The DMA’s: The 13th Floor Interview

Australian rockers The DMA’s have just released their second album, For Now.

The band’s three core songwriters, Matt Mason, Tommy O’Dell, and Johnny Took have been holed up in the studio with producer Ken Moyes sweating over the 12 tracks that comprise For Now.

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to guitarist/keyboard player Johnny Took about the making of For Now just a few days before the release date.

Listen to the interview with DMA’s Johnny Took here:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:


MD: So you guys are really revving up for the album release, which is what, next week, right? Next week – from Friday.  So how are you feeling about it?

JT: Good, man! Good. It’s been a long time coming, you know? We got the mixes in just after Christmas, so I guess that we’ve had a lot of time to get things ready and whatnot? I’m excited to finally get it out to people.

MD: I’ve had a listen to it, it sounds very… like the production is a major part of what the album is about, and I was hoping to talk to you about that. So you had a guy named Kim –

JT: I couldn’t agree more.

I guess we love this lineup that we have now, and it’s the best we’ve ever had, and it’s cohesive and we’re all just best friends.

MD: Well, that’s good. We’re on a good start then! So you had Kim Moyes as the producer, and I’m curious as to how you guys all worked together and came up with the sound that you came up with on this record.

JT: Well, I guess, um, initially we just went to Kim just to do drums, because the studio that we were working out of wasn’t big enough to get the sounds we wanted. But then Kim came back to us and basically said that he’d like to produce and be a part of it. And I guess a few things that were different from the last one is that the foundations of the songs were tracked live. So we did the drums, the bass, and the acoustic guitar live, and live to tape, as well, which I guess is a reason why it’s still hi-fi. Like, still using great gear, and hi-fi, but it adds a warmth to it.

It’s not like that shiny kind of clinical hi-fi, that you can sometimes hear on modern day records. And that’s cool. And I think that the live band that we have now… We’ve been touring a lot, and it’s nice to finally put that into effect  into this next record.

The core songwriting in general, I guess, essentially, comes from a more organic place, like Springsteen, The Band, you know, stuff like that.

MD: I’m kind of curious to … cause in the press that I get for this album – it describes that there’s a trio, there’s three of you. Two guitars, and a vocalist, essentially. Which doesn’t sound like your typical band, so – how does it work in a studio? Who does what, and how do you make such a big sound?

JT: It’s mainly promoted that way because we’re the three core songwriters. And we have had different lineup changes, but our drummer, Liam, has been there since the start. And our bass player, Tom, played on the first record as well and then joined the band afterwards. But uh, yeah. And then our other guitar’s Joel Flyger, we got him to track his tones, and he’s an electric chord player, so we got him to track lots of his kinda… stuff on it. Like I was saying, the last couple of years, I guess we love this lineup that we have now, and it’s the best we’ve ever had, and it’s cohesive and we’re all just best friends, so. So it’s so appropriate to get everyone to track on it.

MD: Like you said, there’s three core members who do the songwriting. Do you mostly write individually, is there some collaboration, how does it work?

JT: It’s different every time, to be honest, man. A big part of the way we do it, is that – you know how everyone’s taking voice memos, these days? Normally we like to do it – just on the phone, you doing 30 second to one minute clips of just ideas and whatnot. One way we like to do it is, each of us grabs an idea, or two, and Frankensteins them together, almost transpose the melodies, so it’s essentially five pop hooks or five hooks. And then once you put them together, even though from first glance they may not seem to work, once you sort the chords out and you transpose them, it can actually sound quite original. So that’s kind of cool. So it’s a bit of that, and then there’s also a bit of like, songs… oh, it’s just different every time. Songs that are majorly Mason’s, and then a bit of me and Tommy’s pitched in to little parts at the end, or vice versa. Songs of mine where the other guys have chipped in. It’s cool. It’s nice. The end product is kind of always a collaboration between the three of us.

MD: Of course. The sound that you guys make for most people, the thing that they think of almost immediately is almost 90’s Brit-pop, that kind of thing. Is that something that you’re comfortable with, and is it an accurate description of what you think you guys do?

JT: Well yeah. Lots of bands that Tommy and I have been inspired by are from that 90’s era, you know? You’re talking Stone Roses and Oasis, and The Verve, to Cocteau Twins or The Smiths or whatever. But then I think – but that’s more the tone… oh, but not really Mason. Mason is more – his guitar tones are more reminiscent of like, a Dinosaur Jr., or Sonic Youth or something like that?

You know, he’s more into – he’d never really even listened to any Brit-pop bands when we – until we started, you know. But that’s mainly for his guitar tones, you know? And then also the core songwriting in general, I guess, essentially, comes from a more organic place, like Springsteen, The Band, you know, stuff like that.

MD: I think someone told me that you guys are doing a show with Oasis at some point in the future? Is that right?

JT: Oh, we’re supporting um… No. We’re supporting Noel – uh, Liam Gallagher at –

MD: Well yeah, obviously, it wouldn’t be Oasis.

JT: Yeah, that’s right. And then I think we’re playing before Noel Gallagher at Neighbourhood Weekender [26-27 May]. But on separate occasions. …Obviously. Which is cool.

MD: And will you take the opportunity to compare notes with them?

JT: Oh I don’t know, I don’t know. However it goes down. We’ve met him before. We had a beer with him in London, like last time we were there. He rocked up to a show with Liam. So, yeah. And you know, he’s a lover of music. Met his son, “Gene”, he’s called. And we just talked about music for a bit. It was very relaxed, it was cool.

I think we’ve always thought about the live show and our recorded show as a different beast.

MD: Excellent, excellent. I noticed on your new single, which is the title track, For Now, there was also kind of a touch of psychedelia in there. Is that something you’re trying to work into your sound?

JT: Well, to be honest, man, that song was one of the first songs we ever wrote. I guess it was an earlier part of our sound.

But it’s kinda cool, cause a lot of people go “Ooh! The sound’s really developing!” And we go, “Eeeh, gotcha, it’s one of the earlier ones we did.”  So it’s kinda cool. And I honestly think it’s great that that was one of the first songs we ever wrote with DMAs, and just to be able to release it into the second record, and for people to still appreciate it is really cool, cause it means that… that the core factor that kinda built the band is still resonating with people.

MD: And there’s tracks like the song The End, It seems to have lots of synths and keys and layers of atmospheric sounds. How does that translate live… And first of all, can you tell me about the song and how you built it?

JT: Yeah. To be honest… man, I was like – um, when that song was written, I was going more from…experimenting more with… At the time I was using Pro Tools as my initial DAW, or my only DAW. And then I was moving into Ableton. So I was mucking around a lot with filters and drum machines and synth sounds and all that stuff. And it was a while ago now, and I’m pretty much only using Ableton now, to be honest.

But for me, at first, that was just experimenting and trying to do something different. And then, it wasn’t even really meant to make the record. I guess we were thinking about it, more as a possible third album thing. And when we went up to do In The Air and Dawning with Kim, to see if this relationship was going to work, knowing Kim’s history with electronic music and what he’s worked on,  I was like, “Oh Kim, can I send you this song I’m working on? Just to see what you think about it.” And basically after that he insisted that he would give it a chance, to record it. Yeah, which was great. So it was like – we see his experience and knowledge and… enough mucking around, it seemed like an appropriate direction to experiment with. And he brought that kind of disco bassline to it as well, and the beat of it.

MD: So how does it translate live? Is it an easy thing to replicate, or does it change when you play it?

If you can put this much energy, this much emotion, and these many years into making a record, you know, it’s almost rude to not care about it.

JT: I think we’ve always thought about the live show and our recorded show as a different beast. I kinda feel like…if I’m going to watch a band I like – I don’t expect… if I want to hear the record, I’ll go home and listen to the fucking record, if you know what I mean? I’ve never been … obviously, it’s going to be close enough. But, you know, it hasn’t really seemed that bad, because it’s kinda lucky… the only thing we do different, is that I don’t play acoustic guitar and I play all the key sounds. So it’s actually been eas– we thought it would be harder, to be honest. It’s coming together, it’s coming together. It’s probably a bit rockier, it’s a bit rockier than it is on the recording. But I think that in a live setting that’s kinda cool.

MD: Yeah. So I was hoping kind of to touch on the last song on the record, Emily Whyte, as well. What can you tell me about that one? It’s kind of this big majestic finish to the record.

JT: Do you like it?

MD: Yeah.

JT: Yeah… it’s um, that’s one of Mason’s songs. It was a few ideas that he had, and I kinda – and I recommended to him, like hey, he had a song called Ernie, and a song called Emily Whyte. And I said, do you reckon you could blend Ernie and Emily Whyte together? And uh, and we did it, and they kinda seemed to work quite famously… and it is one of the more emotive tracks on the record. It’s a really strong way to finish it. And you know –

MD: And do you think about … no, go ahead, sorry, I interrupted you.

JT: I was just gonna say that Tommy wrote a bunch of parts in that section as well, which is – once again is just a nice collaboration of us working together, which is I think – like I said before, one of my favourite ways of doing it.

MD: And do you guys spend a lot of time and thought sequencing the record? Getting the songs in order? Or does it not make that much difference? People just listen to individual tracks, or what?

JT: Oh, I think people do do that? But I think you would be ignorant to not think about it. You know, I think as an artist. Fuck, if you can put this much energy, this much emotion, and these many years into making a record, you know, it’s almost rude to not care about it? You know what I mean? You’ve come this far, just sit down for bloody…45 mins and think about it. And to be honest we did actually have a few arguments about it. But um… actually our manager is really good with that. He kinda, has a bit more of an… objective view.

MD: Yeah, it’s good to get an outsider’s perspective sometime when you’re working on it.

JT: Totally, man. And he kinda – so he’s close enough to it, but not as deep as we kinda were, going a bit crazy toward the end, after listening to the eight last remixes… but I don’t know, I kinda feel like the album does flow, and I kinda like the vibe of it.

MD: Gotcha, gotcha. And how would you say that the band has changed between… this record and the previous record? You guys did a lot of touring, a lot of travelling around. Did that have an effect on what we end up hearing on the record?

I learned that you can’t get absolutely tanked every night, and it helps to sustain, you know, a healthy mind and body.

JT: Totally. Totally. I think, after touring and doing a lot of festivals, um – we didn’t really know that much about gear or guitar sounds and whatnot. Just expanding our horizons with different music. I guess we really got a lot more into some pop aspects as well. Rather than just being a guitar band, and that’s how we got into thinking about the beats a lot more, all that kinda stuff. I think it’s all – but it’s weird, being poppier from the beats and synths’ perspective… but almost going noisier … like The Jesus And Mary Chain, shit like that. My favourite band. Blending aspects of these fucked up noisy guitars to poppier production and synthesizers, you know. Which is cool. And um, but the transition between both of the albums feels pretty organic to me. It kinda – Hills End was fine for what it was, but I think where For Now ended up, it seems like an organic and a natural progression.

MD: So the album’s out in…week and a half or so, maybe a week? [April 27]. What’s the plan? Are you guys hitting the road, doing a lot of touring, a lot of talking to people? What’s up?

JT: Yeah… It’s about to get crazy, man. But it’s alright. I’ve learnt from the first album experience.

MD: [Laughs] What did you learn?

JT: Well, I learned that you can’t get absolutely tanked every night, and it helps to sustain, you know, a healthy mind and body. You know, when you’re young – not that I’m not young now – but three years ago when the last record came out and we were touring the EP and stuff, you know, it’s all very exciting, we’re going through all of these countries I’ve never been to before, we’ve never been to before, and just kinda lapping it all up, but now it’s kinda like… but also like, you know, the sharing beds and running around in skivvies with the band and stuff, so… Touring’s become a little bit easier. It’s also kinda, it’s more focused now. You know, I don’t feel the need to party every night, and I’m just focusing on doing great shows, and getting the job done, you know?

MD: And any plans to head over to New Zealand?

JT: Uh…I hope so, I hope so. Our guitar player’s from Hamilton, so – and we played our first shows there last year, and we love going over there. So um…plus, I get the craving for Sal’s Pizza as well.

MD:  That’s a good reason.

JT: That’s my hidden agenda.

The DMA’s second album, For Now, is out now.