DMA’S formed in Sydney and released their self-titled EP in 2015. Their full-length debut, ‘Hill’s End’, became their domestic breakthrough and saw it reach the Top 10 while the follow-up, ‘For Now’, expanded their profile across the globe. DMA’s have just released an MTV Unplugged album which was recorded at Melbourne’s Memo Music Hall in October 2018, with DMA’S becoming one of the first Australian bands to play the iconic MTV Unplugged session. As we spoke it’s a format in history following classic sets from the likes of Nirvana and Oasis from which they can remember watching when they were younger.
The MTV Unplugged album finds the band stripping back their songs and putting a new unique twist which adds to the nostalgia of originally writing the songs back in their apartments. Fan favourites ‘Lay Down’, In The Air’ and ‘Step Up The Morphine’ are some of the huge tracks on the album to receive the Unplugged treatment and if you haven’t listened to it yet we suggest you do it straight after reading this interview. Myself and Johnny talk about the ‘simple boring shit’ he enjoys to get up to in his free time, a 3rd album in the pipeline and what it’s like being on the road with DMA’s.
Firstly, you’ve had a very busy year so far with a sell-out UK tour, huge sets at Isle of Wight Festival and Heaton Park with Courteeners, how does it feel being on the road and playing some of the biggest gigs of your career so far?
Our showbiz is the best it’s ever been at the moment, more and more people are starting to listen to our music and discovering the band quicker than we’ve seen before. I think the songs we’ve got for the 3rd record that we’re currently working on are coming along really well because of the experiences we are having and it’s a really great point for us to be in at the moment. Isle of Wight, Heaton Park, TRNSMT and Citadel at the weekend just gone have been some of the best shows we’ve played in our career and to top it off having the MTV Unplugged album has been a huge blessing.
We obviously put a lot of effort in to the pre-run up with rehearsals for one gig but we couldn’t have been happier with the outcome and the performance. To be able to release an album just from one performance is an amazing feeling and for the fans that’s been with us for a while. It’s kind of nice for them to hear the songs in a different light. We’re a six piece live, it’s not like we’ve just gone out and hired a load of session musicians, they’re all good friends of ours from bands we used to be in Sydney before and what not. So, it’s basically just me chilling with of my best mates and a really cool crew. Theres no one that’s a fucking burden, it’s just really good vibes. We’ve also got better at touring, when you’re younger you get a bit excited of the experience and think fuck it and wear yourself out a bit but we’ve got used to it a bit more now.
When writing music Do you expect to provoke something more than just music? Such as delivering a message, or a specific emotion?
I don’t think there’s anything, obviously everyone’s different. It’s not about a message that specific you know, everyone has different views so what’s the point trying to put my views out in music about a certain issue. I tend to like to write about what’s going on in my life or whatever. Me, Tommy and Mason all have different things we like to write about. But for me, it’s the simplest things you know. It’s kind of like that Walt Whitman concept of leaves of grass. You can go in to really fine detail about one leave of grass and I like that idea of things. You do for your meaning and it doesn’t give the vibe that everyone has to take the same meaning from it. Now when listening to songs and you find out what the songs really about you wouldn’t even know because you’ve put your own perception on the song and that’s the beauty of music it can mean different for so many people. We need to talk about concepts and feelings overlapping. It can mean so different whether it being happiness, insecurity, nervousness or complete fucking misery.
You released your MTV Unplugged album in June, can you tell me how this came about?
Basically, we got hit up about it, for us being huge fans of all the Unplugged stuff in the past it was huge. It’s MTV Australia that’s brought it back but it’s super cool to be a part of it. Everyone writes songs differently but for us, a lot of our background comes from the acoustic guitar, piano and all that so it was a really good fit. We got to strip them back to that core like we actually wrote them. We tried really hard not to just make an acoustic version of the song because we felt that’s not what Unplugged is about. We did try to change the arrangement, instrumentals, tempo, and the vibe. We brought our mate Jenny McCuller in who was playing the violin, Mason was switching instruments at the end of every song from acoustic to electric to pedal steel to cello, so we had a bit of everything. Matt and Mason can pick up anything with strings and start playing it which you don’t really get to see at festivals and our other shows so it was nice to show that off a bit and be creative with ways like that and show the fans his musical abilities.
What were your favourite moments from recording this album?
Probably collaborating with Jenny, that was pretty cool and just switching everything up. It was a lot more work than we thought it would be and a lot more stressful but I think it all came together in the end.
And what’s the favourite track from the album?
I think ”Time and Money’, there was some really cool piano parts in there that aren’t in the original and it added a really nice vibe to the track. ‘Lay Down’ is probably up there as well because it sounds totally different to the original. It still resonates the original and I remember when me and Tommy wrote it in my apartment. But hearing it in the other style kinda evokes the nostalgia.
Huge congratulations on ‘Lay Down‘ and ‘Step Up The Morphine‘ going gold in Australia and ‘Delete‘ becoming certified platinum. When hitting these huge achievements does it start to sink in that you are becoming one of the biggest bands in the world and the hard work is starting to pay off?
Thank you so much man, we’re really stoked with that. This weekend was a pretty special moment and it’s really nice at the same time knowing it’s starting to pick up. It’s really inspiring when you start ticking the goals that you set when you first started. It makes you want to work harder and start writing more touring more and being with the lads. We’ve never been more inspired. We can’t wait to carry on.
What’s the alternative scene like in Australia at the moment? Any new bands you’ve got your eye on?
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever they’re a great band and managed by a label back home. They’ve got some really good tunes out at the moment and I enjoy listening to their music. My mate Patty Harrison who is in Green Buzzard has released a single and is about to release an album which is sounding really cool. My brothers band Planet are just about to release EP really soon, I just spoke to him on the phone and they’re about to fly over to play YNot and Truck Festival next weekend which is really exciting for them.
It’s inevitable DMA’S deserve a well-deserved rest after the fast-paced year you’ve had so far, what do DMA’S enjoying doing in their downtime?
When life is so busy on the road I know we all just kind of just want to go back and live the simple life you know. I want to take my partner out for dinner, see my family, catch up with some and mates and just relax. Try and do some exercise, we have to have the chance to do that really normal shit to wind down and it’s cool. I also like to find the little shit to winge about. We’re so fortunate and really humble to be where we are and to be writing and performing music as a job. As a kid, I didn’t even know the dream of it becoming true.
What’s next for DMA’S, any new music in the pipeline?
As we said earlier we’ve never been more inspired at the moment. We’re going into the studio soon to lay a couple of tracks and start on album 3. We don’t want this record to be ‘Hills End’ and we don’t want it to be ‘For Now’ the same as we didn’t want for now to be ‘Hills End’ you know. It’s boring to make the exact same record. We’re going to get creative and make new music.
COVER IMAGE: RHONA MURPHY PHOTOGRAPHY