FROM DUSK TO DAWN­ING

FOR MOST BANDS, THE DREADED ‘SOPHO­MORE SLUMP’ IS A GOLD­MINE FOR ANX­I­ETY. DMA’S, ON THE OTHER HAND, WERE KEEN TO HIT LP2 WITH AN ES­PE­CIALLY LAID­BACK AT­TI­TUDE. WORDS BY MATT DORIA.

Australian Guitar - - Feature -

There’s some­thing fas­ci­nat­ing about the way DMA’s com­pose them­selves on­stage. Oasis nods are am­pli­fied by the lack­adaisi­cal grav­i­tas that front­man Tommy O’Dell wields, ax­e­men Johnny Took and Matt Ma­son jam­ming to their hearts’ con­tent on ei­ther side of him. Their high-stakes Brit­pop flair is larger than life in ev­ery way imag­in­able, which makes it all the more sur­pris­ing when our meet­ing with Took and Ma­son finds them in a not­edly re­laxed state.

We’re at the cosy Lady Hamp­shire on the out­skirts of their na­tive Sydney, pop-punk cov­ers of early Aughts pop tracks blar­ing from over­head. The three of us, Took with a seafood chow­der in hand and Ma­son on his fifth plain tonic wa­ter, the ul­ti­mate rock’n’roll combo, hud­dle at a ta­ble. In a lot of ways, the iconic bar is a sec­ond home for DMA’s – it is, af­ter all, where they recorded a solid chunk of their new al­bum.

“This place was so good to record in,” says Took. “We’d drink a cou­ple of beers and hang out, go to Nando’s up the road, and re­ally just rock out. It was cool be­cause we knew all of the staff here and the owner is a good mate of ours, so we could be jam­ming up­stairs un­til two o’clock in the morn­ing and the pub would still be go­ing, and we could just come down and chill out af­ter a ses­sion. We got the foun­da­tions of the record down at The Grove Stu­dios, but it was nice to be up here when we had to do a lot of the cre­ative stuff with the gui­tars be­cause we could re­ally take our time.

I could be drink­ing a beer while Ma­son was writ­ing a few riffs. It wasn’t like, ‘We’re in a big stu­dio now, we have to do this quickly be­cause we’re pay­ing for it all,’ it was, ‘Okay, cool, we can be in a com­fort­able headspace and get re­ally cre­ative with this.’

And that’s ex­actly what they did. For Now re­tains the gloomy, re­verb-laden in­can­des­cence that made their de­but al­bum – 2016’s in­fec­tious Hills End –a near-iconic slice of Aus­tralian rock, but with a big­ger bud­get on its side and some new­found knowledge in its writ­ers, sprin­kles some new flavour into the band’s sig­na­ture dish.

“I’m not go­ing to say that [ For Now] is bet­ter in terms of song­writ­ing be­cause I think we nailed a lot of the songs on Hills End,” Ma­son spec­i­fies, “But son­i­cally, it’s just a whole dif­fer­ent world. A lot of the gui­tars on Hills End were recorded in a bed­room where you’d have to open a win­dow to keep cool, and then shut it so that the sound of the main street didn’t bleed into your mics… Which, y’know, it prob­a­bly did on a lot of the record­ings. But this time around, we had a proper stu­dio to record all of the gui­tars in and we knew what we were do­ing a lit­tle bet­ter.”

With a slew of A1 record­ing gear and more time to hone in on their tal­ents – not to mention a gui­tar col­lec­tion most of us could only dream of lay­ing our hands on – it’s not hard to as­sume that Ma­son and Took went above and be­yond with the riffs. But as they’re quick to point out, that wasn’t the case – and per­haps for the bet­ter. In­stead, the pair ap­proached writ­ing from a more lowkey an­gle, plac­ing less pres­sure on them­selves to write im­pres­sive and out­landish parts, and more on… Well, not be­ing pres­sured at all.

“I ac­tu­ally felt like I put less ef­fort into this one,” Ma­son chuck­les. “I wasn’t re­ally fo­cused on play­ing all th­ese finicky so­los or us­ing too many ped­als; I wanted it to be very locked in on the rhythm as­pect and I wanted to be a lot more spot on with my play­ing. Be­cause on the last record, a lot of the rhythms aren’t as tight as I’d have liked, and I think that was be­cause we did the drums last, so we were all over the place as far as our tight­ness goes. There’s a lot less gui­tar over­dubs and a lot more live gui­tar on this record, too, which just makes the whole thing a lot more punchy.”

As far as the gui­tars them­selves go, Ma­son swears by Fen­der kit. “I’ve used Gib­son gui­tars be­fore, but I al­ways re­vert back to Fend­ers be­cause I just like them more,” he notes bluntly. There’s a full slate of Jazzmas­ters, Strats, Te­les and Mus­tangs in his ar­se­nal. Took is more of a Gib­son man, favour­ing an un­known acous­tic model for his at­mo­spheric noodling. His more tran­scen­dent work, though, comes from a prized pos­ses­sion once thought to be long gone: a 1958 Ma­ton MS-500.

“There were par­tic­u­lar tones on Hills End that I just couldn’t get from any other gui­tar,” he gleams. “It has this real lack of at­tack, but all this at­mo­spheric stuff and th­ese al­most an­gelic tex­tures. I wasn’t quite get­ting them from any of the Fend­ers and what­not, and I was like, ‘Where the f*** did that sound go!?’ And then our man­ager Leon dug up the Ma­ton – it’d been lost in his apart­ment for, like, a year – and it was so… It has so much warmth, and this par­tic­u­lar pickup set­ting is per­fect for when you don’t want to hear the at­tack of the strings at all, and you just want that warm, kind of synth-y tex­tu­ral stuff. When I dis­cov­ered that, it was a to­tal game changer. And I bought it for, like, $350.”

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