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Q&A: DMA’s Tommy O’Dell

May 17th, 2018 | by Tom Hardwick
Q&A: DMA’s Tommy O’Dell
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I sat down with Tommy O’Dell, the frontman of DMA’S, before their gig at Northumbria Students Union to talk about their new album ‘For Now’.

How and where did the band first meet?

Tommy: I was playing in a psych-rock band with Johnny, I was playing drums and he was playing bass, and we started writing songs together on the side. Then Johnny met Mason a couple of years after that because they were in a bluegrass band together, so we all just met through the local Sydney music scene.

What was your first gig like as DMA’S?

Tommy: We were funny because we never actually played a show until we were signed because we were just a bedroom recording sort of band. It was quite busy and quite big, and we played in a warehouse in Marrickville (a suburb of Sydney). I was pretty nervous, we played about 6 or 7 songs but it was good. We actually played ‘For Now’, which is on the new record, so that’s how old that song is.

So you’ve had some of the stuff on the new album in your catalogue for a while?

Tommy: Yeah, I don’t know why we didn’t put that on the first record. It’s the same with ‘Warsaw’, that was written a while ago too. I guess we just didn’t think it suited Hills End at the time.

And do you ever find yourself getting nervous even now?

Tommy: Sometimes, well not really nervous, but the normal kind of energy before a gig. I think if you didn’t get a little bit nervous you’d probably be a bit too relaxed and maybe end up making mistakes.

Obviously, you’re at the start of a pretty extensive world tour to promote the new album For Now, how have those first couple of shows been?

Tommy: Really good, the first one was in Nottingham and we did Manchester last night. There’s been really good atmospheres and we’ve been playing a bunch of new songs which has been cool. We’ve been touring Hills End for a while so it’s nice to bring in some changes to the set. I know crowds like to hear old songs but it’s important that we play our new material as well.

You guys have played in the UK quite a lot, is there one thing you like about playing in the UK and one thing you dislike?

Tommy: I like the crowds here, they’re definitely more passionate than anywhere else I’ve played. I like playing early too, you guys put your gigs on early. Tonight’s at like 9, the other night was at 8:30, we don’t play till like 11 at home. What don’t I like…I don’t know, the stuff from Tesco on the rider isn’t great! In Australia you usually just play on the weekends cause the place is so big that you’ve got to fly everywhere, so we’ll normally play Thursday, Friday, Saturday, go home for a week then play again. We can’t do that here cause there’s so many big places to play, and the schedules are often a lot heftier here which can be a bit exhausting. I’ve tried not to get carried away these first few shows!

As a band you’re often mentioned in terms of Britpop, but I’ve read interviews where it’s been said that you aren’t necessarily influenced by that, so who and what would you say does influence you?

Tommy: That will have been an interview with the other guys. I’m influenced by Britpop because that was part of my musical upbringing. Bands like The La’s, The Stone Roses, Oasis and stuff like that. Primal Scream are a big influence for me as well. For the other guys, Mason is more into American guitar bands like Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth, and Johnny is into everything.

So there’s a real mixture of influences between the 3 of you?

Tommy: Yeah, I guess that’s kind of what creates our sound, all of us being into different things. I’ve been listening to a lot of Frank Ocean recently which is a lot different to the guitar band music I listen to. But the second record is definitely more vocal based, the vocals have really been put out in front, I spent a lot of time recording them and trying to be a bit more soulful in some of the ways it’s delivered. So yeah, I guess we’re kind of constantly moving our style.

How do you feel the new album compares to Hills End then?

Tommy: I love both records, and I like them because they’re different. Hills End is a lot more in your face, a bit rough around the edges. It was recorded in our bedroom, so it has that raw, DIY thing going on. For Now is much more polished, we did it with a producer, spent time working with electronic beats as well as normal drums and I spent more time on the vocals. Hills End was kind of a couple of takes and that was it, and that added to its charm, but we wanted to spend a bit more time on this record.

What is your favourite track from For Now and is there a reason why?

Tommy: I like ‘Time and Money’, I guess it is the song that, for me, shows where I want the band to be musically. It still has a bit of that old kind of style but its got the electronic beat, it’s a bit more medium paced, it brings a different sound and energy. We wrote it on tour a few years ago during sound checks, and when we finished touring we got home and refined it. Yeah, that’s my favourite at the moment.

Besides the tour you’ve got a lot of big festival dates coming up in the summer, are there any that you’re particularly excited for?

Tommy: Leeds and Reading are always good, we’ve played that a couple of times but this one should be better, I think we’ve got a better slot. Finsbury Park with Liam Gallagher, that’s going to be great. There’s Glasgow Summer Sessions with Catfish and the Bottlemen, they’re all good man. In a few weeks we’re doing Neighbourhood in Warrington, that’s a good line-up too. If I had to pick one I was looking forward to the most it’d be Leeds, it’s a good rock and roll festival.

As a band you’re going from strength to strength and building quite a big following, but is there one gig, festival or achievement that would be the absolute pinnacle for you?

Tommy: I’d like to play Brixton Academy in London, that’d be great. We’re playing at the O2 in Kentish Town but maybe if we come back later in the year we can play Brixton. I played there once with The Courteeners and I remember it being an awesome room, so that’s a short-term goal.

What about any long-term goals?

Tommy: I don’t know man, just to continually make good music that we like and be happy with playing and performing. If ever we aren’t interested or not making music at the level we should be then we shouldn’t keep doing it, I’m not into doing it just for the sake of it. Just to not end up like a shitty band making records that don’t sound good and everyone thinking we’re crap.

I was going to ask this to the whole band not realising that it was just a solo interview, but if you were organising your ideal hypothetical festival and had to pick 3 headliners, who would they be?

Tommy: We don’t really do interviews together anymore, they don’t really work very well! We all just don’t really talk about our feelings when we’re around each other. For the festival, I’d have Frank Ocean, The Beatles…It’s such a hard question. I’ve got something old and new there, and I’ll have Daft Punk. I’ve seen them before, but I really want to see them again.

Do you not remember it?

Tommy: Bits of it, I know I was there, but it was on more of a spiritual level!

Well that’s the end of the interview, thank you for speaking to us and good luck for tonight and the rest of the tour.

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