Let’s get straight to it – I’m a fan of DMA’S. I’m a fan of their anthemic builds, their aching vocals, and you know, their careless demeanor. I’m a fan of a band that steals your heart while looking like they might even steal your wallet. But my fandom isn’t unfounded. From their very first release back in 2014 to their Oasis-endorsed, “biblical” sophomore album, the DMA’S have earned international audiences with a strikingly simple formula. Inject some sincerity into otherwise pop-sounding music to draw in listeners who rarely flirt with the mainstream.
With their upcoming release, The Glow, the band have continued down their well-trodden path of anticipatory builds, crowd-pleasing melodies, and lyrics that navigate relationships and everyday uncertainties. The album opens with “Never Before”, a swirling tribute to the Stone Roses and the rich soundscapes of the guitar-meets-electronica 1990s Madchester scene.
It continues with “The Glow”, “Silver”, and “Learning Alive”, each track swarming with vulnerability and increasingly confident vocals. It reaches hedonistic heights with “Life Is a Game of Changing”, a song that quickly finds its antithesis in the album’s closing number, “Cobracaine”, an emo dance track crawling with anxiety. Guided by New Order and Pet Shop Boys producer Stuart Price, The Glow sees the band stretch their creative palette to include some electronica. But ultimately, it sees the DMA’S return to familiar territory playing honest pop music.
In expectation of the album’s upcoming release, I spoke with the DMA’S lead-singer, Tommy O’Dell, to discuss all things The Glow and beyond.
I read months ago that The Glow‘ was meant to lean into the Primal Scream end of Britpop. Listening to this album, half of it sounds distinctly new, while other songs feel like they could have appeared on For Now. How’d your team go about constructing this album?
We just got our Soundcloud link together, looked at all the demos that hadn’t been used on our other releases and thought, what’s going to feel right to record now, and what’s going to work with our producer, Stuart Price. When you’re writing tunes, you know if they have potential or if they need a bit more time to develop. That was the case with “Silver”. “Silver” was written before the first record, but we knew at the time that it wasn’t quite there yet.
There were a lot of people going through the tracks and going, okay, I think this can work. There were the three of us, Stuart, our manager, and label manager. When we went into the studio, we had an amicable shortlist of about 13 songs to work with.
It’s incredible that you’ve been working with Stuart Price, but I’m curious how you have maintained creative ownership when you’ve got someone so experienced onboard? Surely you have significantly less control than you did in the days of home-recording in Newtown?
Stuart was just an amazing guy to work with, and no idea was a bad idea. He created a really great vibe in the studio, and we actually kind of recreated a bedroom studio in the studio. So, we could all just sit around the same room and workshop ideas and just record on the go. He has so much experience in producing so many different artists that I think he knew the best ways we work and built on that.
Which tracks from the new album are you most excited about? When I first heard the album, I fell instantly for “Learning Alive” and “Cobracaine”.
On a personal level, I’m excited to release “Criminal”, just because I think we pushed ourselves in that song. We went down a production road that we wouldn’t have on other records. So yes, I’m just proud of that song, and I look forward to hearing what people think of it. I think there might be some divisive opinions, and that always excites me. To be honest, I think it’s better to have some people absolutely love your stuff, and some people hate it rather than people just seeing it as okay.
I’m really intrigued by “Cobracaine”, it’s dark and yet danceable. There’s a different character to the production – can you tell me about it?
“Cobracaine” is quite an old song. It was demoed in a rocky, emo kind of way, around the time of the “Delete” demo. We always felt that the song needed a dancey production, even three or four years ago, and we tossed up whether to put it on one of the other albums but ultimately didn’t. Stuart Price then came along, took the song and created the emo dance track we always wanted to make. So, yes, it’s one of my favorites too, and it’s been sitting on our SoundCloud link for a few years, and I think the waiting has paid off.
Many of your songs present you at odds with your world, suggesting you don’t feel comfortable with where you live, your relationships, how you act. Where does this come from?
Well, Johnny writes a lot of the lyrics, and I put my perspective on them when I sing. Lyrically, we’re very intuitive and express how we’re feeling at the time, and yes, as you said, lots of this happens to be about struggling with relationships and the world around us. It’s interesting because some lyrics will take on new meaning as you perform them live. So, what a song meant to me when I was recording it four years ago is probably completely different after I perform it. Johnny’s always challenged himself by living in different cities. He wrote “Life Is a Game of Changing” when he moved to Edinburgh, and he hasn’t lived in Sydney for about five years, so I guess he finds inspiration in new environments.
What about Mason’s lyrics? I heard he was responsible for “Cobracaine”.
“Cobracaine” was written about a girl who had a car accident on the way to Byron Bay around Schoolies-time. Mason tends to write lyrically about other people more so than about himself. That’s how I perceive it anyway. As a listener, I guess you can sometimes tell who’s written the song because the lyrics are more literal when comparing Johnny and Mason’s stuff.
You’re quite strategic in who you collaborate with. I was a big fan of the song trade you did with the Presets back in 2018, and it made a lot of sense to me when I saw the “Life Is a Game of Changing” Orbital remix come out. I can’t but help feel like this is all rather intentional?
Well, I’ve been a fan of Orbital for ages. I’m a real fan of dance music, which a lot of people don’t really know. They just think that I’m into like Britpop and rock ‘n’ roll, but I used to play drums, so I’ve got a real love of dance music and beats. Our record label teed that up, to be honest, and I was super stoked that they were willing to jump on board because they don’t do many collabs. It does help that Stuart produced the song, it opens up a world of so many great artists that only Stuart has access to.
The Presets one was because we were recording with Kim Moyes at the time. He showed us half the song kind of done, and we just put a top line over. We also did stuff for Golden Features through Kim, who teams up with them quite a lot. Maybe it’s strategic without knowing, I’m not sure. I mean, we have a great team working with us too. That does help with those things. Lots of cool ideas flying around, you know, especially at a time when we’re delving into that kind of dancey-er stuff.
More than most bands, it seems that you’ve converted your fans en masse into superfans. Your superfan group, DMAnia, is great evidence of that. What do you think it is about your band that connects so intensely with fans?
Interesting, I don’t know. I know that ultimately one of the most beautiful things you can do as a musician is to create music that someone else can relate to. So, I guess we have a lot of honesty in our songwriting. I guess we are what we are. We’ve always been that, and we’ve never strayed from what we are as a band. I guess people can see that honesty. I think that contributes towards our strong fan base and the fact that we write music which has strong melodies and anthemic choruses, which is quite popular. We’ve also crafted a live show over the last six years and have toured our music really hard. And ever since we first started, we were going to the UK and playing all the cities. That helps too.
How do you make sense of the “old_people_who_dress_like_dmas” Instagram account?
Yeah, I don’t get that one. I think it’s funny. Maybe we came out at a time when wearing baseball caps and sports gear were, I don’t know, not as cool or something? And I think it’s kind of stuck with us. We used to go to op-shops and buy crazy vintage sportswear jackets, but we’re not into that as much anymore. It’s a funny thing to have those pages online. Comments like “you dress so badly” and stuff, I never thought that was really something I’d have to deal with.
Is there anything more you’d like to share about this album or more broadly?
I’m proud of this record because we’ve really pushed ourselves. It’s not just one genre or mood, and even though we won’t be able to tour it right away, that’s fine because when the world is safe again, we’ll tour, and it’ll be great. I just want people to enjoy it in their own space for now, and we can play it live for them later. I’m proud of this record, probably the proudest out of the three of them, and that’s because we tried things that we never thought we were going to — on a vocal level, too, for me personally.
Yes, you do get a sense that you’ve become a lot more confident in your vocals on this album.
Stuart Price was great with that. I learned a lot and felt like I’ve found more of my own voice, too. I think on this record, I really know my voice now, and I know how to deliver the lyrics and the tunes in a way that I think sounds good.
You mentioned that you wanted this album to be more dancey, more like your Fluke and Leftfield acid rave scene stuff of 1990s Britain. Is this the direction you aspire to move in, because that’s not the direction you took with For Now?
I’m not sure. I think it’s something we’re going to keep exploring. We just demoed a new song, and it’s pretty hectic. It’s very dancey, but we’ve also been talking about doing a stripped back, garage rock and roll EP, just to go back to where we started from. I didn’t really answer that question. I just sat on the fence, but I guess that’s what we’re doing at the moment, just not trying to overthink it too much.