Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #128. Subscribe to our print edition here!
For most bands, the dreaded ‘sophomore slump’ is a goldmine for anxiety. DMA’s, on the other hand, were keen to hit LP2 with an especially laidback attitude. Words by Matt Doria.
There’s something fascinating about the way DMA’s compose themselves onstage. Oasis nods are amplified by the lackadaisical gravitas that frontman Tommy O’Dell wields, axemen Johnny Took and Matt Mason jamming to their hearts’ content on either side of him. Their high-stakes Britpop flair is larger than life in every way imaginable, which makes it all the more surprising when our meeting with Took and Mason finds them in a notedly relaxed state.
We’re at the cosy Lady Hampshire on the outskirts of their native Sydney, pop-punk covers of early Aughts pop tracks blaring from overhead. The three of us, Took with a seafood chowder in hand and Mason on his fifth plain tonic water, the ultimate rock’n’roll combo, huddle at a table. In a lot of ways, the iconic bar is a second home for DMA’s – it is, after all, where they recorded a solid chunk of their new album.
“This place was so good to record in,” says Took. “We’d drink a couple of beers and hang out, go to Nando’s up the road, and really just rock out. It was cool because we knew all of the staff here and the owner is a good mate of ours, so we could be jamming upstairs until two o’clock in the morning and the pub would still be going, and we could just come down and chill out after a session. We got the foundations of the record down at The Grove Studios, but it was nice to be up here when we had to do a lot of the creative stuff with the guitars because we could really take our time.
"I could be drinking a beer while Mason was writing a few riffs. It wasn’t like, ‘We’re in a big studio now, we have to do this quickly because we’re paying for it all,’ it was, ‘Okay, cool, we can be in a comfortable headspace and get really creative with this.’"
And that’s exactly what they did. For Now retains the gloomy, reverb-laden incandescence that made their debut album – 2016’s infectious Hills End – a near-iconic slice of Australian rock, but with a bigger budget on its side and some newfound knowledge in its writers, sprinkles some new flavour into the band’s signature dish.
“I’m not going to say that [For Now] is better in terms of songwriting because I think we nailed a lot of the songs on Hills End,” Mason specifies, “But sonically, it’s just a whole different world. A lot of the guitars on Hills End were recorded in a bedroom where you’d have to open a window to keep cool, and then shut it so that the sound of the main street didn’t bleed into your mics… Which, y’know, it probably did on a lot of the recordings. But this time around, we had a proper studio to record all of the guitars in and we knew what we were doing a little better.”
With a slew of A1 recording gear and more time to hone in on their talents – not to mention a guitar collection most of us could only dream of laying our hands on – it’s not hard to assume that Mason and Took went above and beyond with the riffs. But as they’re quick to point out, that wasn’t the case – and perhaps for the better. Instead, the pair approached writing from a more lowkey angle, placing less pressure on themselves to write impressive and outlandish parts, and more on… Well, not being pressured at all.
“I actually felt like I put less effort into this one,” Mason chuckles. “I wasn’t really focused on playing all these finicky solos or using too many pedals; I wanted it to be very locked in on the rhythm aspect and I wanted to be a lot more spot on with my playing. Because on the last record, a lot of the rhythms aren’t as tight as I’d have liked, and I think that was because we did the drums last, so we were all over the place as far as our tightness goes. There’s a lot less guitar overdubs and a lot more live guitar on this record, too, which just makes the whole thing a lot more punchy.”
As far as the guitars themselves go, Mason swears by Fender kit. “I’ve used Gibson guitars before, but I always revert back to Fenders because I just like them more,” he notes bluntly. There’s a full slate of Jazzmasters, Strats, Teles and Mustangs in his arsenal. Took is more of a Gibson man, favouring an unknown acoustic model for his atmospheric noodling. His more transcendent work, though, comes from a prized possession once thought to be long gone: a 1958 Maton MS-500.
“There were particular tones on Hills End that I just couldn’t get from any other guitar,” he gleams. “It has this real lack of attack, but all this atmospheric stuff and these almost angelic textures. I wasn’t quite getting them from any of the Fenders and whatnot, and I was like, ‘Where the f*** did that sound go!?’ And then our manager Leon dug up the Maton – it’d been lost in his apartment for, like, a year – and it was so… It has so much warmth, and this particular pickup setting is perfect for when you don’t want to hear the attack of the strings at all, and you just want that warm, kind of synth-y textural stuff. When I discovered that, it was a total game changer. And I bought it for, like, $350.”