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In conversation with DMA's Matt Mason

Made up of singer Tommy O’Dell and guitarists Johnny Took and Matt Mason, the Sydney-based band DMAs have been releasing distinctive Britpop and 90s rock-infused songs since 2014.

By Oscar Ross, First Year History

Made up of singer Tommy O’Dell and guitarists Johnny Took and Matt Mason, the Sydney-based band DMAs have been releasing distinctive Britpop and 90s rock-infused songs since 2014.

In more recent years, the band has toured with stars such as Liam Gallagher, Richard Ashcroft, Kasabian and The Kooks, consolidating their place in the hearts of indie and 90s rock fans alike.

Last year DMAs took a stylistic turn with their full-length album, The Glow (2020). This album explores new dance and electronic sounds, which saw a kickback from fans due to the shift in writing and production away from earlier fan favourite albums such as Hills Ends (2016), and For Now (2018). However, in August this year, the band surprise-dropped the four-song EP I Love you Unconditionally, Sure Am Going to Miss You (2021). This EP sees the DMA’s return to their signature style and their roots.

Dialling in to a Zoom call with Epigram from Manchester while on tour here in the UK, guitarist Matt Mason outlined how and why the band made this stylistic U-turn from The Glow, saying that the band felt they ‘owed it to the day-one fans’, adding ‘we tried to replicate the first [album’s] energy,’ Mason continued when outlining the unconventional roll-out of the new EP. With no label involvement or PR, Mason said the band felt ‘more comfortable’ catering to their fans on their own terms.

The band’s return to their roots is particularly noticeable in the EP’s production. Returning to the same small studio in which they recorded Hills Ends, with original producer Dylan Adams, DMAs went all the way back to the heart of their music using ‘the same space and the same guy who did [Hills Ends]’. Not only is this a symbolic gesture to their fans, the band dealt with the original hurdles from their early musicianship, with Mason describing the cramped studio space as, ‘Hot as ****; there’s no air con.’

Mason remarked how the band ‘still love that kind of music’ and how The Glow is more of a stylistic outlier than turning point for the DMAs. The Glow featured the three-time Emmy-winning producer, Stuart Price, who - along with The Chemical Brothers - Mason named as the biggest influence on the album describing Price’s style as ‘clean and cool’. Despite the disapproval from certain fans, The Glow not only highlights DMA’s artistic range, but also shows how the band can explore different musical avenues without losing touch with their true sound, as evidenced in their new EP.

The four songs on I Love you Unconditionally, Sure Am Going to Miss You all reignite the DMAs’ sound celebrated by their die-hard fans, with the first two songs featuring signature washy, reverb guitar and crashing drums reminiscent of DMAs’ harsher songs such as ‘Lay Down’. Considering the EP’s focus on themes of love and loss, the lyrical and thematic outlier on the track list is ‘Viol’. The upbeat, buzzy electric-driven track features heavy use of guitar and vocal effects that create an almost hypnotic banger. ‘I wrote it at five AM sometime after a party,’ commented Mason, describing how he sat on the floor and came up with the ‘Viol’ melody on a stringed Kazakh instrument called a Dombra. The lyrics mainly stand out as departing from the pattern of lost love in the other three songs. ‘I think that lyrically, [Johnny] had a plan. I came along and did something else,’ said Mason. It’s this collaborative and diverse writing that has made DMAs the band they are today, with each of the three members drawing from different parts of their lives to create highly personal and moving music.

Mason also spoke about his own musical experience in relation to Covid-19 in Sydney. With harsh lockdown restrictions on travel and social interaction, Sydney became a hub for Australian musicians. ‘It’s hard to line up sometimes,’ remarked Mason highlighting how often it can be hard to work with new artists because of touring. However, during the period of isolation Mason described how he worked with more Australian rap artists, branching outside of the altrock scene in his own time .‘Obviously Covid sucks,’ Mason observed, ‘but for me, it just opened up so many different genres and so many different avenues because I was just collaborating with so many people that I usually wouldn’t have.’ Mason’s own musical style comes through in DMAs through the signature sparkly, overdriven guitar-sound that he attributed to influences such as J Mascis and Dinosaur Jr.

Despite having written and co-written some of the last decade’s better alt-rock and Britpop-infused songs, Mason was not originally a Britpop, Oasis fan, stating that he likes the music but, ‘I just know how to the write the songs.’

When asked about returning to the UK after Covid, Mason jokingly spoke about the muddy and rainy English festivals, naming Reading and Leeds as his personal favourites. The DMAs’ fervent UK following is not surprising considering the influence British bands such as Oasis and The Stone Roses have had on their music. This fan base is set to grow with a new generation of teens obsessed with 90’s nostalgia and general pride in the UK’s achievements in 90s rock. Mason also commented on DMAs’ relationship with Liam Gallagher, having opened for the star on a few occasions and gone drinking with him to a Manchester City game. ‘We’ve hung out with him a couple times…he’s a good dude,’ says Mason. Commenting on Gallagher’s naming of DMAs as one of his favourite Australian bands on Triple J, Mason adds ‘when you get a consign like that from someone you get compared to so often it’s a really good feeling.’ My own excitement around Gallagher’s upcoming 2022 album, C’mon You Know was matched by Mason who named it as his most anticipated album alongside Low Life’s From Squats To Lots: The Agony And XTC Of Low Life.

Mason’s hope for the EP is that it will have a real impact: he says of the I Love you Unconditionally EP that ‘it’s going to make a lot of people happy.’ Coupled with the feeling that they ‘owed it to their day-one fans,’ I think this highlights the DMAs’ unique devotion to their listeners, and to releasing music for the right reasons. After a year of clout-chasing, beef-inducing album releases in the rap scene and industry-targeted rock albums that diverted away from bands’ original sound to cater to wider audiences, the DMAs’ surprise EP is music. While it is common to see artists sell out, lose their sound and their original audience, it is a rare sight to see an artist actively maintain what makes them loved by their fans. No label, no pre-hype, the DMAs have provided a brief antidote to the soapy drama of the modern music industry.

Featured image: Infectious Music

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