DMA’S guitarist Johnny Took talks about eating the worst Chinese he has had in Motherwell and the possibility of releasing new music this year

As I sat staring back at myself, fretting over whether or not the microphone on my laptop was adequate enough to be audible or if I had passed on the correct meeting details to my first Zoom call, I am suddenly met with the sound of a distinct Aussie accent welcoming me with a “hello” . It’s 8:30am down under and DMA’S guitarist Johnny Took has not long got himself out of bed to have a chat. As he crunches away on an early morning snack and we get the pleasantries out of the way, we get down to talking about that memorable night at Brixton Academy, missing soundchecks due to binge-watching Breaking Bad backstage in his pyjamas and not wanting to rest on his laurels too long with the band before releasing new music…

So how are things back over in Australia?
Yeah, its good! Considering where the rest of the world is, its pretty damn good. I’m feeling very fortunate to be here…

Yeah, you’re in a damn sight better position than we are back over here…
Yeah, yeah… So are you Glasgow based?

Just outside of Glasgow, in Motherwell…
Ah, nice… I lived in Edinburgh for a while…

I had heard that actually, how did you find it?
It was great, I loved it! Albeit a bit boring… I feel like Edinburgh is a bit touristy and filled with more affluent people and there wasn’t as many gigs as I wanted. I spent most of my nights out in Glasgow and to be fair after I did have a big night out in Glasgow I’d load myself up with a big takeaway carton of Haggis and chips ‘n’ curry sauce for the train and It was nice to get back to Edinburgh as its all quaint and beautiful and I’d feel like my sins of Glasgow had been left behind for that particular night…

I actually got talking to your brother after a gig, that’s how I found out you were living through in Edinburgh…
Ah, nice… Where did you get talking to him?

We spoke after his gig at Broadcast in Glasgow
Yeah, I remember that place! That’s where DMA’S actually played our first show, love that venue.

So am I right in saying the band are doing some live sessions this week?
Yeah, we’re gonna do something for Radio X I believe, which is cool… And obviously we’re promoting our live record, which feels like such a long time ago! Well I guess it was a year ago, coming up and that show at the Brixton Academy you know no-one knew the world was gonna do what it did. I think the emotions around that feel particularly special…

I think for a lot of people it was the last gig they even got to go to, so it has lived on in their memory significantly over the past year…
Yeah, its crazy…

How was that night for you, am I right in saying it was the biggest show the band had headlined in the UK?
I think its the biggest show the band have ever played, which is cool. And I guess it was good because we had just introduced a couple of like, electronic songs into our show that we gotta play there and it all kinda came to life. I feel like our show had just picked up and gone to the next level and then of course everything stopped, so we’re looking forward to picking that back up again…

When you were first promoting ‘The Glow‘ and particularly when you released ‘LIAGOC‘ I think a lot of people were shocked by it, it was quite a change-up. But listening to the live album and watching the videos on YouTube it seems like its added a whole different dimension to your live show, was that what you were going for?
I think for people it was a bit of a shock at first, but when you see it in the live show it kinda makes a little more sense… But also, as an artist, if you’ve had any sort of success with a particular record or a sound, its super easy to just go “oh, well people like that, so I’m gonna continue making records that sound like that…” but for me that sounds like a feedback loop from hell… I couldn’t think of anything worse than releasing the same kind of album again and again, and again its almost fucking pointless! So for us, whether the changes of it are dramatic or what not, its really important to try and bring something new, for us.

This won’t be the first live album you have released having done MTV Unplugged, that must’ve been quite a big deal for the band…
Yeah, that was awesome! Especially being a kid growing up in the 90s and seeing Nirvana do THAT show so you know for us to do our own one, its pretty special stuff…

Having done that, do you feel it helped inspire how you set up the acoustic shows you played last year re-introducing strings and piano to your set?
Yeah, ehm… It was kinda coincidence to be honest. We did the MTV Unplugged then we had the chance to do the COVID shows which were super similar. I’d probably say they were better than doing the MTV show in a lot of ways… I think Mason found that show quite stressful having to play every instrument to then only having to play piano in the COVID shows. I think it definitely helped us although we weren’t thinking about that at that particular time.

So have you got a lot of gigs lined up for the year ahead throughout Australia?
We’ve got a show at ‘Bass in the Grass’ in Darwin then we’ve got like our biggest headline tour to date in Australia, but I’m now like, not wanting to get too excited ’cause you never know when things are gonna change… We sold out our Castlefield Bowl show like a year and a half ago now in Manchester and that was gonna be the gig I was most excited to play to date, it feels crazy that we can’t get to do that

You also had the gig at Alexandra Palace booked as well as Hampden with Gerry Cinnamon which would’ve been massive..
Yeah we had a lot of amazing shows lined up and I guess the main thing is we’re not from the UK, a lot of our biggest fans are over there and the last thing we want is to be forgotten. The fact that we haven’t played any shows over there in a while, although I know no-one has been playing shows so its not like we’re missing out in that regard, it has became such a big part of our lives touring the UK and the people we’ve met there over the years. So until the world sorts it shit out and we can come back over I just want people to know that we’re definitely anticipating it…

With that, do you feel like you owe a lot to UK fans for where you are at as a band now?
Aw yeah, totally! Especially because we are from Australia, it would be different if we were from the UK, but the love and support we have had over the years, I think its actually our biggest market now, its pretty special…

I think a big part of it is how engaging you all are with your fans too, people really appreciate you taking the time out to speak to them or have a drink after a show…
Yeah, we like doing stuff like that its always nice meeting new fans and also its a bit different for us ’cause like I said its always such a rush when you’re not in your home country and your on the road on the other side of the world so its cool…

I actually got talking to some of the band after the gig you did in Motherwell, I always wanted to ask how it came that you chose to play there of all places?
I think it was because we had already played Edinburgh and Glasgow and the timing of it all, like we weren’t in cycle to play those places again so we thought we would split the difference and go to Motherwell. I think we actually went to the bar next to the venue after it and met a lot of folk who were at the gig, that was cool…

I had read you saying that night you ate the worst Chinese you had ever had too…
Yeah, we all got Chinese before the show, and you know in Australia we’ve got such a huge Asian population so all of the Asian food is really high quality…

More authentic then than what we get here?
Aha, yeah we’re really lucky to have authentic Asian food here so I was surprised when this dumpling came out and it was the size of my fist. I’m use to a more petite style dumpling and then next thing I know I’m biting into this brain sized fuckin’ sack, it made me feel a bit weird… In fact that whole gig was a bit weird for me ’cause I was in the middle of watching Breaking Bad at the time, have you watched the series?

I have, yeah…
So I was super into it and you know there’s some super addictive episodes in there, so I kept putting off my stage preparation because I was so addicted to it, and I literally left it to like three minutes before I went on stage… Before that I had just been sitting in the dressing room in my Pyjamas and it was our biggest show to date at the time, I think it was around 1800 people, so I got on stage and I wasn’t prepared like I had forgotten that I had a job to do. I’d just watched someone get murdered and disintegrated in a bath of acid in some really intense episode and I had to try and snap out of it quickly which was actually kinda funny… I’ve had to force myself to stop watching TV or anything like that 45 mins before a show or else I’m gonna freak myself out like I did that night.

The bands been pretty well known for doing covers now, I think after you done ‘Believe’ it opened you up to a whole new fan base. Do you ever get sick of being asked to play it?
Yeah… I guess we don’t really care either way, but its pretty weird that most streamed or most well known song is a cover. But we don’t play it often, we pick our moments when to actually play that song which I think is a good way to be…

Do you ever watch other bands cover your own songs?
Not really but I’ve seen a couple here and there and I guess its always nice if someones bothered to cover your song. I use to play in a cover band so I’m use to doing it, I’d play down at local pubs and stuff like that which was a good way to learn how to write songs actually

I had heard you done a bit of DJing around some pubs when you stayed in Edinburgh now you mention that…
I did start getting into that actually which is a lot of fun. If things start getting back on track with crowds and stuff I’d like to do more DJing once things are back up and running. I like to listen to a lot more Electronic music so its always fun to play that sort of music.

You’ve had remixes done from the likes of Orbital and Jacques Lu Cont, have you considered actually collaborating with such artists?
Definitely! I reckon you’ll be surprised after COVID the amount of collaborations you see with people doing stuff to be creative and inventive to re-imagine themselves I guess after the year we’ve had. I’d love to collaborate with any of them… Mate, the fact that Orbital remixed ‘LIAGOC’ that is some dream come true stuff! We’ve actually thought about putting a DJ set together where we play the DMA’S remixes which I think would be cool.

Am I right in saying that you have been back in the studio recording lately too?
We’re definitely still working on some new tunes and stuff but not much to report on. We’re always writing and trying to do new stuff…

Have you thought about releasing anything new this year or are you holding off in the hope that you can still tour ‘The Glow‘?
I’m not thinking of it like that man I feel like if we waited around for like two years to tour ‘The Glow’ it would be the wrong way to look at it, so to be honest I’m going to be pushing to release new music as soon as possible. I think there’s bands that think “well I can’t tour so I’m not gonna release any new music” and that is the wrong decision. We’re gonna keep releasing music and giving product to fans, we want to keep them happy and when the world fixes itself, it fixes itself but we’re not gonna stop releasing music and writing music because of that its not natural. We’ve not toured ‘The Glow’ in the UK yet and by the time we go back we’ll probably have released new material to play along with it.

You’ve been pretty busy over the past year working with Hayley on her project and you released the track with Matty under the name ‘Big Time‘ have you thought about doing some more with that?
Well Hayley has been working on her record which I co-produced but she’s still not sure how she is going to release that because of the whole situation. She’s gonna keep releasing songs but just maybe not as a whole album, that was super fun to work on though. With my brother, yeah we’ve definitely thought about releasing something new… To be honest I’ve been more busy than ever throughout COVID. I’ve been doing a lot more songwriting collaborations and I guess most of the time when you’re busy touring you’re on the road, playing shows but you can’t really do anything else. So when you’re not touring you feel obliged to start doing other shit.

What would you say has been your career highlight up to this point with the band?
Brixton is definitely there, and also… What’s that festival, is it TRNSMT?

Yeah, TRNSMT that’s right. You got a fairly big crowd there that day…
That was super cool. I know Tommy particularly liked that festival ’cause he likes playing festivals that are in cities as opposed to in some country field. It was a crazy crowd, ‘The Glow’ had just gone to number one in Scotland and we started to notice the love from the Scots so it was a really special one in that regard… I also met Robert Carlyle that night, he’s a DMA’S fan which is pretty fuckin’ cool! His daughter is a musician as well so I got talking to her about songwriting and stuff. He’s a lover of music and for an artist like that to be into you is cool… He gave me a birthday shout-out too which was like the highlight of my year.

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