In the summer of 2019, DMA’S completed sessions for their upcoming third album THE GLOW in the historic Westlake Recording Studios with Grammy-winning producer Stuart Price. Working with Price proved to be a career highlight for the band, one that bolstered them with an inquisitive spirit to embrace change. And that’s a theme that echoes throughout the record.
“A lot of people fear change,” states Johnny “But like adrenaline, if you use it in the right way it can definitely be a positive.”
Working in Hollywood (in a studio once frequented by Quincy Jones) with one of the world’s most renowned producers, shows just how far DMA’S have come from their early days back home in Newtown. Most of the band’s early recording sessions were located in Johnny & Tommy’s rundown Newtown apartment. They’d start the day by flipping a mattress up against a wall to make some space: something which also dampened the reverb in the room and blocked out some of the traffic noise from the adjacent highway. They’d all record together in the same room, which is an approach they wouldn’t revisit until they worked with Stuart Price.
It was a modest, DIY attempt to get the project off the ground but one which paid off. They first broke through with their 2016 debut album Hills End and then stepped up another level with 2018’s For Now. They’ve ticked off landmark moments ever since: two ARIA Top 10 albums; 200 million streams; five ARIA Music Award nominations; and an MTV Unplugged session. Even Liam Gallagher – one of their heroes – thinks they’re biblical.
As thoughts turned to making a new album, Johnny spent ten months living in Edinburgh to help him identify a fresh perspective on the band’s sound. “As a songwriter, I like the idea that you can move anywhere and be inspired by your surroundings, the people or a different way of life.” He’d stroll through the city’s cobbled streets with the Chemical Brothers or Underworld booming through his headphones, then duck into an old pub when the Scottish winter chill set in.
Johnny started firing ideas to Tommy and Mason in Australia. “It was exciting and interesting to delve into those different aspects of production,” says Tommy. “We were very open to going down that direction when the songs needed it, but we didn’t want to push it where it didn’t suit.”
The album took shape, first with two songs recorded an hour outside of Sydney at the legendary Grove Studios with Scott Horscroft, then three at RAK Studios in London with Stuart, before it was completed in Westlake. The result is a collection of songs that dawn a new era for DMA’S as they step center stage on the global arena. From their emotive lyrics to their towering hooks, the core traits that have earned them a huge following are still prominent. But now their anthemic sound is infused with a euphoric flood of alt-pop flair with pulsating synths and taut beats.
The songs are equally at home in two disparate environments. Their intimacy and engaging sonic touches provide some headphone escapism, while the huge choruses will prove to be electrifying highlights of future live shows. ‘Life Is A Game Of Changing’ is a perfect touchstone of what to expect. It’s an exhilarating rush of big beat dynamics, sun-kissed Balearic dance vibes and the guitar-meets-electro hybrid of latter day New Order. Its lyrics reflect Johnny’s experiences in Edinburgh. “It’s about changing things up but staying true to yourself. You’re still who you are, but you’ve got to keep moving otherwise you’ll go crazy.”
The album’s title track was fine-tuned over the years, overseeing many personal and professional changes for the band. It’s for this reason Tommy says it’s one of his favorites off the record, “for me it’s a snapshot of where we were and where we’re at now.” Another standout is ‘Learning Alive’, with a Lennon-esque intro pulling on the heart-strings and then scaling up the drama.
And yet DMA’S save the biggest surprise for last with ‘Cobracaine’, a maximalist melting pot of sounds with a dark narrative that was inspired by the harsh realities of Australia’s schoolies tradition. Mason first wrote the song when he was a teenager and noticed that the end of year celebrations – that usually involve a lot of drinking – came often around the time kids have just gotten their driving licenses. As he explains, “There are often quite a lot of car accidents. It’s a pretty sad time, kids die as soon as they finish school.”
A positive aspect emerged from this downbeat topic. As the band planned to release the song, Mason got in touch with the long-lost friend that he wrote it with all years ago. “He doesn’t play music any more, but he’s got a songwriting credit on a song that could be a big single. He said it inspired him to start playing guitar again.”
All these elements feed into making THE GLOW, the band’s best album to date and it comes as things are taking off. They recently sold-out the O2 Academy Brixton (5, 000 cap) & Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl (8, 000 cap) in a matter of hours, and have since confirmed an even bigger show at London’s cavernous Alexandra Palace. Back home, within the last year they have scored a Platinum record for ‘Delete’ plus Gold discs for ‘Lay Down’ and ‘Step Up The Morphine’. Every achievement is the result of DMA’S unwavering dedication to their craft. THE GLOW sees the band expand the limits of their production style and use of texture and sound, while still retaining the integrity of who they are as writers. And boy, has the risk paid off…
Tommy has the final word. “In the last eighteen months we’ve started gaining momentum, and more people are enjoying music that was originally just meant for us. That’s why we do it – to build that connection with people.
This record is the one we were ready to make, and the one that we needed to make.”