Mac DeMarco features at #76 in The DIY List 2014, our round-up of the artists who defined the past year through albums, unforgettable shows and the unexpected. This interview is originally from the April 2014 issue of DIY.
The cult of Mac DeMarco is a real, terrifying thing. It manifests itself into kids sporting checkered shirts, pumping fists underneath armpits to make fart noises. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s a bit crass. Don’t blame the cult leader though. He feels the same. “People make assumptions about me, about [my girlfriend] Kiera,” he says, speaking from a bedroom in New York, suitably wearing nothing but his underpants, he’s keen to add. “Kids are asking ‘Yo, where’s Kiki?’ I’m like ‘She’s at home. Where the fuck do you think she is? I miss her. Get the fuck away from me.’”
Within two years plus of touring, Mac’s gotten himself into trouble on more than a couple of occasions. The reveal that ‘Freaking Out The Neighbourhood’ from previous album ‘2’ was a song about singing a U2 song with a drumstick up his backside? That raised a few eyebrows. He’s been accused of worse though. He makes out with bandmates on stage, pulls jokes about breaking wind. It’s never going to be to everybody’s taste. Mac’s also the first to admit that “it’s about learning what to hold back.”
There’s not a lot that he managed to hold back in the years preceding. In part, that’s how breakthrough album ‘2’ sustained such a lifespan. On record, songs are backs-on-the-grass, sedated numbers. Live they manifest into full-band giants. Half of the time the frontman would wind up on a ceiling, dozens of hands below him ready for the catch. Bar the occasional cynic, not a single person in any given room wanted anything less than to be the guy’s best friend. In a click-friendly, standoffish age, it’s a brilliant example of rock’n’roll causing waves. It’d be foolish to expect Mac to give all that up just because a couple of naysayers aren’t into his sense of humour.
But he very nearly did. On one of the final legs of a world tour, the band wound up in Europe and Mac was a shell of a man; a walking beer can crushed into concrete. “My body didn’t even want me to get drunk,” he recalls. “It was this dark early-evening zone when you’re always drunk or sleepy. I really felt like the whole antics and persona whatever of the live show got so played out that it wasn’t fresh to me at all, or to any of the other guys. And I think the audiences were picking up on it. They’re not kids on the West Coast in the States where you fart on stage and they’re fucking screaming and flipping over. I was tired of it.”
‘2’ was a record that didn’t stop spreading, hence the endless amount of shows. Eventually Mac found a couple of months’ worth of space to rein things in and write some new songs. But he didn’t arrive home with the most fresh-faced of perspectives. “I was all ‘this fucking record, this fucking booking agent, this fucking touring, I don’t have the fucking time to make a new fucking album.’ I was just being a little brat about it.” Lead track on new album ‘Salad Days’, ‘Passing Out Pieces’, was the first written in sessions that would eventually last one month. The opening lyric goes: “Watching my life, passing right in front of my eyes.” It’s the sound of a guy looking in from the outside and practically wrenching at the sight of it.
“I really felt like the whole antics and persona whatever of the live show got so played out that it wasn’t fresh to me at all.”
Resisting temptations to screw everything over and raise a middle finger to the Mac of old, he kept his focus. ‘Salad Days’ ups the charm, the personality and above anything else the honesty of his last record. If he previously had issues with fans knowing too much about him, he’s since shifted his stance. “I didn’t want to make an album complaining, going ‘Oh man, it’s so hard’. It’s really not. You just have to make better decisions and enjoy it. Because how many opportunities am I gonna have in my life to play the places I’m playing at?”
For all the divisiveness around Mac’s onstage persona, ‘Salad Days’ shows him up to be a real softie. ‘Treat Her Better’ gets nasty at a macho mentality typically prone to a violent outcome. ‘Let My Baby Stay’ refers to the first year that Mac knew girlfriend Kiera (“For a long time she was here as an illegal alien so I was like, ‘You can stay with me, but I hope you don’t get kicked out of the States.’”) Away from the stage, there’s this sensitive soul that’s happy to express in conversation and on record. “Listening back to the songs, I’m almost terrified by the prospect of showing this to everybody,” he shyly admits.
‘Salad Days’ is a product of restlessness. “I was biting the bullet. I was starting to feel super crazy.” Given the 23-year-old’s previous track-record though, he could just as likely have strung out an album of manic, loony experiments. Contrast ‘2’ to previous album ‘Rock And Roll Night Club’ and it’s like witnessing Elvis scrapping the white suit for a ball of hay and some crocs. Mac admits that he was tempted to churn out something insane, to flip ‘2’ into a ‘5’. “I’ve just bought a whole load of ridiculous strange synths and shit - but if I released an album of synth music people would’ve been like ‘What the fuck’. I tried to keep it in the same ballpark.”
He admits that ‘Rock And Roll Night Club’ was a “very strange thing”, an oddity in what’ll even become a vast back catalogue. “I don’t really remember what the fuck was going through my head at the time,” he jokes. “I think it was the last thing I made that was just press record, play, play it back again and go ‘Oh my fucking god this is hilarious.’”
The mischievous side to Mac looked to have manifested itself as soon as ‘Salad Days’ was announced. First off, the title could be something belonging to Kings of Convenience or Moby after a trip to Whole Foods. Not this guy, though. Not the beer-chugging boozo that’s prone to a cheeky outdoor strip. “It’s funnier that people think it’s a prank in the first place,” he reflects. Despite ‘Salad Days’ being released in the States on April Fool’s Day, the actual prank occurred months before when word got round about a new album called ‘Eddie’s Dream’. It was all one gigantic wild goose chase. “I said it was coming out in 2017 - some bloggers posted it as fact,” Mac laughs. “It’s funny because there’s a lot of anticipation for ‘What’s Mac gonna do next? The first album came out two years ago.’ And I could go ‘Next album’s called ‘I Pooped My Pants’’ and people would believe it.”
That’s how the cult of Mac DeMarco works, in effect. Resting on his every word, a musician who’s built his touring rep as talking shit (he’ll announce pregnancies, marriage proposals and incorrect song titles for kicks) is being treated like the second coming. But given the strength of ‘2’ and the sweet-toothed second helping that is ‘Salad Days’, he’s someone fully deserving of the fawning praise. It’s difficult to think of anyone else picking up this kind of reception and running with it the way Mac does. “I’ve had this weird mentality built into me where I’ll always try to entertain. I try to connect with the people there as quickly as possible. Something in me switches on.” This gap-toothed twenty-something isn’t flicking the off button just yet.
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