- 23 Mar 23
Ahead of their 3Olympia Theatre show on May 23 DMA’s guitarist Johnny Took talks about new album How Many Dreams?, the pandemic, collaborative songwriting and more…
Australian rock group DMA’s will drop their highly anticipated fourth studio album How Many Dreams? at the end of this month. The record – a musical amalgamation of the band’s nostalgic past and experimental future – is essentially made to be heard live.
With years in lockdown to workshop and create, the group leaned into everything at their disposal to create a record quintessentially of themselves – songs made to not just be heard, but experienced.
Recorded in London and Sydney with production all-stars Rich Costey, Stuart Price and Konstantin Kersting, the release of How Many Dreams? is just one of many major upcoming events for Aussie trio – featuring Tommy O'Dell on vocals and Matt Mason and Johnny Took on guitar – who recently announced back to back UK and Australian tours that will span the upcoming Spring, Summer and Autumn.
“It’s the biggest tour we’ve ever done,” says Johnny, casually turning a toothpick over in the corner of his mouth. “It’s going to be amazing.”
The How Many Dreams tour seeks to travel to not just classic venues, but also more regional spots –something the band are especially looking forward to.
“Can’t wait,” remarks Johnny, when asked about the different stages. “Some of the venues we’ve played before, but it’s the rural venues, the different style venues, the classic ones like this old one in Castlemaine in this old kind of Gold Rush town.”
Johnny is especially keen to check out his home country.
“It’s a real vibe you know–a real energy around those old Victorian country towns and stuff. The coastal cities as well because it's such a big part of Australian culture–the surfing, coastal living kind of culture. We’re stoked to give that more attention ‘cause it’s such a big part of Australia.”
How Many Dreams? is the latest release of the band’s almost decade long run, following 2020’s The Glow, which featured standout single 'Silver.' The track, certified gold in Australia, was number 20 in the Triple J Hottest 100 back in 2019.
“When the band first started we were a bit more of a throwback band, and our first two albums were like that," says Johnny. "When we worked with Stuart Price on our third album The Glow, it felt like he was bringing DMA’s into 2020 – or whenever it was released – bringing us into a more modern context. We learnt a lot from him."
The COVID lockdown gave the group time to broaden the scope of their sound in a way they might not have otherwise, maintaining the trajectory of modernisation that began with The Glow, while taking the time to worksop and experiment.
“And then, you’ve opened up the can on that sound," Johnny states. "It felt like there was still a bit more work for us to experiment on… COVID kind of gave us the opportunity to delve more into that world. [How Many Dreams] is a little bit like The Glow 2.0, but just with more of our DMA’s DNA entwined into it.
“We created something new and refreshing for us, and we kept exploring some of the ideas and concepts that you saw on our previous album. I’m just happy. It’s a pretty feel good album, which I like... We didn’t want to make an album that wreaked of COVID, you know. We wanted something that was more hopeful than that.”
The record, which was written and produced during the pandemic, seeks to both separate itself from the tumultuous era of which it was born and reflect it. How Many Dreams is not a ‘COVID record’ in a downtrodden sense, but in the opposite–reflecting the trio’s successes and love for the craft.
“You kind of start thinking about the music differently,” Johnny says ruminatively, after discussing the band’s growing audience.
“For example, you can have the lights and the audio visuals back something that’s an extended intro to a song… build suspense and all of that kinda stuff. Then, when it drops, you’re hit with everything visually at once. It’s way more impactful than just a band in the room playing there without the support of that. It makes it more of a show and you start arranging the songs maybe a little bit more theatrically…
“Particularly songs like ‘How Many Dreams’ will be awesome," he adds. "There’s a couple of other tracks that I’m really excited about–like there’s a really, probably our hardest electronic track that we’ve ever made, is the last track on the album called ‘De Carle’ and we probably won’t play that this set, but I know towards the back end of the album run we’ll start incorporating it and we’ll see how it’ll go, but I have a feeling that one might be a bit of a staple."
DMA's are well-accustomed to major festivals, playing Leeds and Reading for multiple years. Their upcoming tour will take them to Pinkpop 2023 in the Netherlands, and Tramlines, Truck Festival and Y Not Festival in the UK.
“It’s been so good incorporating all the new songs off of the new album into [the live shows]. It feels these songs have kind of filled in the missing pieces that the set had energy wise," says Johnny. "Yeah, it’s in a really good spot.”
While Johnny has always possessed a love for music, he never anticipated it being his career.
“I kinda fell into it,” he reflects. “I mucked around a bit in high school. I didn’t really study much for my exams and stuff. I wasn’t really ready, you know? I wasn’t in the mind frame for that at the time. Then, I just had some guys ask me to join the band and they kind of opened my world to all these different styles of music.”
At the time, Tommy O’Dell – the band's current lead vocalist – was the drummer. However, DMA’s have always been an incredibly collaborative group, and Tommy’s transition to vocals is demonstrative of that.
Johnny tells the story fondly. The group is situated together, riffing off of one another when Tommy comes up with a melody for the chorus – “and he’s sitting behind the kit singing,” smiles Johnny. “And I’m like ‘whoa this guy’s voice is amazing.’”
The collaborative nature of the group hasn’t changed throughout their run. Vocalists and drummers may shift, but Tommy, Mason and Johnny continue to “Frankenstein” songs together, as Johnny says.
“Every song is written kind of differently. Sometimes Mason will bring most of the song. Sometimes I will. Sometimes Tommy’s got these voice memos or something that he’s been working on. No matter where it starts, by the end product, the reason it sounds like DMA’s is because we’ve all gotten our hands on it at some point. I think that’s what makes it super special, you know?"
When asked about broadening the band’s horizons, Johnny only looks one way: production.
“We kinda fill in each other's gaps a little bit,” Johnny says, speaking to the merits of DMA’s collaborative process. “I think the three of us kind of have unique talents and they kind of compliment each other.”
Johnny believes that working together has given the band a keen insight into the music production process, giving the trio a fuller perspective than maybe an individual producer would have.
“When we started, I was coming from more traditional songwriting. Mason was also songwriting, but he was an amazing lead guitarist and an amazing harmony singer. Then Tommy would come in, and he’s an amazing melody singer as well, but he would write different melodies.
“So then, by the time you write a song together, you’ve got Tommy’s style melody on the chorus, my style on the verse and Mason’s style on the pre chorus–it’s not like the whole song sounds the same, you know? It makes the music feel more three dimensional.
“Over the years we’ve all worked on different facets of our craft. Between the three of us, we could kinda cover all bases.”
There is a part of Johnny that wishes he could have had that style of production help when DMA’s were getting started, as he himself gains so much from working with others.
“I do a lot of songwriting sessions at the moment, and one thing I’ve realised is no matter if it’s an artist or a producer who’s more or less experienced than I am, I’ve always learned something new.
“One of the best ways to learn is to A, actually do it or B, talk about it. And that’s exactly what you’re doing in those songwriting sessions.
“Maybe I’ll go into the studio with someone who’s ten years younger than me, but they’ve got a different way of looking at things. Then they see the way that I’ve worked and see something that I’ve learnt over the ten years of experience, and then you both are learning together, and that’s really cool. I didn’t do that a lot when I was younger, and I’m kind of seeing the benefits of that now.”
Another piece of advice Johnny wishes he could bestow upon a younger version of DMA’s is to “write songs everyday.”
“I think people sometimes wait for inspiration, and I think that’s bullshit. I think you’ve gotta find it. If you’re just sitting around, you’re not gonna feel inspired. You're watching TV. You’re not gonna want to be inspired."
“But if you sit down for five minutes and just start playing a few chords on the guitar, you’ll be surprised where that leads to. One thing I used to do as a kid is I used to force myself to write one crappy song everyday. If I did that, I’d reach my goal, and I was happy. And – more often than not – I’d get 15 minutes into it and I was feeling pretty good about it. Even if I started a song and the verse was horrendous, it may have led to the best chorus I’ve ever written. Then, two weeks later, I’ve written the best verse I’ve ever written. And, what you end up doing is you end up transposing them – you just frankenstein them together.”
Johnny's main takeaway is that DMA’s are constantly changing and adapting.
“We’re still hitting our stride,” he says, looking toward the future. “Even though we’re four albums in, we feel like we’re learning more than ever about songwriting and arrangements and music in general.”
“We like to change it up every record, so don’t know where we’re going to go for the next one, but we’re really stoked with this one now and can’t wait to incorporate it into a live show. I think it’s going to be awesome.”
DMA's play the 3Olympia Theatre on March 23. How Many Dreams? is out on March 31.
- 12 May 23