Critiquing the hype: A look at Aussie Britpop revivalists DMA’s before Saturday’s show at The Camel

by | Mar 11, 2016 | MUSIC

Music is far removed from the day where you could count on one hand artists considered “buzz worthy” or “the next big thing.” Now, it seems there’s a new list of “artists to watch” popping up every da

Music is far removed from the day where you could count on one hand artists considered “buzz worthy” or “the next big thing.” Now, it seems there’s a new list of “artists to watch” popping up every day with ten new equally great artists to add to an already overflowing list. It may be hard for artists to actually break-out due to this oversaturation, but in the end, the cream does always rise to the top and that’s exactly the case with Australian rockers DMA’s.

By design, DMA’s were always going to instantly stand out from any list they were thrown on — partly due to the Britpop style on fully display in their music and on their debut record Hill’s End out now. It’s eye-catching at first glance. A plucky group of late twenty-year-olds from Sydney with a deep admiration of Britpop and a completely novel approach to the sound. While the rest of the music world seems preoccupied in revisiting the heyday of fuzz alt-rock in America, here are some brash rockers who are perfectly happy spending their time extoling the greatness of bands from The Stone Roses down to Blur and many are beginning to track their work and progress alongside the British heavyweights from twenty years ago. “Yeah, we’re from Australia, but there’s also the internet so you listen to anything you could ever fucking want to whether it’s Britpop or some weird forgotten style,” guitarist and songwriter Johnny Took mused.

The band’s predilection for discussing Britpop and critic’s pleasure in balancing the two together has even caught the eyes of many of these aging rockers, both in good and bad ways. Rock star / surly curmudgeon Noel Gallagher from Oasis famously derided the band before even hearing a single song from them, while Blur drummer Dave Rowntree praised their work and even met with the band. “Oh, it was such an honor,” Took detailed. “He was such a straight up guy for all the right reasons. It wasn’t just a ‘hey, how are you?’ type of meeting. He was just a real proper and encouraging dude.”

Ignoring the band’s Britpop inclinations, DMA’s also distance themselves from their “hype” brethren for the simple path they’ve taken to get noticed. At one point in time, making it as a band meant forming a group, writing enough songs for a set, and then playing as many as live shows as possible before you got noticed at a random show or your demo coincidentally ended up in the right hands. Well, that wasn’t the case here, thanks to the accessibility of technology as well as DMA’s unique mindset and approach.

“We were writing songs in a studio for three years before we even played a song live,” Took laughed. “I remember getting to the point where Tommy [O’Dell] was telling me he wanted to put a full band together to play these songs live and we’d never even heard what the songs sounded like live. They’d all been recorded for a while and we had never actually heard them live.” For most bands too, it’d be years of gradually building your audience, but again, DMA’s wasn’t most bands as their first show ended up being a smash success that had to turn throngs of people away. They continued to draw huge and enthusiastic crowds from there, all full of fans eager to see a band who had yet to even release a proper single or EP. The news spread fast and people began to wonder how this simple trio was able to go from nobodies to stars in so little time.

“I guess from the outside looking in, it does look like everything happened so quickly for us,” Took theorized, “but we were writing and recording and working on our production skills before we even started to make headlines. It didn’t feel like zero to a hundred for us, rather just the result of all our hard work.” Years later, people are still wondering how this band has been able to rack up the momentum, as they’ve begun conquering other areas of the world with their music, most notably Britain. “We were just there last week,” Took revealed “and it was absolutely amazing. All those gigs were sold out and it was just mad. The coolest thing was the record had only been out for a couple days, but we were able to play songs live and people know the lyrics now, not just the singles or just what we had on the EPs. It was great to see the songs being embraced like that at such an early stage.”

Naturally, America is next and the band is doing their best to tackle it with the same vigor and energy that have made them adoring favorites across the pond in both directions. “We’ve only been here a couple of times,” Took admitted, “and we haven’t really done it extensively, but we’re excited to be able to get to that same level here.” This time around, the band is hoping to make much bigger waves than the past, as seen by their increased touring schedule and media appearances, such as their recent performance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. “Yeah, we did that Colbert thing recently,” Took chuckled. “It was one of the craziest experiences of my life. Those are the kind of things I look forward to. Those new experiences that just inspire you to do more.”

The momentum continues to grow for DMA’s, but for what it’s worth though, the group themselves could care less about the hype. It’s something they make painfully clear wherever they go now. “I don’t really think about it at all,” Took dismissed. “I write tunes. Play gigs with my mates. Meet new people on the road. Hype is just something that just gets thrown around in the media, but as long as we’re writing good tunes and having fun on the road and playing proper gigs, I don’t give a fuck about that shit.”

Took’s disdain of “hype” as a meaningful measure of success was evident throughout our whole conversation, yet it never seemed like it arose from an innate hatred of attention or adulation. Instead, Took is apathetic towards the hype surrounding DMA’s mostly because it would just distract them from their work and the one focus Took always has his eye on: songwriting.

“The only thing I worry about is writing songs,” he explained. “One thing that I realize is every single facet of the music industry all revolves around songwriting. You wouldn’t have a booking agent unless you had good songs. You wouldn’t have a record label unless you had a decent tunes. Listeners, fans, so on. You can spend time thinking about all these other things, but the truth is you just have to think about this one thing and the rest will come. You might as well just focus on this one thing and go with the flow with the rest of it.”

But with the band’s popularity continuing to rise, songwriting has to take its toll as the band is pulled in every single direction possible while on the road. “It’s fuckin’ hard,” Took revealed. “We’re not writing at home and living in Sydney anymore. Hell, we don’t even have a home now. We’ve been on the road for so long and I don’t see that stopping any time soon.” Despite the daunting task ahead of them, Took still pushes forward with attempting to write music on the road, even packing in a way that’s conducive and ideal to process. “I’ve built a recording studio in a bloody briefcase,” he exclaimed. “When you’re playing seventy gigs over several months, you have to do something to keep that side of things going.”

Still, as intimidating as it has been for Took to learn to write while traveling, he admits there’s no metaphorical gun to their head to continue to write. “The pressure’s just not there for us,” he replied. “When we had the album ready, we had maybe fifty or sixty songs down so we still have plenty in the bag. We could probably do another album tomorrow. I feel grateful about it because it allows me to write with no pressure or stress, except just from the everyday travel.”

With that many songs saved up though, it’d be easy to worry about them becoming outdated or the band moving away from their sound. Yet as much as Took is genuinely interested and focused on songwriting, he is also finding himself drawn more and more to the arrangement of these songs and the power to make them anything he wants. “The way I think of tunes,” Took detailed, “I could have written a folk song when I was twenty on an acoustic guitar. It has four chords and blah blah and that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t tweak the song around and throw in different sounds here and there. There are just endless combinations of arrangements out there.”

It’s hard for some musicians to view their music this way. To some, that acoustic song isn’t going to change much even if they record it on an electric guitar with a drum part in the background. For Took though, it’s a chance to spread his creative wings while he reimagines these songs in new settings. “We have all these songs in the bag, but I don’t feel obliged to play it how was originally recorded,” he continued. “We’ll learn from our album and what kind of sound we want to go towards next. From there, we’ll re-asses these songs and adapt them to whatever our current situation is. That’s the stuff that makes me most excited and most curious because you just don’t know where you’re going to end up.”

That’s been the case with DMA’s all along. Who knew where they were going to end up? Most studio-only bands never see the light of day, no one realistically thought a Britpop revivalist band would succeed in 2016, and certainly no one thought DMA’s would replicate that success in Britain and now America. Thankfully, DMA’s are able to just go with the flow right now as they continue to hone their craft both on stage and in that briefcase studio. Time will tell how far their Britpop admiration gets them, but with the tireless dedication and meticulous attention Took is giving to his songwriting, it’s safe to say DMA’s is one buzz band that won’t fade away anytime soon.

DMA’s come to Richmond this Saturday night at The Camel alongside The Trillions and Sideways Orange members Garett Whitlow & Mitchell Latimer. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 the day of the show, and doors open at 7:30 PM. For more information on the show, click here.

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

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Topics: DMA's, The Camel

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