Australian band DMA’S have been one of the staple indie-rock bands of the last decade. I spoke to guitarist Johnny Took about the release of their latest album, How Many Dreams?.
What has the process been like making the album and how long has it been in the making?
“This record was definitely the longest record that we’ve ever made- Hill’s End took like two weeks or something. I think For Now was like three weeks, and The Glow was about the same, but these songs have been different. [When] we started working on [How Many Dreams?], we had a lot of songs to pick from, we had about seventy songs. Then we culled that down to thirty-five and then we culled that down to fifteen or sixteen. We went in and recorded at RAK Studios in London and it was really great. We were with Stuart Price and Rich Costey- two amazing producers. We got a lot of really good work done. But then Covid Omnicron hit. We couldn’t really travel anymore. We came back to Sydney and were listening to the work we did [in London] and there was some good stuff here- the bones of it [was] good- but it sounded a bit too much like a band in the room for us. We wanted to delve a bit deeper into the world of synthesisers, programming and chopping things up and kind of having fun with it. Then we did a month with Konstantin Kersting, who’s an amazing young producer in Australia, and that was fun because all the drums were done- a lot of amazing work had been done with Stuart and Rich. It was so nice to have a breather from the record and then be able to dive in again and coming in with a fresh ear.”
Was there a difference between recording in London and recording in Sydney? How did it influence the album?
“Yeah. It was kind of a strange time for us in London because we had just finished a tour. When you’ve already been on tour for a month and then you tag on another three weeks to make a record, when you’ve already been living out of your suitcase, maybe there’s something good about that, maybe there’s something bad. I don’t know, it’s just different. But I had fun hanging out in St. John’s Wood for three weeks in one of the best studios in the world; it’s not a bad thing to do. But, saying that, I think there was something great about coming home and coming to the place where we all grew up to finish the album. I think that was really cool, and maybe some of the special stuff we did there was because we were at home and we were relaxed and we were with our partners and we had family around. Who knows? It’s not an experiment you can do twice.”
Did you plan for the album to turn out as it has or was it more of a natural process that came from experimenting in the studio?
“It was more of a natural process from experimenting in the studio at home. I think a big thing for this record is we learnt a lot of stuff off The Glow. We weren’t kind of done opening up that sound- we had a bit more to unpack with that stylistically. When you hear songs like the last track ‘De Carle’- that songs a pretty hard dance song- we’ve never done anything like that before. We couldn’t have made a song like that two years ago. Being able to put tracks like that on the record, that came from just hours and hours of experimenting with stuff in the studio at home.”
I feel like tracks like ‘De Carle’ feel very much made to play at a festival or to play live. Did you consider the live element when recording the album, especially after the pandemic restricted touring with The Glow?
“Yeah, definitely. I don’t think I’ve ever really considered the way songs sound live until this record. I didn’t think about it that much. But just because the live shows have become so important to us, and we’ve done so many of them, it was really at the forefront of our minds. I think you’re entirely right, [especially with] songs like ‘De Carle’,songs like ‘How Many Dreams?’, the opening track, and songs like ‘Get Ravey’. Even in ‘Fading Like A Picture’- we would’ve only done that riff once but we knew it would sound cool to do that riff twice live so we kept it like that on the record. There were lots of decisions like that.”
What song off of the album are you most excited to play live?
“Probably ‘How Many Dreams?’. I’m looking forward to doing ‘De Carle’ live but [it] is such an electronic song. We can play a bit of it live but a lot of it will almost be like being a DJ. Some of those electronic sounds are kind of impossible to recreate unless you play them on a sampler or something like that. If we play that live, I’ll probably just run around like a goose.”
You could start dancing more.
“Yeah, I’ll just start dancing. I reckon that would be fun!”
With four albums now, I imagine it’s getting harder to negotiate the set list. How do you decide which of the fan favourites, as well as your favourites, to lose off of the set list?
“I think we just use our gut, really. We change up the set list every tour to give it kind of a different flavour. It’s really great when there’s a new album out because you do have more songs and you can make a really solid set list. And it changes enough for the fans but they can still hear [the classics]. I don’t think we’d ever do a set where we wouldn’t play ‘Delete’ for example. I don’t think we’d play a set where we wouldn’t play ‘Silver’. We just kind of talk through it. [The lead singer] Tommy is actually really good at writing set lists, so he does it a lot. We’re all pretty cool about it, but we talk it out within the band. It’s one of those things to discuss on the tour bus. A really good person to ask is your sound guy- they’re there at the front, they’re experiencing the whole thing and they can really tell where the peaks and troughs are.”
I suppose it’s something you can kind of play around with it as well. For example, when you reintroduced ‘Believe’ back into the UK set list last year.
“Yes, exactly, it’s nice doing that. We also did an acoustic version of a song off of our first album called ‘The Switch’ and we hadn’t played that song for years so doing stuff like that is fun. It’s quite nice playing acoustic versions of songs we’ve never put in the set list, that’s really cool as well.”
Excitingly, there’s also the intimate UK shows this year. What can fans expect from them?
“Just a straight-up DMA’S sing along I reckon! A little off each album, which will be nice, but we definitely want to showcase some of this new record. Some of the songs which are maybe more highly produced but hearing them in that stripped-back, two guitars or piano version will be nice as well I reckon.”
What do you personally get out of these smaller shows after playing, for example, places like the Ally Pally and other bigger venues?
“They’re more personal. Those big shows are great and there’s nothing better than when you have the big crowds going wild. But at the same time, as you get bigger, you also appreciate it more when you have the chance to be able to do more intimate shows and the record signings. It’s a bit too crazy for us to go out to the merch desk these days at shows like the Ally Pally. We used to do that when we were playing smaller venues, we used to go out and talk to people and sign set lists and stuff like that. So doing the record singings, it’s nice to be able to meet people face-to-face and people are always super lovely, particularly when you hear a story of how a song has meant something to someone.”
How Many Dreams? is out now on all streaming platforms.