we’re on cycle we kind of chase summers you know, we come over and play festivals in the UK and then and then when the summer comes around in Australia, we get to do that too, so we feel super lucky.”

There are many different aspects of organising a tour and as previously mentioned, DMA’S are currently rehearsing for their upcoming shows! When it comes to rehearsing Tommy, Mason, and Johnny “[don’t] actually rehearse that much as a band because we play so many shows that you kind of don’t need to. But always before a big tour or a new album you have to learn the new show songs and yeah, we really love just finding new and original ways to incorporate new songs or make extended outros etc.”

“it’s nice that we can do something and learn and get better at it together”

Finally, I wanted to learn a little more about the more mundane parts of Johnny’s life and so I wanted to ask, quite a generic question, about what he enjoys doing outside of his hectic music career. Johnny responded by saying “Oh, do you know what’s funny? That’s not really a very generic question! I don’t really get asked that very much. I like going to the pub with my mates, I like cooking with my wife, but we are both not very good at cooking. She’s a musician as well so it’s nice that we can do something and learn and get better at it together. And so that’s always really fun. I also love watching British crime!”

Lottie Murray

Featured image courtesy of Kalpesh Lathigra. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @dmasmusic via Instagram.com. No changes were made to these images.

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