Meet the unlikeliest leaders of a baggy Britpop revival: three easy-going Australians who are being welcomed as homecoming heroes in Manchester.
The North will rise again. And leading the new wave of baggy Britpop will be three easy-going Australians. Paul Moody meets DMA’s in their spiritual home of Manchester and f inds out why they’re Liam Gallagher’s and every other self-respecting parka monkey’s favourite young band.
10.15PM, SATURDAY NIGHT, AND THE MANCHESTER ACADEMY IS IN ECSTASY.
For the last 70 minutes, the venue has been gripped by a form of mania, induced by DMA’s’ powerhouse sound, which essentially combines the melodic clout of The Stone Roses with the sonic roar of Oasis. But then it goes up a notch: the opening bars of final encore Lay Down triggers a reaction which suggests it’s New Year’s Eve, the FA Cup Final and the royal wedding rolled into one. As plastic beer glasses go flying, everyone present, from the teenage girls in the front row to the middle-aged blokes at the back, sings along as though their lives depended on it. It’s a euphoric, hug-your-mates reception normally reserved for household names. It’s made all the more remarkable when singer Tommy O’Dell delivers his final words: “We’re DMA’s… from Sydney. Thank you and goodnight!” Because, these are not household names. They’re not even local heroes delivering a Britpop blast of nostalgia. They grew up half the world away in Australia. It’s a coals-to-Newcastle success which is fast turning DMA’s (O’Dell, guitarist Johnny Took and lead guitarist Matt Mason) into one of the stories of the year. Thanks to a non-stop touring schedule, they’ve created the kind of word-of-mouth buzz we’re told is no longer possible for a guitar band in 2018, amassing 40 million Spotify plays along the way. It’s a stealth-like rise which hasn’t escaped the (beady) eye of Liam Gallagher, who tweeted his approval recently with the words: “Just heard the new DMA’s record, one word ‘BIBLICAL’.” All of which begs the question: how on earth have a band from Down Under re-ignited the musical spirit of Britpop so effectively?
It was at No. 37 Buckland Lane in Newtown, a hip Sydney suburb, that DMA’s’ journey began. Familiar with each other from the city’s close-knit music scene, the trio started jamming together in 2012 on what they all considered to be a “bedroom project”. Took and Mason first met in a bluegrass band, but the trio found common ground in a shared love of Britpop. “That was the music I grew up with,” says O’Dell, sprawled on a backstage sofa earlier in the day. “My brother would always have The Stone Roses and Oasis blaring. I didn’t have to make a decision about whether I liked those bands or not. Beautiful melodies and great lyrics. That’s what music is to me, still.” Recorded in Took’s bedroom, and fuelled by lager and “chicken saag” from the Indian takeaway downstairs, their 2016 debut album Hills End was a bolt from the blue. A combination of mod-ish riffs delivered in a Gallagher-esque drawl by O’Dell, their major chords and anthemic choruses also came with street-level lyrics anyone could relate to. Debut single Delete was about erasing an ex from social media; Step Up The Morphine described the agony of watching
an elderly relative suffering in hospital. It reflected a no-nonsense approach slightly out of step with a band who never quite got around to naming themselves. “We just thought the letters DMA’s looked cool written down,” says O’Dell with a grin. Could it be an abbreviation, maybe? O’Dell thinks about this for a moment. “Don’t Mean Anythings,” he suggests. Then, “Dirty Muthafuckas. Do More Acid.” He shrugs. “We never thought anyone would ask us about it.” Slight of frame and engulfed in head-to-toe designer sportswear, O’Dell could easily pass for 10 years younger than his 30 years. Selfdeprecating and almost horizontally laid-back, he’s unrecognisable from the scowling figure who leers back at you from DMA’s’ photos. Growing up, he was naturally drawn to the spirit of England’s North-west thanks to his father, a “10pound pom” who emigrated from Liverpool in the ’ 60s and left his son with an everlasting love of Everton. O’Dell coasted through school believing his future lay in his dad’s painting and decorating business. Having played drums in local bands, it was only when he hooked up with Took in psych-rock outfit Underlights that his musical ambitions came into focus. Encouraged by Took to sing lead vocals, the pair started their own
“My brother would always have The Stone Roses and Oasis blaring. I didn’t have to make a decision about whether I liked those bands or not.” Tommy O’Dell
side-project. Pouring their hearts out into dozens of songs, O’Dell’s voice expressed a vulnerability he’d previously kept well hidden. “Johnny and I were both going through a couple of rough break-ups,” he says, squirming at the thought of going into details. “One night we stayed up really late working on the track Blown Away. When we listened back to it we both knew it was good. I guess that was the lightbulb moment.” Having moved in together, they recruited multi-instrumentalist Mason to add a harder edge to their sound. Encouraged by friends’ reactions to their demos, the trio put a film clip for Play It Out on YouTube. Sounding like a lost Stone Roses demo and looking like three scallies fresh from Spike Island, it sparked an instant reaction. “Their overall vibe was so different to anything else coming out of Australia at the time,” says the band’s manager Leon Rogovoy. “They were three frontmen who obviously had different personalities and influences.” Swiftly signed up by Sydney boutique label I OH YOU, their second ever gig at the Deus Cafe in Camperdown was a sell-out. “There were 500 people there and 150 locked out,” recalls O’Dell. “That’s where the craziness started.”
If O’Dell is the voice of DMA’s, Took, 28, is their charismatic driving force. Nursing a pint of Guinness in a bar close to the Academy, and sporting a zippedup anorak, baggy blue trousers, Adidas trainers, Took looks every inch the cutting-edge pop star – if it was 1995. With piercing blue eyes and rugged good looks that are framed by tousled brown hair, a single golden earring adds a piratical edge to his retro style. More than a Britpop wardrobe, though, Took has good rock genes. His Londoner dad was a lighting engineer for Neil Young and INXS, and his son grew up listening to what he calls “the greats”: Springsteen, The Band, Dylan, Joni Mitchell. He had to put that knowledge of rock history to good use during the gruelling, 150- date tour for Hills End across America and Europe. It tested DMA’s to their limits. “History tells us that creative types sometimes don’t have the most stable minds,” he muses as a string of well-wishers come over to shake his hand or offer to buy him a drink. “A lifestyle like this certainly doesn’t help. By the end of the tour we were all frazzled.” The low point came when Took rolled his ankle on the lash in Hamburg with some Germans he’d met and then, when trying to catch a cab, he discovered his wallet was missing. He called his manager and told him he “couldn’t do this any more”. But of course he could, and it all turned out to be good grist to the rock mill. These adventures have been put to use as source material for DMA’s’ superb second album, For Now. Sonically more playful than their debut while retaining the same swagger, it filters the euphoria, isolation and anxiety of two years on the road into something that moves the trio into a commercial realm beyond the “Ausasis” jibes they’ve had to tolerate previously. This is their breakthrough.
Sitting at a table in the backstage area, Matt Mason, 28, provides an intriguing foil to O’Dell and Took’s bonhomie. Forthright to the point of bluntness, he adds a bohemian, slightly lawless edge.
“I thought, ‘We’re going to be really popular because we’re tapping into a genre of music that is relatively untouched.’ But I’m getting a bit tired of the Oasis comparisons.” Matt Mason
His hands are covered in botched tattoos. “I did them myself because I didn’t have too much coin,” he admits. “That’s why they look kind of shitty.” A gifted musician who started playing cello at eight, he’s nevertheless also a free spirit and he spent his early- 20s busking around Europe with friends. He fondly recalls playing marathon, six-hour sets in bars, mainly on banjo, without ever repeating a song. “‘We were bums, man,” he says wistfully. When the offer came to cut loose with Took and O’Dell, he was in a heavy metal band called Particles. “I thought, ‘This is sick. We’re going to be really popular because we’re tapping into a genre of music that is relatively untouched,’” he says with admirable candour. “But I’m getting a bit tired of the Oasis comparisons.” Right now, though, with showtime approaching, he’s happy just to enjoy the ride. “The great thing about DMA’s is that because we’re Australians it feels like we’ve got a free pass to play this kind of music. The audiences go crazy for it.” DMA’s may be unlikely Britpop revivalists, but their appeal is not to be underestimated. At their first Manchester show at the Night & Day Café in 2015, they were seen by precisely 12 people. Tonight, 2600 fans greet them like returning heroes. Fleshed out to a six-piece onstage, they’re a fearsome live proposition. With Took and Mason largely in shadow, the burden is on O’Dell to carry the show. Fists clenched by his side, jacket unzipped, he’s unrecognisable from the archetypal easy-come, easy-go Aussie we encountered earlier. Alternately pacing the stage and standing on the monitors, arms outstretched, he acts as a human lightning rod, gripped by an electrical energy as he leads the mass singalongs.
Backstage afterwards, an impromptu party is soon in full swing. As O’Dell, Mason and Took take turns to DJ and hand out beers, it’s easy to see how DMA’s have connected in such a big way. Rather than pulling off an elaborate conjuring trick, they’ve got here through sheer enthusiasm for the music they grew up with. For Took, relocated to a rooftop bar much later, life feels good. An Australian flag has been metaphorically raised in DMA’s’ spiritual home, and he couldn’t be happier. “I’m all about the simple things,” he says, as the 2am bus call tells us our time is up. “Playing a great show then having a few beers afterwards. I’m living in the moment.” For DMA’s and their growing army of fans, it’s not about where you’re from. As Ian Brown once noted, it’s where you’re at.
Rock on, Tommy: O’Dell lifts the DMA’s massive, Manchester Academy, 28 April, 2018.
“We’re with the band...”: fans get their picture taken with Johnny Took; (inset, above) the new album, For Now.
“Because we’re Australians it feels like we’ve got a free pass to play this kind of music. Audiences go crazy for it.” DMA’s lead the mass singalongs, Manchester Academy, 28 April, 2018.