OTwo Interviews: Tommy O’Dell of DMA’s

Image Credit: Reuben Bastienne-Lewis

Isabella Ambrosio sits down with the vocalist Tommy O’Dell of the Australian band DMA’s, discussing their newest release, How Many Dreams? and the band’s decade-long career.

DMA’s are a three-piece alt-pop group from Sydney, Australia. Tommy O’Dell (vocals), Matthew Mason (lead guitar/backing vocals), and Johnny Took (acoustic guitar) formed the band in 2012, over a decade ago. Since their debut, they’ve released four studio albums, won awards, and toured the world. Their music reminds me of a bright summer day - driving down a road, with the windows all the way down, the sun beating down on my skin. There’s a sense of ‘feel good’ when listening to DMA’s – their songs are upbeat, and the singing is relaxed yet powerful, the foundations of guitar rock as the baseline of their songs, and adding elements of Brit-pop to the mix. The electronics are cleverly done throughout their discography, elevating their sound to what’s common in the modern day.

DMA’s have shown such growth and development over the last decade of their career. Their debut release, Hills End, is much more grungy and rock, the element of electronics a relatively new concept for the band. The drums punch hard on Hills End, with sing-songy guitar hooks. Hills End reminds me more of Arctic Monkeys when they first started, with O’Dell’s voice in the same range as Alex Turner’s. Their second release, For Now, taps even further into their grunge roots with this record, the first track off the album feeling incredibly nostalgic. The song ‘Time & Money’ really begins to show the DMA’s use of synth and electronics, beginning to light that little fire of interest and experimentation with that genre of music. THE GLOW, released in 2020, accepted the concept and use of electronics and absolutely ran with it. They found their comfort in grunge and rock aspects while elevating their music even further by adding the element of electronics. It’s cleverly placed, and never feels like too much, or as if the instruments or vocals are overshadowed. There’s a balance between the genres that is further developed in their 2023 release.

Their newest record, How Many Dreams? was released on the 31st of March. It features twelve tracks, ranging in influences from electronic, dance-pop, guitar rock, and punk. The band explained to numerous magazines that it was a ‘period of rediscovery’ for the band. The album is more explorative, changing directions and routes throughout each track, but ultimately staying on the same DMA’s road. They originally had over seventy demos for the album, drawing on more genres and ideas than they ever had before. They completely disregarded any kind of barriers in genre-bending when creating How Many Dreams? They drew on their past experiences as a band in order to paint a picture of their future.

The excitement and euphoria hit almost immediately in the title track, ‘How Many Dreams?’. It’s upbeat, with O’Dell singing about needing to pursue the dreams that matter most to him. The track was a great way to start the recording, engaging and motivating the listener, to take them on a journey throughout the rest of the album. ‘Olympia’ is the next track, the feeling of sunshine is particularly strong in this song. Kind of makes me wish I had my licence. One of my personal favourites is ‘Everybody’s Saying Thursday’s The Weekend.’ The song is upbeat, but the tone is a bit lower, hitting some sad notes and melodies while keeping the essence of DMA’s. The lyrics paint pictures and create a setting, taking you along the story of typical young adults trying to find their way in the world through partying on the weekends. DMA’s encapsulate Oasis on their fourth track, ‘Dear Future’, a sad ode to someone’s dreams and future due to losing themselves in unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

‘I Don’t Need to Hide’ is from the perspective of a lover, ready to reveal the worst parts of themselves to their partner. ‘Forever’ taps into the Brit-pop/Oasis style again, strings opening the song before fading to an acoustic guitar, the drop in the chorus pushing the song forward. ‘Fading Like A Picture’ is another one of my favourites, the guitar riff, in the beginning, is catchy, and the instrumentals are the perfect mix of classic guitar rock and modern alternative pop. This song directly references sunshine, so maybe that’s why it’s my favourite. ‘Jai Alai’ is a piano ballad that turns into a modern rock song with a reverbed guitar that captures melancholy. The track after, titled ‘Get Ravey’ is an interesting song, to say the least. The drop at the end of the chorus is perfectly timed. This is a song you kind of have to sit and listen to.

‘21 Year Vacancy’ builds up after the first verse and the pre-chorus, crashing and banging into a smooth, melodic chorus. The bass is pronounced in this song, shining in a way it hasn’t on the other tracks. The second to last song, ‘Something We Are Overcoming’ reminds me of a 2000s pop track that you would hear on the radio on your way home from school. The bursting sound, echoing synth, quiet verses and booming choruses. The lyrics are quite positive, acknowledging the disadvantages so many people have in life, but that no matter the fact, you must keep moving and growing. It feels a bit cheesy to have it so close to the end of the album, but it sure did put a small smile on my face. I liked that ‘Something We Are Overcoming’ was followed by a darker track – it was an interesting technique. You would figure the album was over, but it’s finished with ‘De Carle’ which uses some industrial techniques and EDM. It’s perplexing and gives you some food for thought and to me, makes it a fantastic finish to an album.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Tommy O’Dell, the vocalist, to talk about How Many Dreams? and the band’s decade-long career. 

“What got you into music?”

“I grew up in a household full of music. My family’s from Liverpool, in England, so I grew up with a lot of British bands from the 60s. And to be honest, I played the drums in primary school. I sort of stopped, and lost interest in it, when I took up other things and it wasn’t until I was about 18 or something that I got back into it. I don’t know why,” he sounds a bit perplexed. “I think it was the people I was hanging out with. And when I got back into it, I fell in love with it, and completely emersed myself to the point where I was playing bands, and that’s how I met Johnny [Took]. We started a blues, rock’n’roll, sort-of psych band, and I was playing the drums and he was playing bass. And that’s how I met him. We were in that band together for four years, and then we started writing tunes on our own. And for whatever reason, the songs we wrote didn’t suit the band we were in. So, I was like, ‘Ah bugger, why don’t we start our own thing now. I’ll give a go at singing.’ and that’s how it started. I had never sung before.”


“Yeah, no, I used to sing at home, as a kid. It was never something I thought I’d be doing, that’s for sure.”

“What do you think led to that switch?”

“I don’t know,” he honestly admits, “I’m a bit shy as well, so it wasn’t like an ego thing or anything. I didn’t have a burning desire to be upfront. Once I started singing, I found it was the easiest thing for me to do.”

“It was natural.”

“Yeah. Exactly. There are a lot of things in life that are really hard: public speaking, driving, whatever skill, and singing to me is just quite easy. So, I feel like I found my thing.”

“You guys have been a band for 10 years, so talk to me about that journey.”

“When Johnny [Took] and I started, and we were writing songs, and some mates of Johnny’s were playing in a band. And I remember, saying ‘Oh, who’s this guy?’... and afterwards, [Matthew Mason] showed me an early version of a song, and I was like, ‘Wow, you wrote this song?’ and it was [Matthew] Mason singing,” he laughs. “I was like, ‘Yeah, this guy’s definitely in the band.”

“No brainer.”

“Yeah! No brainer. When someone plays you a song like that, showing how talented they are. That was the song that changed the band. We recorded it and sent it to someone. And within a few months, we were signed to a label and touring around America. One of our first tours in America got to see New York, and now we’re still writing music and still friends. And I’m quite proud of that.”

“I’ve seen how bands who are friends are more cohesive and understand each other.”

“They’re like brothers now. After all of the time we’ve spent together, on the road, we’ve been through a lot. And it’s not just the music you make, it’s what you have outside of it.”

“[Matthew] Mason has mentioned in other interviews that you were trying to make a record that reminded you of what you liked before the DMA’s. So, what did you like before the DMA’s?”

“That’s an [Mason] answer, he’s always on a different level to me,” he laughs, “I guess, Johnny particularly liked electronic music, like dance music. And you can hear some of the dance elements in the new album. For me, I guess my influences were kind of that Brit-pop thing and I guess that’s kind of where the band gets pigeon-holed to, like Oasis. So, that’s more just what I’m into. Johnny [Took] and [Matthew] Mason and their musical influences come from very different things like country and whatnot.”

“How do you guys know when it’s time for a new record?”

Credit: Kalpesh Lathigra

“For us, we finished touring last month, and we had enough songs that we thought were good, and you’re feeling up for it. You can get in the studio and do it. But, I think you need that motivation to get back in the studio and also need to have that drive to know that you’re on the road again.”

“So, would you say you guys like being on the road the most?”

“Yeah. Personally, I love being in the studio, to be honest, since I’ve gotten older and my life has changed a bit. Having a family and all of that. But, I feel like a nice balance is good. We always continue to write music. So, it’s never like we don’t have songs, we’ve always got a bank of songs that we’ll release.”

“What’s on your upcoming release?”

“We’ve still got a strong connection to our rock’n’roll, grungy guitar roots, which you hear throughout songs like ‘Olympia’ and ‘Fading Like A Picture’. But, as a step forward, we’ve also expanded on Johnny [Took]’s influences, the electronic stuff. And then, we have a few ballads and some more of the emotive songs, where we added a bit more pop elements.”

“You’ve got some good hooks.”

He laughs, “You know, in the elements of production and doing things to make things a bit more modern sounding, and just a bit more fresh, you know? And that’s not for any other reason than we thought we were ready for it. You know it’s DMA’s when you listen to it, I think there’s a bit more attitude than some of the other albums. It’s a hi-fi, rock’n’roll dance album that feels like we know our sound a bit more than others. Although it’s eclectic, and each song sounds different, it feels connected.”

“There’s a lot of cohesiveness to it.”

Credit: Kalpesh Lathigra

“Yeah! And, it didn’t feel like that when we were recording it. It was quite disjointed and it took ages. I think it all came together really nicely.”

“One of my favourite tracks is ‘I Don’t Need to Hide’ – can you walk me through the writing and recording process for that song?”

“So, Kippy wrote that song. I went and did the vocals and he kind of just, had it in his head how exactly he wanted it to sound. He took me step-by-step through it. I think when we were in London, I wrote the bridge part because it needed that, kind of, extra bit. It was very much recorded as a live band, and we got all the parts down with just the band in the room and then as it turned out, it became our first release and it’s a dance-rock, kind of anthem. I think if there was one song that encapsulated the sound of the album and the mixture of influences, I think that song’s quite neat and that’s why we released it first.”

“I really liked the melody. And, I guess I have to ask, what do you hope people take away from Too Many Dreams?”

“Look, without talking about [COVID] too much… it was written and recorded in quite a difficult time. Not being able to go out and all that, with the pandemic stuff. And I feel like there’s a strong sense of optimism on the record, and when you listen to it, it’s kind of like looking to the future. While there are some dreary tracks on there…”

“You’ve got to have balance.”

“Exactly, you’ve got to have balance. It’s a sense of positivity and looking towards the future. It’s nostalgic, as well.”

“It’s always interesting to me how bands can capture emotions and experiences within melodies and lyrics. Is it a conscious decision to go down the nostalgia route?”

“Nah. That just happened. We’ve always had that. I think that’s why when we first started, as a band, we were a little bit more separated from other bands because we had such a strong sense of nostalgia and reflection. And something that was a bit different compared to other bands that we started with.”

“What are you most looking forward to about having this record released and out in the world?”

“It’s always nice to perform your songs. And see people hopefully… enjoying it. We played ‘Everybody’s Saying Thursday’s The Weekend’ live in England, and it had a really awesome response. I can’t wait to play more tunes. Playing live and putting even more music out there, and keep going.”

“So, there’s no signs of stopping?”

“Oh no, we’re going to tour this album hard and see where we’re at. I think we’re thinking of a few months off, but who knows what’s next for us.”

How Many Dreams? fits the DMA’s growth and trajectory over the last decade. They’ve stuck with their roots, yet modernising it, and to quote Tommy O’Dell, making it ‘fresh’. The relationship between the band members works to their benefit as if this record understands everyone’s influences and styles while harmonising them and making it a very, ‘Oh, this is the DMA’s’ album.

I would love to see into the future because I want to know what’s next for DMA’s.