DMA'S are Tommy O'Dell (singer), Matt Mason (guitarist) and Johnny Took (guitarist). The band released their debut album Hills End earlier this year, and was recorded in Johnny's bedroom in Newtown in New South Wales, Australia. Their nostalgic garage pop has been compared to Oasis, and has been labelled a renovation of 90s Britpop, with crooning vocals coming from behind the peak of Tommy's cap, and melodic guitar parts. I chatted to an intoxicated Matt Mason before their gig at the Cluny:
Have you been to Newcastle before?
Yeah man, this is our second time playing here. Our drummer Liam and I have been friends since we were like 5 years old. When we were 18 we hitchhiked around Europe and busked a lot. We had a residency in a pub in Prague, where we’d play almost every night ‘cos we were real low on cash. These guys came up to us and said “if you ever come to Newcastle you can stay at our house” and we took him up on that. A couple of those guys will be here tonight. We toured here with that band, The Courteeners. We have never done a headline show.
What do you like the most about the city?
Newcastle Brown Ale, which they don’t fuckin’ do here, at this pub. I was really excited – I was like “gimme the fuckin’ dog” and they were like “we don’t have that here. We have an alternative.”
The album was released a few days ago. Could you sum up the album in less than 10 words?
Mark ‘Spike’ Stent - what was it like working with him?
He’s done a lot of good stuff. We mixed our EP ourselves and so it was weird working with someone else, another engineer who was going to mix it. We were on tour the entire time he was mixing, so we had to mix it through correspondence, through email. It was very difficult.
I have never met the guy. So when you say ‘working with him’, it was only through email. We didn’t have the opportunity to sit down in the studio and say “that guitar part: turn that up a bit”. He’s done a good job, but it wasn’t as organic as you think. It was kind of annoying with the fact he had to balance a song, and then we would change a bit and balance it again. It was quite a difficult process and gave us a bit of a head ache. I think if I worked with him, it would be really nice cos he’s a genius man. I love his shit.
I read that Hill End is a gold mining town in New South Wales. Is this where you got the name from?
It is actually. The first song Johnny and Tommy wrote together. I joined the band after they had written about 10 songs together. They used to be in a band called Underlights, which was a psych-band. Tommy was the drummer and Johnny was the bass player. They did a tour in New South Wales and passed Hill End and liked the name. When they recorded the song Tommy preferred to sing Hills End, I think it sounds better. I don’t really know, I wasn’t there.
I OH YOU is the DIY record company from Australia you're signed to. Tell us about them, and their ethos.
It’s just one dude: Johann Ponniah. He’s a really good friend of mine. We are friends before business partners. I don’t really have that relationship with any of the other labels. I’m very friendly with Infectious [Records, DMA’s UK label] people and Mom + Pop in the USA, but when I hang out with Johann it is just us being mates. I love the guy, I trust everything he does.
He recently signed a band called Green Buzzard, who are friends of ours. When we first came to Newcastle, supporting the Courteeners, our bass player and guitarist at the time have now left and they’re in Green Buzzard and signed to I Oh You as well. There is a family vibe going on there. It’s a great label.
Didn’t I Oh You spring up from a party?
It started with Johann moved from the west of Sydney, like a real dodgy part of Sydney, to Melbourne to start a music career because Melbourne is the art central. A lot of artists and musicians move there. He was living in a share house and I think they couldn’t pay their bills, they were so broke, so they put on a party and charged money and asked a couple of DJs to play to raise funds for them living there. I think they had a really good turn out and spawned from there.
I wanted to ask about the line-up of the band. Do you have a drummer or bassist, or is it mainly just the three of you?
Our bass player Tom played on every song on the record and our drummer Liam played on every song. Our new guitarist Joel joined the band after we did the record. If he had been there before he would have definitely played. I think the reason we only have three people because it is easier to take photos. These guys don’t wanna fuckin do interviews and shit. It’s just easier for everyone.
We saw people asking “who the fuck are Tame Impala?” They’re like the biggest band in Australia, the hottest band. For us, it’s like “what do you mean who are Tame Impala? Who the fuck are you?”
‘Delete’ is your oldest song. Wasn’t that written by you?
Yeah that was written about 8 years ago.
And how much has it changed?
The original version is so fuckin different. I can try and find it actually. (Matt begins scrolling through his phone to find the recording) The music I write myself is very different to the music we write in DMA'S. I have another couple of bands on the side, and just sorta do my own thing. Here, let me try and find this (He carries on)
This is the way I wrote it... I don’t know if it’s gonna load or not... It used to be called ‘Captain Lazer’.
So my name is Matt Mason, and there used to be an action figure from the Sixties called Major Matt Mason. Its kinda like Action Man, but it came out when the moon landings were happening, space kinda dude... I don’t think it’s gonna work... Captain Lazer was Major Matt Mason’s best mate.
You have been pinned by this label of Britpop influenced. Do you think this label applies, or would you call yourselves something different?
I’m cool with the comparison. To be honest, I never listened to any of that kind of music myself. When Tommy comes up and sings he looks real English, like his head and shit. I completely understand it.
Our drummer Liam and I have been friends for a really long time and we never listened to British music so it’s strange to be labelled a Britpop band.
So you think it comes down to the vocal style?
Yeah. When I write the songs I write, I’ll sing it but I have more of an American tinge in my voice, or Australian-American. Nobody would label it Britpop. As soon as Tommy comes and sings over it there is instantly that sound. If you’re Australian, singing in an Australian accent, is pretty fuckin hard. There’s not a lot of bands that do that. A lot of Australian bands that you know don’t sing in an Australian accent. You have to pick either an American accent or a British accent, because the Australian accent is not particularly musical. American or English are; you sing and it sounds just right. A lot of the bands I know sing in an American accent and no one says shit, but as soon as you sing in a British accent everyone’s like shhhhh. No one else is really doing it in Australia. Everyone is doing either the American thing, or Australian.
‘It’s said that Australians are some of the most laid-back people around, always cool, calm and collected.’
Nah that’s not right, that’s bull shit. I’m pretty calm all the time. If you get a proper Aussie guy, he is just full of testosterone and will wanna fight. In my mind, the typical Australian is a psycho.
I saw a tweet from Slaves about the album...
We made friends with them at Reading & Leeds Festival. I think we were playing the same stage and we just hung out with them. I get along with that Laurie [Vincent, guitarist of Slaves] cos I’m a big tattoo fan and he’s a tattoo artist, comparing tats and showed him my music.
Are there any other British bands you’re mates with?
We’re really good friends with Splashh. I know a couple of them are British, but I don’t know if you could consider the band British. They’ve played here actually.
At festivals and stuff we keep to ourselves. We don’t go and mingle with everybody. We know Jagwar Ma, but they’re Australian. Jonny’s first band was with Gab[riel Winterfield] from Jagwar Ma. We have all been intertwining with each other. They’re more of a British band than an Australian band to me, cos when they come to Australia the shows they play don’t compare to the shows they play here.
Is that the same with you as well?
No, the shows we play in Australia are bigger than the ones we do here.
You’ve been to the States on tour too. How is the music received there, compared to here?
It is extremely inconsistent. Our manager told us the other day we’d sold out a show in Columbus, Ohio and I’ve never fuckin heard of the place. It’s the same amount of heads as in New York, but we didn’t sell that out. It really depends on the radio DJs in that city. If the DJs play our stuff, we go work; if they don’t, we will sell nothing. We have done shows that have been sold out, you go to the next state and there’s like 15 people. It’s a big country man.
It sucks that you have to rely on a radio DJ to get publicity.
It sucks, but then if they do do it we are very grateful. In England, same as Australia, it is consistent. We know that we can sell out shows, but over there you do one great show and then the next there’s nothing.
A lot of the bands I know sing in an American accent and no one says shit, but as soon as you sing in a British accent everyone’s like shhhhh. No one else is really doing it in Australia. Everyone is doing either the American thing, or Australian.
It’s the awards ceremony season and the BRITs have recently been on. What do you think of them?
I was too jetlagged to watch it, but I saw that Lorde performance of ‘Life on Mars’. I thought that was very fuckin cool. I saw the Bowie tribute to David Bowie and I didn’t like that one. Lorde is from New Zealand, which is our part of the world. Australia and New Zealand are mates. Also, Tame Impala winning the Best International Act – very fuckin cool.
What did you think about people asking who Tame Impala were when they won?
I saw that on Twitter. Joel, who is also from New Zealand brought it up and saw people asking “who the fuck are Tame Impala?” They’re like the biggest band in Australia, the hottest band. For us, it’s like “what do you mean who are Tame Impala? Who the fuck are you?” The fact they won was great. Also Björk ... How do you say it? She said in an interview that it rhymes with jerk.
So it is B-yerk?
I don’t fucking know, I don’t wanna be that guy.
Anyway, what about her?
She won Best International Female Artist, which I am very happy about. Doesn’t matter how you say her name, she’s a genius.
Did you keep up with the Oscars? What do you think of Leo finally winning for The Revenant?
I’ve heard the Oscars are like a money thing – they’re rigged or whatever. When I hear people winning an Oscar, it’s all about who you know. I’m pretty sure he is going to be pretty relived nobody is going to be making these dumb fuckin' memes of him anymore. When he looks himself up, which I’m sure he does, he isn’t going to see all that. I’m sure he was probably more relieved he isn’t going to be a meme anymore.