Mac DeMarco: Letting It All Hang Out

Mac DeMarco - Matt Jumper

In an industry littered with artists who are clinging to a carefully packaged persona of “effortless cool”, it’s rare to find a musician that’s as kindhearted as MAC DEMARCO. The Canadian West Coast kid has quickly become the lovable goofball of the indie music scene — which you probably knew already (thanks internet) — but he isn’t always making fart jokes with a cigarette stuck between his teeth. The 27-year-old has a lot buried beneath his wacky personality and on This Old Dog (out now on Captured Tracks), he uses an entire album to reflect and step forward with a broader, more mature sound.

For a proper full-length, Mac digs deep. He’s still very much into pranks and classic Simpsons episodes (like “Marge vs. The Monorail”) but on This Old Dog, he spills his guts through lo-fi bedroom rock chunes (“On The Level”, “Still Beating”) and recordings such as “Sister” — a short but sweet ode that finds him comforting his kin (“Turns out not every dog has his day… Wish there were more that I could do”). It’s an unexpected left turn given Mac’s cult-like following of like-minded misfits but his moments of vulnerability translate well because his narratives are real instances of reflection that aren’t fabricated to appeal to a younger audience.

Whether he’s doing adorable interviews with his mother, blessing his subreddit “deadheads” with exclusive releases or belting out Vanessa Carlton covers, Mac is the kind of guy that’s down to talk about pretty much anything — and in this case, that’s exactly what we did.

When did you decide to use Jon Lent’s image to promote This Old Dog? And why him?

He’s an easy, easy target. I always like poking fun of Jon. He’s a really old friend of mine and you know, a lot of people do the indie rock billboard promotion thing and I find it a little cheesy so we did something funny instead. He had no idea and it worked out really well (laughs).

Do you think Lent will serve up some sweet, sweet revenge?

I’m not sure. I mean to get a billboard like that is kind of expensive and the record label paid for it. But if he wants to splurge and get me back, I would be more than happy to be punked.

Getting into the album, why did you decide to record the majority of it on acoustic this time around?

I think it was just there, so I picked it up and it’s kind of different because I usually record a track and figure out where the lyrics fit in and stuff. But I don’t know… sitting down and writing a song from start to finish is a new thing for me. An acoustic guitar is nice because you can just play it and sing and then people are like: That’s the finished thing. It’s a little different but I don’t know why. It was just around and it felt right.

It’s kind of cool because you get the opportunity to do intimate shows like the House Of Vans event you did in Toronto back in April.

That was kind of weird. Well, I mean… I think the billing was weird as they put me after a bunch of DJs and stuff which was kind of crazy (laughs). It was cool.

It was like “Mac’s Sing-Along Song Time”.

Well some people were listening and some people weren’t, but that’s fine (laughs).

Mac DeMarco Alt - Matt Jumper

Did you feel like you needed to differentiate your sound slightly on This Old Dog?

Maybe a little bit. I think when people hear it, it will still sound like one of my records. I didn’t do anything super crazy but I wanted to expand on some things, remove other things, and just kind of let it happen the way it had to happen. I’m happy with it though so there it is.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while making the record?

I was getting really frustrated trying to re-record things — like I had to rearrange my studio and different parts of my house a couple of times. There was a point where the drums were set up in the living room and I was staying up until 8 a.m. in the morning and I had the tape machine in front of this window, just driving myself crazy. But what ended up happening was that I just used the first incarnation of whatever song I had going. So yeah, I was second guessing myself by trying to do things over and over and over but in the end, I realized the first time always feels the best.

Yeah, you gotta stick to your gut sometimes. What’s it been like living in Los Angeles and having more of an open space to yourself?

L.A. is cool. In New York, I actually had a lot of room for myself as I lived in a house there but it was pretty far away from town. The main difference was that I lived in a neighbourhood where my friends lived and now, it’s interesting to be back around people and have them come over. It was a little crazy at first but it’s nice to feel like a young person again (laughs).

Do you still have your place on the lake?

Well, actually the roommates that I lived with live there as we rented that spot to them. We stayed there the other night actually, and I hope it stays in the family for a long time.

You’ve been known to cover epic songs by the likes of Prince, James Taylor, Angel Olsen, and Metallica. In your opinion, do you think cover songs are underrated?

It really depends because you have to be careful because covers are sometimes no bueno. But I mean the Metallica thing is just ridiculous. I don’t even really know the lyrics to that song [“Enter Sandman”]. Who knows, but yeah… I mean, I like to do them. The Prince thing was very sweet because Jon and I are like big fans and we were pretty sad when he passed away. With the James Taylor thing, I just love that song [“I Was A Fool To Care”] and it’s nice to do one that people don’t necessarily know. Like covering The Beatles — you can’t do that. With the Angel Olsen song [“Lights Out”], she’s just a really good friend so I thought I’d bug her a bit with that.

Are there any songs or artists you’d like to cover next?

I don’t know. We might do a little Vanessa Carlton tonight (laughs).

Have you had a chance to check out any of the covers of your own songs? A number of your fans have already covered “This Old Dog”.

I’ve seen kids do covers of stuff on YouTube, which is great. I think my manager sent me somebody singing “This Old Dog” in Polish or something crazy like that. It’s always flattering and very nice to see that. So yeah… I’ll have to check out the others!

You have a pretty dedicated subreddit fanbase that discusses many details of your life both personally and professionally. Do you ever read through them? And if so, what has been the weirdest thing you’ve seen?

I can’t read them, it’s too insane. I mean, I appreciate those people. Like I did this instrumental record a couple years ago or whatever, but I put it on there first because they’re kind of like my deadheads. I appreciate them but it is insane to go on there and be like, “What the hell are you guys talking about?”. I’ve seen some of the stuff before but my bass player loves looking at the subreddit. He gets a real kick out of it but it’s just a bit much (laughs).

Well speaking of fans, you recently sat down with Marc Maron on his WTF podcast — which was hilarious. What was that like? And how did it feel to sit in a chair that Robin Williams, Cindy Crawford and even Obama have had their asses firmly placed on?

It was cool. I mean I’ve listened to some of Marc’s podcasts before and it must have been weird for him because I’m just some kid. But like you were saying, he’s talked to Neil Young, James Taylor and you know, Obama. It was cool. He lives close to my manager’s house in LA and he’s a really nice guy. I think he had just gotten a new stereo system at the time and he was pretty jacked on it. He had some extremely strong coffee too. It was nuts.

Why do you think people gravitate towards you and your music so much?

I have no idea. I complain but it’s really cool and you know people say crazy things all the time. I’m just happy that people listen, you know? And if it means something to somebody then that is great as well. It’s confusing and it’s magic and crazy and yeah… it’s crazy.

Is there anything you would still like to accomplish in or outside of music?

I don’t know. I don’t normally ever set goals or anything like that. I just like making records and I’m gonna keep making records for a while. And I like playing for people too so hopefully we can continue to do that. Just continue on, you know? Just keep jamming and see what happens.

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