Gear Talks: DMA’S

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Gear Talks: DMA’S

Words by Isabella Venutti

Johnny Took, guitarist of Sydney trio DMA'S, on the evolution of the band’s sound, the power of a high energy live set and their “Screamadelica-fied" new album ‘How Many Dreams?’

DMA’S’ fourth studio album How Many Dreams?, set for release on March 31 2023, is a dazzling, euphoric record. 

In one sense, it’s a continuation of an exciting departure the band have made in recent years, expanding upon the electronic and dance influences emergent on earlier works such as 2020’s The Glow. In another sense, it’s a homecoming – a body of work that gleams with the self assured confidence of three individuals who have cut their teeth as seasoned live performers, explored a vast array of sonic territory, and come out the other side with a true appreciation for where their sound has been, the ways in which it has evolved, and how it might continue to do so.

Read up on all the latest interviews here.

It doesn’t so much sound like a guitar band covered in a fresh coat of pads and synthesisers, but a supercharged collation of everything DMA’S have released thus far. 

“There’s still facets of our original sound that we really love,” Guitarist Johnny Took tells me over zoom, and that love certainly shines through on this new record. 

The jangling electric guitar hooks and shimmering acoustic strums that garnered comparisons to indie rock of the 90s brit-pop persuasion at the beginning of their career abound, yet this time round, they’re energised by the lush orchestral arrangements and pulsating synthesisers of the early 2000s pop-timism that the band begun embracing on their subsequent releases.

“Something that’s really important that we acknowledge is that we learned a lot from (producer) Stuart Price when doing The Glow, that was obviously quite a different sounding record for us. Before The Glow we were definitely more of a traditional rock band with that ‘throw back’ kind of vibe. I feel like Stuart Price’s production ideas brought DMA’S into 2020, into the future. We learned a lot from him, particularly when it came to blending rock with dance elements and programming,” Johnny says when asked about the evolution of the band’s sound in recent years.

“In the two years of covid, we kind of took on some of the stuff we learned from Stuart and made it our own – I feel like The Glow was very much Stuart Price doing DMA’S, whereas for this new album we went away and experimented with our song writing and different kinds of sampling and synths, and went deeper into that world.” 

“We really leaned into the energy of the songs, which I think we couldn’t have done if we’d never made our first EP in my bedroom with a bunch of shitty guitars and a mattress up against the wall as a sound buffer, or if we we’d never made Hills End or The Glow after. We’ve definitely brought DMA’S into 2023 with this record, which I love, it’s a modern rock record… it’s not very exciting for us to keep doing the same thing.”

It’s unsurprising to hear that DMA’S live reputation, which have brought the band everywhere from late night slots at major music festivals, to roaring arenas across the UK, largely informed the writing and recording process for How Many Dreams? The album’s eponymous opener, a sizzling four minute track that conjures those warm sunset breezes spiked with anticipation and the echoing chants of fans, is a perfect example of the band’s efforts to write with their live set in mind.

“I purposely wrote (‘How Many Dreams?) as a vibe track, it’s got that elongated intro, the vocals don’t come in for two minutes, I really like that song because I think it’s a great mix between dance and rock, which can be really hard to nail,” Johnny says.

With new tracks from the album such as ‘Olympia’ and ‘Fading Like A Picture’ having proven to be “some of the strongest songs in the set” at a recent festival appearance, its looking like the band’s considered approach is shaking out exactly as they’d hoped it would. And while the new record’s sound has been influenced by live performance, the opposite is also true, with the increasing addition of synths and samples meaning that the DMA’S live rig has evolved a great deal.

“After the second record, which has dancey songs like ‘Life is a Game of Changing’, once you start involving synthesizers that aren’t just playing pads or weird noises, but really specific sounds, it’s quite hard to replicate live… basically we’ve had to set up the infrastructure so that we can incorporate track into our set up. When I play ‘Silver’, I hear a click track going, and I don’t think Tommy even gets it because we have separate mixes in our in-ear monitors… little things like that, and also because I play pads and samples live, for example, for the riff in ‘Life is a Game of Changing’, I’ll have the riff, but I’ll have it on sample pads so it can be the exact same sound as the record.”

However, while incorporating recorded elements is important to the DMA’S show, Johnny is also quick to stress that when playing the new material live, exact replication is never the goal:

“One thing we’ve been really conscious of is not having anything on pads that can be played. We’ve got a six piece live, and we’ll do pad sounds, little effects, maybe some strings, but we’d never put guitar parts or riffs on track. We want the key moments of the song to be able to shine through, but we want the live version to be a live version. The last thing I’d want to do is play the track exactly as it is on the album – I don’t think people want to see that.”

The delicate to-and-fro involved in striking that perfect balance between raw, live rock and pristine dance-pop production is one that could very well be tricky to navigate, however Johnny largely credits the band’s success in doing so, to what he calls “screamadelica-fying”:

“We went in and recorded the album like a live band in the room, and we did that with Stuart Price and Rich Costey, two great producers. We came home and listened to the record, and it kind of sounded a bit too much like a band in a room, and that’s when we called up our mate Konstantin Kersting.

“So we went in and ‘Screamadelica-fied’ it, which is what Primal scream did on their Screamadelica album… the great Andy Weatherall (British DJ) cut it up and made it all dancey, like on ‘Loaded’ and ‘Moving On Up. We didn’t take it that far… but we were able to really cut everything up and really sit down and work on the synth sounds, and work on the programming.”

When asked whether there’s any tid-bits or tricks from the production of this album he’ll be taking with him when the time comes to get started on DMA’S #5, Johnny hilariously tells me about a synth sound he became enraptured by on a Dave Smith Poly Evolver, a preset labelled ‘nasty pain’, which made it onto pretty much every track on the album. Ironically, I’m certain that most people who get their ears around How Many Dreams? Will hear a collection of tracks that sounds like pure, unadulterated bliss, and, just as the trio had hoped, one that begs to be seen live.

Keep up to date with DMA’S hereHow Many Dreams? Will be available on all good streaming platforms from March 31, 2023.