ENRG Music caught up with Tommy O’Dell, frontman of Australian rock band DMA’S, ahead of their headline show at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall.
The Aussie 3-piece are half way through their tour of the UK. We caught up with a very chill Tommy in the band’s understated dressing room before one of their biggest headline gigs in Scotland to date.
How has the UK tour been so far?
It’s been good, we arrived last Wednesday and then went straight into a show on Thursday so it took a while to get into it because of the jet lag, but we’re feeling good now.
What do you think of this amazing venue?
It’s brilliant, it’s so nice. We played here with The Kooks last year and we were wanting to come back and play ourselves.
Is this one of the bigger venues you’ve played so far in Scotland?
Yeah! This and last night we did Aberdeen, which was pretty big too!
Are you going anywhere that you haven’t been to before or are particularly excited for on this UK tour?
I’m excited to play all the shows here in the UK, because we just love playing here. I think we’ve played all the places we’re going actually, we worked really hard when we first started the band and played a lot everywhere as fast as we could to build up a crowd, so I’ve been lucky enough to see most of the UK.
The band doubles in size when you guys are on tour, is that right?
Yeah, so there’s three of us that you see in photos and stuff, but there’s three other dudes that have been with us for ages for touring.
How do you find playing as a bigger band? Is it an adjustment?
Well it’s always been like that. We’ve had a few different members but we’ve always been six people for live performances. I don’t think we could do what we want to do just with three of us, actually we definitely couldn’t.
When you’re writing and recording is it just the three of you?
Yeah, mostly! It changes, but when we write it’s mostly just the three of us, then when we record the other guys sometimes join us too.
And how does your writing process usually work? Is there a designated lyrics guy?
Johnny is kind of the lyrics guy. I’ve been getting into the lyrics more in the last record and even more for the next one. Every song is different really, we like to drag different ideas from different songs and bring them together so often we write like that. We’ll have voice memos from each other and we’ll bring them together. Then other songs are just written by Johnny or Mason. I think our best songs are the ones where we’ve all contributed in a way.
So, you just announced that you are releasing an MTV Unplugged Live album, that you recorded back in October in Melbourne. How was preparing for such a prestigious gig?
We worked really hard. We probably rehearsed more for that than we ever have to be honest. We worked so hard to get it sounding nice; we had a violin player and obviously stripped everything back a lot. Mason played heaps of instruments on stage so he really had to get his shit sorted out. I think he played cello, slide, electric guitar and acoustics, so he played four instruments throughout the night which is pretty hectic. It was filmed so it was pretty in your face, it was a really tough gig actually and bright as well. But we are really happy with how it turned out and we’re really excited to put the vinyl out, it’s a nice album to have to cross off you list!
Do you think about the fact that you’re following in the footsteps of bands like Oasis, R.E.M. and Nirvana who have also recorded MTV Unplugged albums?
Well I guess so! I’m grateful that the Australian MTV brought it back for Australian bands cos it went missing there for a while. Actually, the Nirvana session, when I watched it, is kinda what helped me get into music so to play MTV Unplugged was definitely a highlight, even though I was quite nervous about it!
Your cover of Cher’s Believe is one of the most watched Triple J covers ever, and for this Unplugged album you chose to do a cover of Madonna’s Beautiful Stranger, how did you decide on that song?
We don’t really love playing covers very much, we did the Believe one obviously and a lot of people like it and we like it but we don’t play it every night, it’s just one of those things, it’d get a bit weird playing it every night. The Madonna one is kind of in the same vein, but we used the full band so we made it a bit more energetic, it’s a really good song and obviously is in Austin Powers.
It is a conscious decision to cover artists that are nowhere near the same genre as you?
Yeah, I like singing songs that are performed by female artists because if you’re doing a cover it’s nice to be able to put your own spin on it, and that straight away gives it a little bit of difference. They’re both really good songs, and I think we did a pretty good job. We actually toured the Madonna song maybe 18 months before so we kinda knew it, sometimes we do have to learn covers for radio stations and things so it’s probably a good idea to have a few up your sleeves.
Did you do a similar thing with the Cher cover or was that a spare of the moment choice?
No, that was Mason just fooling around in soundcheck. That was actually our third choice song for that Triple J Like a Version set but luckily they said they were happy with that song the most. We didn’t really expect it to do what it did, so for that I guess I’m grateful to Cher.
Which artists, that are perhaps more similar to you, do inspire your sound?
There’s heaps! For me, obviously Oasis, The Stone Roses, The Verve, R.E.M., Crowded House – the list goes on. Johnny comes from more of a country or folk background, he really loves Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, which I do too, but that’s where Johnny’s musical foundations start. My music starts with those English bands because my family is English and I grew up with that sound around. The Beatles obviously too, because I have family in Liverpool, so I guess it started from there and just went on. We’ve been luckily enough to play with Noel Gallagher, Liam Gallagher and Richard Ashcroft, it’s been good.
What’s next for DMA’S? Can we expect another studio album soon?
Yeah, well not soon. We’re going home in a few weeks and we’re gonna record a couple of songs for it and will hopefully have new music by the end of the year. Maybe not the whole album, but we’ll have some singles.
You can pre-order DMA’S MTV Unplugged Live album now. The band will return to Scotland in July to play TRNSMT Festival in Glasgow.
By Luka Kenyon and Fraser Munro