With a head of floppy hair underneath a forwards-facing baseball hat, singer-songwriter, Mac DeMarco, grins his signature gap tooth smile. To many, he’s an unlikely hero of music. To others, his talent and skill are obvious. The psychedelic-voiced minstrel of contemporary mellow rock music croons, singing his songs about lost youth and the dire creep of time. And on his latest record released in May, This Old Dog, the Canadian-born DeMarco laments the loss of his father, spiritually and, likely, physically. We had a chance to talk with DeMarco before he embarked on yet another series of national gigs to ask him about the new record, his smoking habits on stage, his relationship to death and much more.
Let’s start with a hard-hitting question – have you ever gotten in trouble smoking a cigarette on stage?
It happened last week actually. The UK is very particular about smoking in the venues. I was crowd surfing and somebody put it in my mouth. They were like, ‘That’s enough!’ and they told me to put it out, which was fine. But sometimes it can be a long time for me, like an hour and a half show, sometimes the cravings get the best of me – though I’m not trying to tell anybody else they should smoke.
How important is it for you to maintain a sense of humor with your music?
It happens inherently, I think. I tour with a lot of really old friends and I meet a lot of new friends on the road. I don’t know if I’m a funny guy, but I enjoy laughing. I can be serious but I can also be funny. People tend to latch onto the funny part a little bit more, which is totally fine. More importantly, though, I take what I do seriously to an extent, I think. But at the same time, if somebody wants to rib me, I can laugh as well. It’s all entertainment, that’s the root of it.
A lot has been written about your image, but do you think about it very much?
I tend not to think about it much. I don’t like to read articles about myself, or read reviews. I like Instagram, that’s the only social media I use. I think it’s pretty funny sometimes. I’ll check it out. Other people can say what they want to say and I’ll keep doing what I want to do. I think it’s nearly impossible to really control, especially in today’s technological age. The amount of ridiculous shit that shows up on the internet is crazy. I just tend to let the wind blow me where it blows me.
How much has changed in your life since Salad Days came out – did I read you just bought a house?
Yeah I did. It’s crazy. I think even before Salad Days, with “Rock and Roll Night Club,” the first album I did with my record label, it didn’t like explode, but I met a lot of people through that. That’s what got me signed to a label in the first place. When 2 came out, the shows started getting bigger. That was the turning point for me; we were playing to nobody before that point. Then, all of a sudden, like what the hell, people wanted to see us play so we started touring. I wrote Salad Days between tours. I don’t think it was a big HERE IT IS, though it kind of feels like that now. It was just a slow and steady incline. Even today, it didn’t feel like it jumped again, just kind of kept going. The shows – that’s pretty much how I gauge anything. Some shows it’s like, “Holy shit, there are a lot of people here.” It just seems to keep going.
Do you work with any grand plan in mind or is it more moment to moment?
Things change here and there, but for the most part, even before I started doing it under my own name, I was thinking, “Going on tour would be cool” and now we’re on tour. I do the things that are immediately interesting to me. I think that was the funny thing with this album, people who worked with me, people who anticipated it, they were expecting the next step after Salad Days. But I don’t really see it that way, I don’t really care, I’m going to do what I want to do.
But some things are important to me. Like having the freedom to do what I want to do. And to do it comfortably at this point, especially since we’ve been doing it now for a long time. I’m still enjoying myself. Just doing it as real as we can while having a good time. It’s hard to say, I’m trying to think of some new goal, like, “The next album, I want to win a Grammy or play stadiums!’ What the fuck? Hopefully, we can just keep touring. I’m addicted to the excitement of creation. When you make a song you like, it’s like, “Oh, wow, this feels great.” Hopefully I can keep getting high off that and I don’t have to withdrawal.
“This Old Dog” is a bit more rigid rhythmically – mostly because of the acoustic guitar you use prominently on the album. Did you approach writing it differently?
A little bit. It would have been fairly simple if I just made Salad Days again – the same guitar songs, same drum sounds. But I bought a lot more musical gear and I learned a lot about recording. To be completely honest, I don’t really listen to the same kind of music that I listened to back in the day when I was making my old records. It’s also hard to say, it’s sort of weird when you’re in so close to something as much as you are when making a recording. I don’t think, “I have to make a song like the last one.” Well, sometimes I do, but that’s when it’s like, “No, no, no, no!” But this new record kind of fits into the final piece of the triangle – first, 2, then, Salad Days, now it’s finis. Maybe I’ll do something totally wacky next time.
Your last two records often touch on the idea of time passing, losing youth and losing vibrancy. Do you think about loss and death often?
I think Salad Days is more, “Okay, I’m growing up now. Here we go. Responsibility. Get your head on your shoulders.” And on This Old Dog it was about my dad passing away. He hasn’t yet, which is completely insane. When we were face-to-face I thought he was going to be out in a couple weeks. I have a strange relationship with the guy – and I’m trying to rationalize that and understand that. So, yeah, they’re loss in two different ways. I also like to infuse the mentality of “Keep your chin up” into everything I do. It’s crazy, being alive is crazy, we all know this, yet here we go! There’s a pinch of that and a pinch of other stuff. But I’m not trying to crucify anybody.
You also have this very compassionate side in your work. Do you feel empathy is particularly important?
It does come up a lot. Things that torment me or that I struggle with, often I’m looking for the brighter side – or not the brighter side, but a release or something. It depends on whom I’m singing to, a lot of times I’m singing to myself or singing to my girlfriend. Like, “Here, let’s figure it out.” I care about people and I remember my experiences, so yeah, that’s my way of being like, “Hey, it’s okay.” It’s therapeutic for me.
Is there something you discovered about yourself while making This Old Dog?
I had a bunch of songs I’d written. Mostly acoustic stuff, like just recording into a mic, no instrumentation beside guitar and voice, and I just put them away at some point. I did a lot of those recordings in New York [before moving to Los Angeles] and I didn’t think I’d show anybody. But I wasn’t on tour and it was like, “Well, we already ate dinner, now what are we going to do?” I didn’t think they’d see the light of day. But later I was like, “I kind of like this, some of these might be fun to play for people. It might make me feel a little uncomfortable but for the most part, let’s rock and roll!”
Speaking of rock and roll, you tour all the time, how do you maintain your sanity on the road?
It’s difficult I’m struggling with that right now. I don’t know. We have a really crazy schedule until about Christmas time this year. I’m not as good at it as I used to be. There are some things that are easier, certain luxuries. Certain people are excited to see us and they treat us a little better now that they know us. But I’m going to figure something out. I’ve been drinking a whole bottle of Jameson on stage every night lately. And that’s now a way anybody should live life. I’m going to figure it out, hopefully.