GETTING ROMANTIC
WITH MAC DEMARCO

 

By Ryma Chikhoune
Photos by Wyn Herrick

Mac DeMarco opens his front door. His hair is disheveled, and his eyes are heavy, as he’s met with the harsh light of day. It’s 3 p.m. in Bushwick.

“I’m hungover,” he says in a husky voice, leading the way through a long, dark hallway and into a large, open space. It's cozy and dusty, filled with gear, assorted furniture, empty beer cans, cigarette butts; a boom box is mounted on the wall, a mannequin leg hangs from the ceiling – random objects and things seemingly accumulated and left behind by those who have passed through. 

We’re at Le Wallet, as it’s known, a house and occasional show space the Canadian musician currently shares with his girlfriend and a couple of roommates. He spent the night and early morning out with friends, the band DIIV, who played a show at Irving Plaza. “We went to some bar after,” he says, downing water. “I think I met Lindsay Lohan?” He laughs it off.

He’s not name-dropping. He’s much too unassuming. On stage, he’s funny, silly, says whatever comes to mind. In person, he comes off as thoughtful and sincere, someone you can count on to lighten the mood. During the IRL shoot, he’s down for anything. He’s handed a rose bouquet, asked to take his shirt off and does it all with a laugh. His music, which he dubs “jizz-jazz," is a mix of both humor and romanticism; The riffs are punchy, the melodies are dreamy, and the lyrics ring true.

Here, as he gets ready to embark on a world tour, DeMarco talks about his background, the strangeness that is fame, and the pressures of making of his sophomore endeavor Salad Days, the follow-up to his debut full-length, 2, released in 2012. 

Salad Days is out on April 1 via Captured Tracks.

People always say you have your life to make your first record. Then for your second, people are asking about it, waiting for it. How has that been for you?

It’s a lot of pressure. The label says, “You’ve got to do something big.” Then there’s the fans, Internet, press...it drives you fully insane. So, initially, sitting down to write and record this album was like, holy shit. I sat there for days writing songs, being like, “This is better than this song from this last album” or “I have to make something better than this.” You just drive yourself completely nuts. So, I think part of making this album is saying, fuck all that pressure, because that's not why I was making music in the first place...and relearning having fun doing it. You have to just do it and hope that people like it.

What was the recording process [for Salad Days]?

I told my booking agent and label I needed a month, at least, of absolutely nothing, if they wanted me to make a new album. So, they gave me the month in November of last year, and then here in this place, in the little bedroom, I bought a nice rug, so I could sit on the floor – well, not a nice rug, but a rug – and a coffee machine for the room and didn’t leave for basically exactly a month. Somehow it worked out.

Were there any influences that came up?

Whenever I’m writing music, I usually take from the same places. I love The Beatles and Harry Nilsson. Actually, I was listening to The Kinks a lot...and some weird Japanese old psych rock bands...

How did it differ from the making of 2?

It was a little different. The albums before, I had a little bit of stuff that I was ready to either do a master recording or arrange as a song. This time, I didn’t have anything. We had been on tour for so long, and I couldn’t write on the road or anything. I knew I had a certain amount of time, no more and no less. Maybe the songwriting was a little different. I used to write all the instrumentation and all the melodies and then think of the lyrics. This time, it was more of a whole packaged deal, where I'd sit down and have an idea of what the song was going to be about and work the melody with the lyrics at the same time. 

Last time I did a record, it was in Montreal, in my own apartment. I couldn’t necessarily be loud, but I didn’t have roommates or anything...Living in proximity to a bunch of people kind of made it different. I had base it off of when people were going to at least be awake to play the drums or do whatever. The great thing about this place is we can be as loud as we want. And no one really gives a fuck.

What made you want to stay in New York?

I’ve always felt like if I’m moving I want to be really excited and a little terrified by the place. After a couple of months of living in Montreal, I realized it wasn’t really my thing. Most don’t stay for more than five years unless they’re from there. I guess, I got sick of it. We went on a tour in the spring and before we left, Kiera, my girlfriend, and I packed up our apartment and then ended up in New York. 

Before Montreal, you were in Vancouver...

I grew up in Edmonton, and when I got out of high school, Vancouver seemed like the only place that I had visited before and had friends in already. I didn’t really want to stay in Edmonton. I remember moving, being 18 and like, “Yeah! This is crazy!” It was great. I really liked it there. But you know, the same thing happened. Went on tour, ended up in Edmonton for a bit, and we just took off to Montreal. 

I was reading that Makeout Videotape was always you, despite the name change.

Yeah, it was a home recording project. I had a friend Alex Calder, who's on Captured Tracks now too. He was the other member of the band and usually with me. Other than us, it was all these other people all the time. He would do the recording a little bit, but yeah, I would write and usually record everything myself.

Did that change when you moved to Montreal?

I kept playing as that band in Montreal for a little while, but Alex decided to go back to Edmonton unannounced. He actually didn’t tell anybody, got on a plane and left. (laughs) When I signed to Captured Tracks, that’s when I changed the name. At first, I felt weird using my last name, because I thought it would sound like an Italian house DJ or something. (laughs) But I don’t know, that's my name, so I guess no shame there.

It feels like things changed quickly for you as soon as you got signed.

Yeah, it was weird. I toured back and forth across Canada so many times. We tried to tour the States before I was signed, but it was hard. No one knew who we were, and we played for nobody for years and years. In Canada though, it was really great. We played for tons of kids and big rooms and stuff. I think it’s hard for Canadian bands to break into the American music thing, but Captured Tracks put my name out there real quick.

You’re going on tour soon…

Yeah, we‘re going up to Montreal next week to learn the new album with my band. Then, we go to South America, a bit in the States, in Europe. I guess, I’ll make another album after that’s all done, but I don’t know. It’s just all started now...

How is it being in a relationship, while you tour?

It’s kind of difficult. Kiera’s here, and I’m gone all the time. Now, it’s OK. I mean, it’s kind of weird living here, but at least when I leave, there’s people around all the time. When we’re in a small apartment, and I’m gone for six months, she’s like, “I’m living in this place...all your shits here, and it’s reminding me of you, and you're out partying, fuck you.” It can be a little tough. Initially, when we were touring, we did huge runs, so that was really hard. Now, it’s a little easier, and I try to take her with me as much as I can.

How do you handle being off tour? It seems like an intense thing – every night, you're surrounded by so many people and then, all of the sudden, you’re home...

It’s weird, yeah. I come home and probably spend the first week just sleeping way the fuck in and just relaxing. I don’t want to drink or party or see anybody. I hang out with Kiera. It‘s funny, because I hadn't had a really long break until now, for probably a year and a half. I was really used to being home for a week and leaving right away. This time, I got to ease into being home and actually chill. But, soon, I'll have to leave, so I'll need to get used to being out there again. 

You’re a bit known for the way you are on stage. Do you remember someone else’s show making an impression on you?

Jonathan Richman. It was at the Calgary festival when I was 17. I had heard a bit of his music, but when I saw him, I was like, “Oh my God, this guy is insane." It’s the vibe I try to recreate. It makes sense to me. He acts extremely light-hearted on stage and doesn’t take anything too seriously. He just looks like he’s having such a great time.

What’s it like knowing that there are kids who look at you in that same way?

It’s super weird. I think about it sometimes. I mean, I liked a lot of older music when I was in my formative high school years or whatever, but I did like a lot of current bands and thinking that kids probably feel the same about my music, it’s kind of freaky. But it’s also really amazing. It’s flattering and pretty insane.

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Do you have some crazy fan story?

Oh, there are so many. This one weird one was when we were playing a show in Rome. There were these people who drove from out of town for like 4 hours to come see us. It was my birthday, and I was talking to the girl, and she said she had missed the show, because the drive was too long, and I was like, that’s too bad and gave her a record. She was like, “It’s your birthday, let me buy you a drink.” So, we did that exchange, but I guess, her boyfriend thought I was hitting on her…Later, the guy threw a drink at her, and she knocked the chair over, he fell on his face. Then he sat with me, and I thought it was totally unrelated, but anyway, he was talking about all this strange stuff, he was all over the place, super unstable. It got a bit overwhelming, and I was, like “OK, man I think I’m going to go and get another beer.” I didn’t see him for the rest of the night until later, outside the venue, he was sitting against a brick wall refusing to go. Eventually, his friends were trying to pick him up, and then he started punching and kicking all of them. He started pulling huge clumps of his hair out of his head and chanting, “Everything will be just fine if Mac DeMarco plays one more song!” We were just like “Holy Fuck.” The ambulance eventually had to come and a bunch of Roman cops were there. They strapped him to a stretcher and sedated him. It was so fucked up.

That sounds so crazy! So, what’s your mindset now? 

I’m just curious to see how the songs are going to go live. We haven’t tried at all to play them. That’ll be interesting. If it goes well, I guess I’ll be excited to go on tour. If not, I’ll be really stressed out (laughs). But it’ll be cool. I’m excited to go to South America.

I want to talk a bit about your videos. Have you been coming up with the concepts?

Sometimes not. For "My Kind of Woman,” this kid just called me and was like, “I’ve got this weird idea.” In that case, he had complete control. It really just depends. I really like doing those really intricate, crazy ones, but I like it better when I’m doing it with my friends, you know. I don’t like just handing over that much power to someone I don’t really know. Not that I’m against doing intricate videos. They’ve turned out good, so it's cool.

Do you know what your next video is going to be?

Not yet. We might do something when I’m up in Montreal. I think I’m going to do everything for the next album with maybe my base player, who makes videos. I’ve got a couple of other friends that I’m really close with who are good at videos…I’m still not sure yet. We’ll see...

How was it having people hear the first single ["Passing Out Pieces”]?

It’s been cool. I’ve been living with the album since November, and the label hasn’t been letting me share it with anybody. For me, as soon as anything can be out there, the better. I just get bored of things. In April, when it finally does come out, everyone will be excited, and I’ll have to pretend to be excited (laughs). It’s cool though. It’s just crazy how long that shit takes to come out. We’ve been playing the same songs for so long. The same set, over and over…but now, we’ve got a whole new bags of tricks.

Do you see yourself returning to New York?

Yeah, I think so. I might stay here. I like it, and I’ve only been for six months so far. 

Any plans for the rest of the day?

I think I’m just going to watch movies in bed and do nothing. It’s going to be sweet.