Johnny Took of DMA’s | Everyone’s Laughing and It’s Cool

dmas 75Apparently we sold the most tickets in Columbus, which I’ve never even fucking heard of; that’s pretty cool.


dmas 500

What an advanced and special world we live in where an Australian band can get signed to a label (I OH YOU) before ever playing a live show, and get booked for a major North American tour—including appearances Bonnaroo, Governor’s Ball Music Festival, Lollapalooza, and Outside Lands Music and Arts festival—before their first EP is released (May 19). The co-founder and guitarist of the trio, Johnny Took, gave his first-ever Skype interview with me to tell me about a range of topics: how prepared and excited the band is for the upcoming tour; where in America he is most excited to visit; his work ethic; his love for lead vocalist Tommy O’Dell’s voice; Ethiopian jazz music; and, among other things, who he is going to stalk down at the upcoming festivals the DMA’s are playing.

After he tells me he’s calling from Adelaide, the capital city of the state of South Australia, and I tell him I’m calling from Maine, we agree that we have no idea where each other are specifically located on Earth, but we know that it’s 11 a.m. where I am and 11 p.m. where he is, sucking down hand-rolled cigarettes and “whispering a bit because I’m in a hotel.”

The confidence he possesses is apparent immediately after I inquire about the pressures of success and how it affects the songwriting process. “When you’re on the road you can’t write as much, but when we first started DMA’s, we were writing in my bedroom for two years, because I knew this was going to happen.” Took claims the band already has about 50 songs written that haven’t been recorded yet. “We knew if we worked really hard for two years, before we release anything or play the gig, that now we can really enjoy going to America. The second album is almost written [the first one not released yet], so it’s like no pressure; everyone’s laughing and it’s cool.”

After Took hands over his phone to the drummer for a quick hello, he tells me about one song the DMA’s have been playing lately that’s not on the EP. “We’ve got this song called ‘Melbourne,’ which is only called ‘Melbourne’ because we wrote it in Melbourne.”

On what performers he wants to stalk down while playing at the major festivals in America, he says while exhaling, “Yeah, Drake!” Aside from Drake, he understands the awe and magnitude of being at such major events. “To be honest, mate, I think we’re just excited to be going over there for the first time. We’re a very young band, we haven’t done a lot, so now we have the chance to go to the States, see these amazing places that we’ve heard of in songs and books all through the years. We get to see some of the biggest artists in the world doing their thing, and we get to see how they hold themselves and how they do shit because they want to keep it real.”

Of originally just planning on being a studio band, Took tells me, “You play a small venue in Sydney, it sounds like somebody shit on your face; it’s horrible. It’s really tacky and that’s not how we want to be perceived. So it wasn’t a big thing for us to play live. We were just content hanging out in my bedroom on Friday nights, getting fucking wasted and writing tunes ‘til 3 a.m. It was cool; that’s what made us happy.”

A few years back, Took went to London and Germany to see “gigs,” but ultimately felt jealous and pathetic because he wasn’t accomplishing anything. “After that point, I was like, fuck it. I promised myself I wasn’t going to go traveling unless somebody paid me to go, and it worked!” The DMA’s ended up seeing New York for the first time, “playing sick gigs in L.A., and feeling good afterward.” Took then took a moment on his screen across the world from me, looked up, and said, “Work and travel; it’s like a dream come true.”

In Took and O’Dell’s previous band, and just when they would jam together, O’Dell was always on drums. O’Dell would sing out loud occasionally to get the drum beat down, and that’s when Took was blown away at what a beautiful voice he had, and encouraged him to sing. I wanted to make sure with Took that O’Dell didn’t know he was going to be a singer; that he was always the planned drummer. “He’s probably more of a painter than he is anything else,” he said, adding through snickers, “and not in the artistic way. I’m talking like fuckin’ office blocks. Tommy says to people, ‘Yeah, I’m a painter,’ and they think he’s like some artist. No, man; he’s halfway up the ladder most of the time with a roller on the wall. And he’s still fuckin’ painting!”

On cities Took is looking forward to seeing, he says, “I’m very curious about San Francisco because I’ve seen it in all the movies and I hear some weird shit happens around that bridge. I’ve also heard the drive from Portland to San Francisco is an incredible experience. Even more than a certain city that I’m looking forward to is the process of getting to the city. It’s like when people talk about making money: If you already have money, it’s not as much fun. It’s the process; that shit’s cool. The ride and the process is more exhilarating.” Then he ponders about a town in Ohio. “Apparently we sold the most tickets in Columbus, which I’ve never even fucking heard of; that’s pretty cool.”

In their short career, the DMA’s have been compared to Britpop sensations in the vein of The Verve and Oasis. I wonder how Took feels being an Australian band and to constantly be compared to British bands. “I couldn’t really give a fuck to be honest. I love Oasis and I love The Verve. So if they’re going to compare us to those bands, I’m pretty down with that.”

Took talks about me living in Maine and him in Australia and how we can both listen to the same music due to the internet. “If I want to listen to fuckin’ Ethiopian jazz music, in two seconds I’m listening to Ethiopian jazz music! I can listen to exactly the same music you can listen to. That’s where the world is changing. Who cares if I’m from Sydney, Australia, or you’re from New York or Manchester or wherever; it’s 2015, baby!” | Alex Schreiber

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