Mac DeMarco: "I'm a cheap son of a bitch"
Moving from New York to buy and renovate a house in la sounds awfully grown up, doesn’t it? Mac DeMarco’s current output sees him competing with power saws to create a sound that’s uncharted territory for him.
Published: 11:18 am, May 05, 2017
In the few years since Mac DeMarco’s last full-length ‘Salad Days’, he’s toured extensively, moved from New York to LA and released mini-album ‘Another One’. Now it’s time for album number three, ‘This Old Dog’, and - nursing a hangover and clutching a cup of coffee ahead of a tiny preview show at London pub Nambucca - he’s characteristically unfazed.
“There was a point, maybe around spring 2016, I wrote some new songs and then thought, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll make a new record!’ Then I was like, ‘Eh, maybe not right now’. We went back on tour for a while, and then I moved to Los Angeles. I was just making songs, and they just sat for a while, and the label was like, ‘Look, if you wanna put something out in 2017, it’ll have to be done soon’.
“I wrote 12 or 14 songs in a week and a half in the spring, and then when the deadline finally came I was like, ‘Oh shit, I’ve only got a month left!’ So then I just worked every day. It’s the same vibe I usually have, all it took was maybe a month and a half jammed in, and then I completely wasn’t thinking about it for the rest of the time.”
“Not having anything to do just drives me crazy eventually,” he explains. “I do like to relax, and a lot of being in LA for the last few months has just been taking it easy. But there’s also this fear because then I get used to doing that. I’m able to do it because I’ve been on tour for years now and I have money sitting there, but that reservoir is gonna run out at some point.”
Not that he worries too much about money - or anything else, for that matter. “I think I’m adaptable, I’m a cheap son of a bitch,” he laughs while lighting a Marlboro Red (it’s hard to get Viceroy, his favourite brand, in the UK apparently). “I don’t buy new clothes or new cars or anything. I’ve never had the opportunity to spend any money. I’ve never been in the position where I have time; we’ve always been touring.” He pauses with a grin. “I have bought a house, that was weird! And then when we got it, it was really fucked up, the renovations are still going on actually. It’s kinda funny, if they turn on a power saw when I’m recording my guitar will make this weird high pitched noise; doing vocal takes with a bandsaw going is kind of difficult too, but hey, it’s not so bad.”
Despite the move and the different environment that the new album was recorded in, Mac was keen to make sure it didn’t stray too far from his established sound. “When I put out a record, I like it to make sense. Especially with this one I’m putting out right now, I think it completes this triangle of albums. ‘Another One’ and [2012 mini-album] ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightclub’ are in there too, but there’s this triangle of full-length releases. The format on this new one is a little bit different; the sound is a little bit different, the whole vibe is a little bit different. But people can still hear it and be like, ‘Oh, this is a Mac DeMarco record’, which is important to me.”
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That’s not to say ‘This Old Dog’ is just business as usual, with Mac keen to try new things on the release. “I love synth, my appreciation of and love for synth grow day to day, and that shows on the album. I was really feeling acoustic guitar when I made this as well, I mean some of the stuff I’m making on the side is this weird drone-y synthesiser stuff, I’m just experimenting. Maybe I could go that direction, or maybe I could go another, who knows?”
As for the pressure that traditionally surrounds an artist’s third release, he shrugs. “For me, it’s not my third album; it’s like my tenth album. But I get that by all accounts it’s my third proper release, and people listen to my music now. The way I rationalise it is that I know there are kids out there who listen to me - well, not just kids, people too - and hopefully, they like it, but them liking it is not exactly the bottom line, I just enjoy doing it. I enjoyed it, sometimes it was a little frustrating, but I enjoyed it.
“I knew I didn’t want to do the same thing again, but I also didn’t want to do this big, insane…” He clears his throat and impersonates a middle-aged record exec. “‘Well are you gonna try and go Top 40 now?’ No, I’m just making some songs, so I just let them be what they wanted to be. I wasn’t even really thinking about performing them, just if an instrument sounded fun or I felt like playing it, I did.
“I always just choose one of the songs which I think encompasses the vibe of the record,” he explains, on why he chose ‘This Old Dog’ as the title-track. “In the song, I guess I’m just talking about myself; I’m not trying to say like, ‘Oh I’m so old, fuck!’ But I have seen some shit; my life’s probably a little bit weirder than some people’s lives. But it’s just a little love song. It’s one of my favourites, but I think my real favourite is the first song off of side B, ‘Dreams from Yesterday’. I like that sound. I like all the songs, though; they’re all my children. Well, they’re not my children anymore, now they’re just orphans waiting for release day.”
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And does Mac have an ‘old dog’ of his own? “No, but I really like the idea of a basset hound. They’re my favourite dog; they’re just so droopy. I’ve never really been around one, though. You know how different breeds of dog have different personalities? I don’t even really know anything like that about them. I just have this idea from back when I was in Montreal; I just wanted to have me cruising around in my station wagon with a nice basset hound riding in the shotgun seat, I think it’s a good look. I think they get health problems, but that’s not my fault.” He laughs and holds his hands up. “Hey, I didn’t breed them to be unhealthy; somebody did it a couple of hundred years ago!”
Dog breeds aside, does he ever think about the future? “I’m in the honeymoon stage. I’ve just done a record; I don’t have to think about shit! I’m enjoying that, but at the same time I just like recording so I do it as well. I guess I’ll go on tour for like a year and a half, and then do it all over again.” He lights another cigarette before continuing. “I’m sure it’ll end at some point, and that’s totally fine. I think to have a long lasting career is rare. Especially in guitar music, guitar music is a dying breed, so who knows? I’m just gonna stay happy, count my blessings as they come. Enjoy yourself in the moment, that’s something that I’ve always said. Maybe there will be a point that no-one gives a shit that I’m putting out a record, but oh well.
“The other thing is that it’s great that people like my music and come to the show, but a big part of why I do this is that it’s my hobby, I love to do it. So I’ll probably keep doing it even if nobody listens.” He’s happy to keep touring too, as long as people will have him. “I like the travelling aspect of it. The only thing I don’t like about it is flying, but I could spend the rest of my life driving around in a van, I’d be so happy. It’s a weird lifestyle, and it’s a weird community, but it’s really cool. Back in the day when we had to stay at people’s houses because we were so broke… you don’t forget those people. And maybe the ‘cool kids’ that only liked your music because it was ‘the new thing’ won’t be coming along anymore, but we try and make sure everybody’s still around. The reason that I started making records was that I loved going to shows.” He is keen to downplay the crazy stuff he’s famous for on stage, though. “Most of the true craziness is just its own single occurrence. Say you show your butt on stage once; people think you do it at every show. I do crowd surf at the end of every show, though; it’s such a routine that I don’t event think about it anymore. Sometimes if I’m hurting or something, it’s like ‘God Damn it, I have to crowd surf.’ So yeah, it can be strange getting into the routine. We try and keep it as fresh as we can, but there’s no way for it not to be weird. Except the thing that you’ve got to keep in mind is it’s a new set of people every night and a new place every night. That’s what keeps it fresh.”
Mac DeMarco’s album ‘This Old Dog’ is out 5th May.