Image by: McLean Stephenson
Interviews

Interview with Johnny Took from the DMA'S

David Boyle
DMA'S - Criminals. Taken from the new album ‘THE GLOW’

Johnny Took, guitarist and one-third of the DMA’S, gives his insights into the mayhem of COVID 19 along with great tidbits about the band’s new album Glow. An album that is destined to go places even if the DMA’S can’t.

Boylee: Hey Johnny thanks for taking the time to have a chat with me on behalf of Radio 13. 

I guess you would never have thought in a million years that a global pandemic would happen while you were recording your new album back in the summer of 2019?  How has the band navigated the past few months?

Johnny: I guess one thing the world feels like it’s f#*king collapsing excuse my language. You know though, the moment that you feel like complaining or getting down you have to remember the whole world is going through the same thing. I guess we (as a band) are just trying to stay positive and there are some silver linings.

So we can’t tour but we can stream and get what we think is our best album out to the masses.  We have been on the road since the release of our self-titled EP in 2015, and this means I get to spend time with my partner, family and hone my production skills, which I have been doing particularly over the past few months and which has delivered a cocktail of energy emotion and sonic goodness.

Boylee: I last saw you guys at the Tuning Fork back in 2017, just before you released For Now with an entourage of six, which I think included a Kiwi guitarist?”

Johnny, starting with a laugh: Yeah Joules from Hamilton… He was in a band called Pop Strangers.

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Image: Andy Cotterill

Boylee: Well you guys have come a long way from there and it seems to me you have really stretched your legs, almost without fear with the upcoming release of Glow, which I love by the way.  How did it all come about?

Johnny: The natural trajectory of where we were going with our sound, for a band that is guitar-based to start mucking around with beats and sequences and electronic stuff, was like a natural progression and we have never shied away from a catchy pop melody. To be able to start using synthesizers and beats is pretty cool and provides another layer of sound we didn’t have before.

Dmas TheGlow

Boylee: So working with Stuart Price (Madonna, Dua Lipa, The Killers, New Order) as one of the producers, did this help you make that natural progression and what was it like working with him? 

Johnny: Working with Stuart made it more legitimate if you will. It’s fair to say he certainly had a big part to play in that sound. He was able to give us the space to try different things and offer a safe pair of hands.

Boylee: You guys have had a hell of a ride to date playing and recording at some pretty crazy and amazing places. What have been some of the moments that you caught yourself pinching yourself and thinking this is amazing?

Johnny: Oh yeah (said with a huge smile) the last gig we played before lockdown we sold out the Brixton Academy in London. You know, and a few months before, even though we didn’t get to play this gig, we sold out 8,000 tickets in a weekend in Manchester at the Castlefield Bowl. Now we have always had a pretty good following in the north of England but to sell out the south it’s kind of different for us.  

Boylee: Just before we chat about the new album, you guys participated in a live stream concert Music From The Home Front You chose to play Better Be Home Soon by Crowded House, which to me was not a bad title for the times, let alone a great song to cover. How did you guys land on that one?

Johnny: I think it happened quite quickly. Mason picked the song and it really suited Tommy’s voice. I think also covering that song in the time we were in would have resonated with a lot of people and what everyone was going through, especially those working on the front line so to speak.

Boylee: Yeah home means something more now I suspect to everyone and I couldn’t think of a better track to salute the frontline workers.

Ok let’s talk about some of the new tracks and perhaps get a little insight how they came about.

The opening track Never Before seems aptly named to kick off Glow given it feels like you have now really moved into some green fields.  It sounds to me (showing my age here) it has a classic Primal Scream vibe and I instantly loved it. Given you spent some time in Scotland do you think the vibe there rubbed off a little?

Johnny: Yeah, we have always been into that kind of music but I guess we never really knew how to do it.  So when I was over there it gave me a lot of time to stop and think and work on some other facets. I didn’t have any friends there, just my partner, so I would be walking around the old streets soaking up the heritage and looking at the sandstone buildings of Edinburgh listening to the Chemical Brothers, Underworld and Soul Wax.

Boylee: For me the album feels like the complete package with many elements that somehow all fit together to come up with what I think is one of the best albums this year.  It was also very accessible and comfortable, but it had a few welcome surprises along the way.

It has shadows of New Order with Peter Hook base licks in Strangers and Life is a Game of Changing, while Silver has a Phil Spector wall of sound and big choruses, then there are some intimate tracks like Learning Alive and Appointments.  What is the songwriting process you guys go through?

Johnny: Well just going back a bit, looking at Never Before and being appropriately titled like you said, we never have done a groove track before. You know we normally have a songwriting process that has a verse, a pre chorus, chorus, a rift, a middle eight and an outro. It’s a process we call “Frankensteining”.  Basically it is going through our songs, all our melodies, and our phones and finding an appropriate sound and putting them into the same key. We are basically building a monster. 

But Never Before was none of that. An idea, two chords that kind of go back and forth and then they invert and it turns into a groove track.  We wanted it to really set the tone of the record.

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Image: McLean Stephenson

Boylee: Yeah well you successfully did that. To me it's a bit of a roller coaster ride.  There is plenty of speed, some time to catch your breath, before heading back down for the last part of the ride.

I was trying to imagine a number of these songs being played live and this just increases your arsenal to make your big sound even bigger with the extra beats and dubs this time. You guys must be chomping at the bit to get out and bring them to life on the stage?

Johnny: It’s exciting for us: when we play a live show we have the rock and roll and the sing-along, but we didn’t really have the dance aspect to it like Game of Changing and the last track Cobracaine. I see us playing these tracks at a festival as the sun goes down and everyone dancing.

Boylee: Tell us about the track Cobracaine, I understand that Mason wrote it a long way back?

Johnny: Yeah he wrote it at the same time as Delete some ten years ago.  We tried to record it on the EP but it was slower and didn’t quite fit. But, as we have got into synths and beats, we sped the song up and made the chorus quicker. Which really makes it work now and it is quite epic.

Boylee: Well I think it’s a cracker and a great way to finish off the album. Ok, so the album is released next Friday the 10th, hopefully on vinyl?  Then what’s on the agenda for the rest of the year?

Johnny: We are really lucky that this album is getting the full treatment including vinyl, which is very cool given it is making a come back. People appreciate the artwork and the tricolours we have used, along with heavy weighted vinyl, is just another step up compared to what we had before.

So the rest of the year is still a bit up in the air but working in the studio on my partner’s (Haley Mary) new record and I even co-wrote some songs along the way. The time being in lockdown has really been pretty productive but we are itching to get out and show off this new album.

Boylee: Well let’s hope you can jump the ditch soon. This time I suspect we might see you rocking the Power Station, which would be a perfect place to see you showcase this album along with some of the older classics.

All the very best with the new album and its release. It feels big and I think it will take you to new places.

 Johnny: Thanks so much it’s been a great chat and hopefully, we will see ya soon.

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Released: 10 Jul 2020

Written By: David Boyle David’s day job is head of sales and marketing at Mint Asset Management. It doesn’t sound very rock and roll does it? But don’t be put off, he is passionate about music and has been nearly all his life. Better known as Boylee, he can’t sing a note in tune, remember a complete song lyric, nor play an instrument of any sort, but he does have an eye-opening knowledge of modern music and is never shy to share it with his friends and peers.