As we eagerly anticipate DMA’S 21-date Australian tour this September/October, Bryget Chrisfield has a chinwag with guitarist Johnny Took about how singing lessons cured his tone deafness, his bluegrass band beginnings and adoration of ‘90s electronic music, the band’s epic Cher cover – which was recently voted the #1 Like A Version of all time – and so much more.
Future songwriting sessions at Small Time Studios
“I’m just at my studio, Small Time, in Melbourne. It’s a pretty cool space here. There’s a new, Chilean-style restaurant opening up downstairs actually, which is doing empanadas and ceviche and oysters and cocktails and stuff. So that will be pumping downstairs and then we’ll be doing all the music stuff upstairs, which is awesome.
“I’ve been doing quite a lot of songwriting sessions recently, just working with some people in different genres and, yeah! It’s been great. We’re gonna put on our own little songwriting days [at Small Time]. I remember as a kid there was lots of questions I had and there was lots of things that I had to work out by myself, and I think it’d be cool if you could put a day on where you can just talk about songwriting and have a few little tips up your sleeve that you can pass onto people. And then, you know, eat a few empanadas and drink a coupla cocktails – that’s kind of like the loose plan.
“I think sharing your knowledge is almost selfish, it’s a rewarding thing for you to be able to give back. And, also, it’s funny: whenever I talk about songwriting with anyone I learn something new every time. It’s one of those things: you’ve just gotta do it, and talk about it, and it’s amazing the things that you learn – even about yourself. Every time I do a songwriting session I always pick up something new off the other person: you see the way they work, or the way their brain’s kinda ticking along, and it’s the best way to grow.”
Drawing inspo from Jeff Tweedy’s book: lyrics inherently arrive with melodies attached
“There’s so many great little moments in that book [How To Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy]. I’m a big Wilco fan and I’m probably due to read it again soon, but, yeah! I’m always thinking about that [lyrics inherently arrive with melodies attached]
now whenever I’m watching a movie or a TV show or reading a book. Actually, I was reading my book last night and I wrote down a little line from it. And I love that idea of thinking of the melody being kinda interwoven into the words.
“[Tweedy] also uses a tool where he just, like, records a conversation with someone that he really respects or loves. ‘Cause there’s little ways that you would talk to your partner when you’re not thinking about it; the conversations come off as really quite sincere and beautiful, and there’s a candour to them.
“In our song Silver there’s a lyric that says, ‘It’s funny that I think of you right now,’ and I kinda feel like that’s a lyric that is something that you would say to someone on the phone or, like, in a conversation.
“And that’s basically like, you know, when I was on the phone to my mate Steve and he was like, ‘Oh it’s a Thursday, what are you doing tonight?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, it’s basically the weekend. Should I come down and have a drink?’ Then I was thinking to myself how many times I’ve heard people say that, but I’d never heard it in a song [which inspired him to pen Everybody’s Saying Thursday’s The Weekend].
“I love that book. It doesn’t take long [to read], it’s only tiny. I’ve given it to a lot of musician friends as a gift – it’s a really great gift, actually. I try and make sure they don’t get too offended, you know? ‘Cause it’s called How To Write One Song – [employs an insulted tone] ‘What? I can’t write a fuckin’ song?’ [laughs].”
“My goal is just to write one crappy song a day”
“That’s how I write, I play the numbers game. I write every day, pretty much, and my goal is just to write one crappy song a day. Well, I say ‘one crappy song’, ‘cause it takes the pressure off me; I don’t feel like I need to write a hit. So if I just write one crappy song a day, normally I’m not feeling pressured and it ends up being one of the best things that I’ve done in a while.
“One thing I’ve got better at now, over the last few years, is saving all my files – saving all my demos and all my sessions and all my melodies – because you never know when they’re gonna [be of use].
“I wrote Silver when I was 21. It wasn’t ‘til I was, like, 28 that we went into the studio. And obviously the three of us got our mitts on it, then it became the song that it was and it was such an important song for us.”
Singing lessons, family singalongs & playing dobro in bluegrass bands
“I actually got a few singing lessons at school, ‘cause I was pretty much tone deaf and I just couldn’t sing a note. I used to sing in the back of the car with my dad and my brother [Matty, Sydney-based rock band PLANET’s lead vocalist]: he has amazing pitch and I literally could not sing a note! So I got singing lessons to force my ear to listen to stuff a bit better and then just learnt covers. I was a big fan of country music, so I learnt a lot of country and folk music when I was a kid.
“The Man In Me by Bob Dylan, that was pretty good – I used to sing that with my brother. We used to do a few Fleetwood Mac covers, I’m On Fire by Bruce Springsteen was pretty good and then we also used to play a few bluegrass traditionals like the Cherokee Shuffle and Cripple Creek and stuff like that. So that was always fun.
“I used to play in bluegrass bands and play the dobro. And if you’re gonna play the dobro or the banjo, it forces you to get your music theory skills up as well. So I kinda just learnt a lot from that.”
Takeaways from previous bands
“We learnt a lot of things about bands and band dynamics [from being in previous bands]. I think the biggest thing I learnt from being in the band prior was: I’d been in bands where you start off jamming, you’ve got a few songs then you normally get to about nine songs and you go, ‘Oh, nine songs, that’s a 45-minute setlist. We can start playing gigs, we can start doing supports.’ But, from my experience, normally of those first nine songs – when you’re younger, though, as well – maybe only two or three of them were actually any good, the rest weren’t that good. And then everyone comes to your first gig and then there’s a few less for your second, and then by your third and fourth, no one’s coming anymore. So I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t want that to happen again.’
“So basically, ‘cause we kinda felt like we were onto something good with DMA’S, we wrote I think it was 80 or 100 songs – something like that – over two years. And then that’s kind of what we built our first record off. So we basically knew that judging off, you know, if every two out of ten songs were good, maybe if you wrote, like, 80 songs you could have 16 really good ones. And it also allowed us to be ahead of the curve, I think. Even for this last record [How Many Dreams?], we were culling it down from 70 demos.”
First-ever gig at the now-defunct Shebeen
“[Shebeen in Melbourne] was our first-ever gig. We weren’t really thinking about any expectation, we were all just buzzing. I think that gig was sold out and, like, it wasn’t the biggest room. We’d played in bands before, but – particularly at that time – we weren’t really used to selling out venues, do you know what I mean?
“And so the fact that we were doing these shows and they were selling out, and then people were singing along to songs like Delete and Feels Like 37 – we were very much just a bunch of young lads playing rock music, you know? There was a real attitude to it, especially in those early days, which – you can never get those moments back. You can create new moments – like, I don’t look back in life and try to write music or be the person I was when I was 23, playing those kinda gigs, ‘cause I’m happy with the growth that I’ve made as a person, and musically, and all that kinda stuff. And we’re doing different shows, you know? Playing Wembley Arena and things like that, so I’m enjoying that for the moment. But it was definitely – I guess, once again – just like a vulnerability and a real buzz, ‘cause we were so young and it was really exciting.”
From hanging at the merch desk post-show to in-store signings
“When we first started – kinda like the Shebeen show and stuff – you’d go to the merch desk and talk to people, but that doesn’t really work anymore. Once the gigs start getting over a certain capacity, that’s always a bit weird. But one thing I have been making sure I do is at the end of the show – particularly in the UK, like, when we played the Apollo in Manchester – you can come out the back and then there’ll be fans waiting [at the stage door]. So we’ll come back and there’ll be 30 or 40 people there and you can have a chat with them and sign some stuff, and that’s always pretty nice. Then we did a lot of meet and greets, properly, for the first time actually on this tour – like, album signings – which was really, really cool.”
The Avalanches reimagining DMA’s
“The Avalanches remix we had was crazy. They did a song of ours called Criminals and it’s just so far removed [from the original version]. It won an award at the AIR Awards, actually [2021’s Best Independent Dance, Electronica or Club Single]. It was really unique. It wasn’t a banging dancefloor version, it was just really artistic and creative, you know?”
Fanning out over ‘90s electronic music
“Johann Ponniah from our label [I Oh You] knew that we were big fans of lots of electronic music, particularly ‘90s electronic music [and reached out to Orbital for a DMA’S remix]. Underworld, The Chemical Brothers and Groove Armada are probably, like, my three favourite acts. Oh, man, I actually would love to do a session with Underworld.
“De Carle [the closing track on How Many Dreams?] was my best attempt at doing The Chemical Brothers, basically… What I love is when people go and try and do their version [of a song] by an artist they’re inspired by – it’s pretty much impossible for it to sound exactly like that artist. So normally, you know, other influences always creep their way in and it kind of ends up having its own flavour.”
“Incorporating these more high-energy songs is what the live set needed”
“We’re already playing six songs or something off the new album, How Many Dreams?; so it’s funny, when you put that many new songs into a live set you’ve gotta remember that people still like songs off other albums, too, so you’ve still got to squeeze them in.
“There’s a lot going on, but what I’m really happy about this new album is:
With every record that you release, there’s some songs that become staples, you know? That stick around. And what I’m really happy about on this new album is: the response has been so great so far and I think there’s gonna be a fair few staples. Also, it’s quite an energetic record so you can really feel it in the show; incorporating these more high-energy songs is what the live set needed.
“That [Get Ravey] chorus where Tommy [O’Dell] just goes up the octave, yeah, that’s one of my favourite moments on the record – it’s so ethereal. That’s another song that we’re trying to get into the live set, but at the moment we’re playing How Many Dreams?, Olympia, Everybody’s Saying Thursday’s The Weekend, Forever and Fading Like A Picture.”
On headlining Wembley Arena
“I had such a good night. It was awesome. We were just staying in a hotel across the road, which was great. There were so many friends that we’ve made all over the UK who came down, and there was a little afterparty.
“And it just looked awesome from the stage, you know, we had the proper visual effects. I love having visual effects at those big gigs, because you don’t have to do anything on stage but you just look way cooler [laughs]. It makes the whole show better for everyone.”
DMA’S covering Cher voted the #1 Like A Version of all time
“I don’t know if Cher’s heard it or not, which is interesting. But it’s so funny, man, ‘cause the way that that song happened – it’s just one of those moments where we didn’t really think about it. Like A Version was kinda starting to get big, but it wasn’t as big and iconic as it is now when we did it, there wasn’t as much weight behind it.
“It’s so funny, ‘cause you just do this live performance and we didn’t really think about it. But it was at the whim of the internet and, you know, people really grew to love it and, yeah! It’s a great song just to chuck in the live set – especially at a festival or something like that – ‘cause the more songs you have people singing along to the better. And, yeah, it’s a pretty fun journey; everything surrounding that song.”