“Is here okay?” Tommy O’Dell asks me, pointing at one of those round wooden picnic benches.
It’s pitch black, must be about two degrees, and the view is of a main road. We’ve had to leave the warm glow of the pub to reflect on our cold backs, because it’s too loud inside. Also, a good percentage of punters had spotted him and you could tell by their faces that they were calculating the probability of the opening act’s frontman being in the pub next to the arena on show day.
Awkwardly, Tommy perches down, asking his tour manager for whatever normal beer is on tap. Heineken if they have it. He laughs politely when I ask if this climate is okay for his Australian self, and shrugs his shoulders, pulling up the zipper on his bomber jacket.
“I just don’t spend as much time at home like I used to, which is both good and bad, it’s a sign that things are going well.” he tells me, non-accusingly, a little modest almost. He nods when I ask if he misses his home comforts, “I miss like having my own flat and stuff – not hanging out with like six dudes in a bus. It gets a bit heavy, but it’s all good.” he reassures. DMA’s barely have time to finish a pint, in fact Tommy doesn’t, for the band have caused quite a stir in the past year especially. We’ve fallen for the trio of cheeky looking lads, and found their softness in their moving power ballads. It’s impossible to resist the moody nostalgia that DMA’s take on in their world, making songs that chill amidst the chaos that they’re always on the cusp of.
“The songs are written about something at a particular time, and then after you’ve toured them and you’ve played them for a couple of years or whatever, they take on a new meaning and you see what the songs mean to other people.” Tommy explains that ‘Straight Dimensions’ in particular is one for him. Stripped from last year’s Hills End full length debut, it’s a crooning love song with a side step from a fidgety riff. “It’s a song that I look at completely different to what I did when it was first written.” He says. As I probe for a little more detail, he looks down and later tells me that he uses music to describe his emotions rather than expressing them in conversation. “Just hearing people singing it has made it become a bit more emotional than kind of what I originally found it, and what it used to be.”
Perhaps it’s the pure simplicity of the lyrics that make the song so special. Repeating in a way that’s almost kaleidoscopic, the chorus sings; “And I don’t have a single feeling, that wants to hang with me,” in a lovely lullaby style.
“I guess if you have a really good melody and you have a strong message or strong words behind it then it just makes the song so much better.” Tommy says, “It doesn’t have to be tricky, it can just be simple, sometimes that’s what connects the most. I feel like the crowd responds more to lyrics that aren’t so ambiguous and they’re a bit more straight down the line. It is what it is and it is what it’s saying.” Across the DMA’s back catalogue there are tales of love, loss and even some desperation. The stories told have their own element of tragedy and delivered with a coating of melancholy. “We’ve always just been about good songs and writing songs from the heart.”
Latest single ‘Dawning’, sounds like it’s title. On first listen, it’s all jangly guitar melody and textured sky-high harmonies, but something else lingers beneath the surface. “It’s actually got an uplifting kind of melody and an uplifting tune but the track actually has a bit of a dark undertone to it, a bit of bad anxiety and that kind of thing.
“We like to write music that is kind of in some ways dark and a bit depressing but also positive, we like that juxtaposition.”
As bittersweet pills to swallow; the songs play no tricks, wear no frills and talk no shit. Just like the band themselves, what you see is what you get. They’re cool without even trying to be cool. “The clothes? We’ve just always worn these clothes.” Tommy says, seemingly unaware that their standard tracksuits have become uniform for fans. “Erm, sure,” he says, as two fans approach and ask for photographs. “I wasn’t really into music until I was like 9 or 10, or something to be honest.” he tells me, in response to my babble of compliments. It was only when football started to become a little same-y and boring that Tommy got really into music.
“The music scene and nightlife in Sydney has taken a bit of an erm… because of lock out laws and all that sort of thing.” he winces. “It’s kind of a hot topic at the moment for us, especially when we’re playing gigs in the city.” The band recently played their local town hall, and had to battle the council in the process. “Bands that are just starting out rely on those late night slots when pubs are full with people and now they just can’t do them. It isn’t just Sydney, like we’ve noticed it in London too. Venues are closing down, and I guess it’s something that we should all be aware of.
“It isn’t just people that are performing, everybody relies on that experience and journalists too, and whatever. People are still into live music, but it isn’t a great time in Sydney for live music.” Luckily, creatives in the city have made the Keep Sydney Open organisation that campaigns to allow venues to keep their doors open later into the night. The campaign is close to Tommy’s heart, and the story of DMA’s may have been a much different one had he not have used a venue that a friend of his owned. “I used to live down the road and go every weekend to watch live bands, and that closed down. That’s where my musical sort of career started. I was in a band playing drums, Johnny was playing bass, it was like a psych rock band, we used to rehearse at that pub. We used to write songs together on the side and that band fell apart but we kept continuing on and met Mason.”
It’s tough to say what the world would be like, if DMA’s weren’t playing music. But, as the band take to the stage, there isn’t a person in the arena who isn’t captivated. There’s a glimmer of hope in the songs, and a whole lot of passion in the performance. As well as an air of cool, coming from three guys who have no idea of the impression that they’ve made. If that isn’t a reason to save the venues, love the music, and respect the artist, I don’t know what is.
Photos by Mclean Stephenson