Interview Music

DMA’S Interview: Tommy O’Dell on ‘The Glow’ and finding Creativity during COVID-19

By Katie May Huxtable

Quench Magazine last caught up with Australian trio DMA’s back in 2017, as a part of our 164th print issue. They had then released their first studio album, Hills End, and seemed to be gaining momentum amongst UK audiences.

Now, Tommy O’Dell, Johnny Took and Matt Mason are about to release their third studio album to a large UK following. This time around, they’ve broken out beyond the recognisable garage rock’n’roll and have chosen to flirt with more electronic sounds throughout their track list. This new approach prominent in the production process is a reflection of the theme of change that they often intertwine in lyric use and is exemplified in recent single Life is a Game of Changing.

I caught up with DMA’s’ frontman, Tommy O’Dell, in slightly more unusual circumstances to discuss their upcoming album release, a headline slot at Castlefield Bowl, and staying creative whilst under lockdown.

An Interview with Tommy O’Dell

Tommy seemed well prepared for the imminent reopening of pubs in Australia on Monday, welcoming in the Sydney evening on his balcony with a beer in hand. Alternatively, I went for a more appropriate orange juice in order to avoid the more questionable act of consuming an alcoholic beverage at 9am – a time much more suited to the English breakfast.

“I’m just on my balcony having a beer” he announced, unfazed by my apology for conducting an interview in the middle of a pandemic. It’s not all been so easy-going for the band, however, who have recently had to postpone a line of UK tour dates as well as the release of their highly anticipated third album.

“It’s been a little hard because we are meant to be touring right now and releasing our record, so it’s taken a bit of getting used to. There’s not much you can do really except try and make the best out of a bad situation,” said Tommy.

And make the best out of a bad situation they have done. Although they are still yet to jump on the isolation trend of hosting a virtual quiz night, the trio have joined numerous other bands in the creation of lockdown tracks recorded whilst separated from one another.

“We’ve done a bunch of little performances, when you each record your part and the video gets edited… which have been quite cool actually. I haven’t minded them, and we did something for a charity for front line workers. Over here we did like a crowded house cover which was pretty cool… and we did a few bits for Radio X that are meant to come out soon.”

As a well-known Everton fan, Tommy, alongside band members Matt and Johnny, recently performed an isolated recording amongst a line-up of other Toffee supporters that included Circa Waves and The Wombats. This was put together as part of Everton’s Lockdown Sessions in aid of the Blue Family campaign. Tommy changed the lyrics of The End, the fifth track from their well-received second studio album, in order to sing ‘The Ev’ as a homage to the football club.

The Everton Lockdown Sessions 2020

It seems that it is opportunities like these, as well as adapting under the constraints of lockdown, that are opening up more doors for the band to work creatively.

“We’ve definitely tried to record and work on ideas in more of a unique way now. Zoom has a software where you can do song writing sessions with people and stuff so that’s quite cool. We’ve got so much more time on our hands, so we’re just gonna try and use it to stash away more tunes… when we can get back into the studio, we’ll be more prepared than maybe we would’ve been otherwise.”

Despite the unfortunate postponement necessary regarding the album release, the band were lucky to have completed sessions for their third studio album back in the summer months of 2019. The Glow, due for release on the deferred date of July 10, demonstrates a further growth in confidence from the band in a triumphant attempt to expand beyond their roots.

“Stylistically, we’ve tried a bunch of different stuff on this album,” explains Tommy, keen to provide an insight to those with a longer wait until they can find themselves engrossed in the 11 track LP.  

“There’s some synthy dance songs and some rock’n’roll tracks, groove tracks, and then more ballads. Then there’s full on housey productions, so there’s a bit of something for everyone on this album. It’s different to our first record, which was just a garage rock’n’roll album. There are obviously elements of DMA’s in there, but there’s also new sounds that we’ve not really experienced before. It’s a diverse record I think, for us anyway.”

The band have already released singles Silver, Life is a Game of Changing, and title track The Glow to leave fans with a taste of what is yet to come. Life of a Game of Changing in particular highlights a shift away from any restrictions associated with the Britpop label and face value comparisons to Oasis, instead taking influence from the headphone escapism created by bands like New Order and The Chemical Brothers. Having been fortunate enough to hear the album in full, it still facilitates the necessity of a British festival setlist but assembles a track list with more potential than just a catalyst for coloured flares and throwing your pint in the air.

DMA’S live at Citadel Festival 2019. Photo: Katie May Huxtable

“Life is a Game of Changing is one that I was really excited to play. Luckily, we got a chance to play it at our Brixton Academy show in London. That was really fun to perform as we’ve never really played a dance track like that live.

“We play to more people and we have more fans now which is great. We’ve always wanted to be more than just a rock’n’roll band and now we are finally starting to achieve that. I think it’s just been a natural progression, it seemed obvious to us to make this kind of record so if it feels obvious and right then I guess there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do it.”

It was clear that the band routed out a production process that relied on creating songs that felt right. With a SoundCloud link where they upload all of their demos, this album was about bringing together a collaboration of sounds that worked for them. Combining songs that were shortlisted for the first album, with others that were penned just weeks before going into the studio, has created this fusion of new and old that runs full course throughout The Glow.

As a band, their close connection with the UK is also apparent and has manifested in the close following that they have acquired. Crawling their way up festival line-ups, DMA’s have gone from playing to 20 people at Night and Day Café to supporting Mancunian legends like Liam Gallagher and the Courteeners. A sold-out headline show on a now postponed date at Manchester’s legendary Castlefield Bowl must be as big a signal as any to the kind of impact they’re having over here.

“I was really looking forward to [Castlefield Bowl] because I love playing in Manchester so much. To play [Manchester Arena] was super surreal. I mean, it’s taken a while and a lot of hard work, but it’s been an awesome journey. Particularly with those northern cities, they’re so passionate about their music and they certainly jumped on it before anyone else did.”

Despite a love for these large gigs, in ever-changing circumstances it isn’t about the venues anymore, says O’Dell: “I think any venue now, we’ll take it. If there’s restrictions in venues or you can only play in a certain sized place, I’ll take it just to get out and play live again.”

“Sometimes you would not be feeling up for doing the Sydney to London flight for a tour. You’d feel a bit like ‘oh I can’t be bothered’, but now it’s been taken away from us you definitely realise how special it was to be able to travel and perform.”

His words contribute to a feeling of appreciation prominent across the globe at present following the recent step away from normality. He emphasises how easy it was to take things for granted, something that we can assume will become all the more uncommon as we gradually return to regular life.

DMA’s third studio album is due for release on July 10. You can pre-order it The Glow or find information about all postponed tour dates here.