In our present world, where random as hell YouTube videos triumph over underrated radio jams, it’s almost become easy for an artist to feel as if they’re “faking it” on stage. As eccentric as MAC DEMARCO is, the 22-year-old is a pure drop of authenticity. Ask anyone who recently saw him perform at CMJ, SXSW and CMW, and they’ll throw names like Iggy Pop around just as an attempt to describe his persona when he rips through “Ode To Viceroy” and “Still Together”. It’s almost a feeble effort to anyone who really does live by Rock And Roll Nightclub and 2 – but it’s impossible to blame them when even an iPhone clip can’t fully illustrate the electric feel to DeMarco’s live show.
That’s what makes Mac special. With his tour buds – Peter Sagar (Guitar), Pierce McGary (Bass) and Joe McMurray (Drums) – his songs go from being compact disc ditties to full-flegded rock numbers, peeling off tributes to Emitt Rhodes, Ray Davies and Alex Chilton. Before his recent gig at Toronto’s Parts & Labour, Demarco spared a few to discuss his rise to fame, his compulsive will to record and how moms everywhere compare him to Jimmy Buffett.
Being a musician is tough financially, and apparently in 2012 when you had recently moved to Montreal, you participated in a few interesting medical experiments to keep the bills paid. What kind of crazy shit did you get involved in?
Yeah, that was when nobody knew who I was except for the people in Canada. I did MRI scans; they made me dunk my arm in a bucket of ice water for a while; I ran on a treadmill for like two hours one day; cognitive stuff. Say this word like 3000 times, and you make 20 bucks afterwards.
Yeah it doesn’t pay well at all unless you do the really gnarly shit, but I never did any of that stuff.
Well you’re going to be 23 next month and you’ve accomplished a lot since you started making music in 2008. What’s it feel like to become “indie popular” and subsequently get the chance to open for Phoenix this spring?
It’s weird. I always wanted this to happen, you know? Time went on and now I tour more and play better shows yadda yadda yadda, but this year got so crazy – maybe even too fast. It’s fun and it’s sweet but you know, I’ll probably die if I keep doing this.
Do you think your music sits on a pedestal of its own?
I feel like my music is definitely very derivative of other things. At least in my mind it is. Either people think it’s cool and they’ll be like, “ooh it’s very unique!”, or they’ll compare it to something I really don’t draw any influence from. For me, I could be listening to one thing and it could come out sounding completely different to someone else, which is the cool thing about it I guess.
What’s the weirdest thing someone’s compared you to?
Sometimes people say, “Your voice sounds like Chris Martin from Coldplay”. A lot of moms are like, “I love the album Mac, it sounds like Jimmy Buffet!”.
What was it like writing music in two very different cities such as Vancouver and Montreal?
Well, I’ve been doing it a lot longer now, so I’m better at it. I can make it sound better because I know what I’m doing. In B.C., it was just me in any hole in the wall that I could find where I could play the drums – that’s where I’d do my next record. It’s pretty much been the same in those two places because I’ve always done it on my own but I definitely have a better grasp on things now… sort of… maybe not… I don’t know.
What’s the difference between the two scenes?
Vancouver was a lot of really loud bands and crazy punk-y stuff. Different mindset too; people weren’t really interested in playing big corporate shows. It was kind of just like, “Sweet, let’s play in a band and set up shows with our friends, and party and play rock n’ roll music”. In Montreal, there’s still that vibe, but there’s a lot more stuff like people starting bands to get on blogs. It’s industry-driven weird shit that I’m not that into.
So which bands or performers did you look up to while growing up?
I didn’t really get into music until a pretty late age compared to most people. I always listened to music but I didn’t get like “MUSIC!!!” until I was 12 or 13 or something. But when I was really young it was like Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock, then I got into classic rock in junior high. Back then I was all like “LED ZEPPELIN!”. Then you know, you get into the Beatles and it’s like, “Ah, wait a minute. Why did I like that other stuff?”. I love The Beatles and stuff like The Kinks and The Zombies. I was into a lot of ’80s bands like Human League and stuff like that too. It just kept progressing and I met kids around town, so I got into the French techno/Justice thing, and then a few local bands. It became all about the local bands by then because all I wanted to do was go see local bands play.
What’s the best local band you’ve seen perform live?
When I was growing up, it was all about The Subatomics and The Vertical Struts – for me, at least. Maybe other people around my age would say differently but I loved those bands.
How did your first self-produced record Heat Wave (under the name Makeout Videotape) contribute to your development as an artist?
That was the first one where I grew the balls to make something and actually put it out. I had other songs that I made and put on the Internet, but I never made a physical version, which I was trying to do. So I did that and then I was like, “Well I guess I’ve got to get a band together now”, and I made actual CD-Rs of music and that sparked things for me. Instead of being like, “Pleeease can I play your show”, people came up to me and were like, “Cool CD man, want to play a show?”. I figured people actually liked my music, and it made me feel like a really cool guy.
With anyone being able to put their music up on the Web, does that exposure hurt or help artists?
I think it can go either way. You don’t want to have too much shit overlapping the little bit of quality stuff. But I think it’s cool because kids can use Garage Band and just make a band in like five minutes and that means everybody gets a shot. It does make it difficult to stand out. A lot of kids just go around ripping other stuff off, really blatantly too, which is like… just put yourself into it you know? People are starting to think at a faster pace so it’s all relative.
On that note, what drives you to write and record music?
I don’t know… I think it’s just something that I have to do. There’s not really a reason. I enjoy doing it which I guess is a pretty good reason, but if I’m not doing it then I get depressed. So I have to because it’s a compulsive reflex. It’s fun, and now I can make money off it which is crazy – and I get to meet people. Doing the actual writing and recording is very therapeutic, but if it’s not going well then it’s like hell.
So what do you do when shit’s not going well?
I usually walk away from music or sometimes I’ll just push through until I find that it’s okay. Or I’ll just get so frustrated that I’m like, “Fuck this shit”, and I’ll lie in bed and watch YouTube videos or something instead.
What’s the best YouTube video you’ve seen recently?
Oh! I found this crazy guy today. He’s this kind of muscular guy with a little bit of acne, shaved head, shirtless, and chillin’ in what looks to be a suburban basement with some dumbbells in the corner, and he does a vocal cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. He just kind of sits there and he’s like, “Hey guys, thanks for subscribing, and yeah I’m going to do this cover for you guys. It’s for Kurt’s birthday so uh… here we go…”, and he’s so fucking bad. It’s so sweet. His facial expressions are probably the best.
Considering your career’s just starting, why should people give a shit about Mac DeMarco?
I don’t know… this is the thing that confuses me. I guess I make it easy for people to give a shit, that’s probably why. I’m doing stupid things all the time; I’m writing songs that people are kind of like, “Oh, I understand that!”, and… I don’t know… give a shit because it’s helping me get by in my life, I guess. But if you don’t want to, it’s no problem. I’ll keep doing it. Don’t worry about it.