DMA’S

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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.

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