Vocalist Tommy O’Dell explains that an electronic heart has always been pulsing somewhere underneath DMA’S warm, acoustic sound – and why it has now made its presence beautifully, brightly known on new album THE GLOW.
Scotland and Australia: not the closest of nations, speaking both geographically (17,000 kilometres from capital to capital), and on the matter of time-zones (we’re nine hours ahead, again, capitally speaking). But this rift did little to stem the vigorous flow of musical exchange between DMA’S bandmembers Tommy O’Dell, Johnny Took, and Matt Mason, as they constructed the follow-up to their acclaimed second album, 2018’s For Now.
(Notably, For Now reached #5 on the Scottish charts – two places higher than on the band’s native ARIA chart.)
“We’ve always written our music in a disjointed kind of way,” says vocalist O’Dell. “So for Johnny to send an idea from Edinburgh to Sydney, I didn’t find it too hard. Johnny and I have been in bands together for a long time now – as soon as I hear an idea of Johnny’s that I like, I connect with it straight away.”
And O’Dell heard much to like in the demos that Took was crafting in between roaming the cobbled streets of Auld Reekie, during which he’d choose the cream of Great Britain’s electronica as his soundtrack. You can hear the spectre of Underworld in stand-out Life Is A Game Of Changing, one of the tracks Took sent to Sydney all but completed. “That was written when he’d just moved to Edinburgh; he was just walking around kind of taking it all in, thinking about how much his life had changed recently,” O’Dell says. The succinctly-put, bittersweet message (right there in the title) was one which the frontman could resonate with. “When I heard that demo, I sensed the uplifting feel to it as well, so I used my own experience to sing it in a way which brought it up in the song even better.
“A lot of the lyrics that Johnny writes, I have shared those experiences with him – on tour, and we lived together,” he adds. “We’re intrinsically very connected with our music, and… as friends as well.”
THE GLOW is bursting with ideas that leg-up from the warm, acoustic sounds of yesteryear DMA’S into more experimental electronica territory, with deep, throbbing beats and beatific synths – but every song has an organic heart . One such example is Criminals, which sees O’Dell’s normally naked vocals digitally warped. The band has dabbled with minor vocal effects before – although not, ironically, on their wildly popular cover of the most famous autotuned song of all time: Cher’s Believe. “[Criminals] is definitely the song on the whole record which creative a divisive discussion,” says O’Dell. He humbly notes that they didn’t need autotune to conceal anything, but instead used the tool as a stylistic effect. “It’s my personal favourite,” he says of the track, “and for the reason that I think it is quite daring for us to do a song like that.”
He credits the album’s producer – multiple Grammy-winning talent Stuart Price – with encouraging the band to consider options they wouldn’t have previously. “He’s just a remarkable guy, and has worked with so many brilliant acts: New Order, Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, The Killers,” O’Dell lists. “He created a really relaxed and comfortable vibe in the studio. No idea was ever a bad idea, he never shut anything down… I can’t speak highly enough of him.”
It was previous album For Now’s most electronic track, The End – which rather shocked fans at the time, for its deviation away from the guitars they associated with DMA’S – which piqued Price’s attention, and THE GLOW’s track Life Is A Game Of Changing which cemented the deal. “It’s interesting, actually: when Johnny and I first started making music together many years ago, we always had electronic elements to our music – some of our earliest demos are really quite dancey,” says O’Dell.
“Then we formed a live band and it went down this garage-y-rock ‘n’ roll avenue, which we were all capable of doing because we’d been in rock bands before.” (NB: Took and Mason also helmed the successful punk-country band Little Bastard, releasing their excellent self-titled album in 2014.) “It’s not until now we’ve gone back to those dancey ideas that we had,” says O’Dell. “It’s been an interesting sort of circle.”
THE GLOW by DMA’S is out July 10 via I OH YOU.
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