A Conversation with Mac Demarco


ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN ISSUE 10, SPRING 2014

INTERVIEW BY SCOTT PARSONS
PHOTOS BY CLAIRE MILBRATH
ART BY MAC 

On the verge of the release of his new album, Salad Days, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mac DeMarco from his bedroom in Brooklyn, a zone that seems to hold a profound importance to him and his craft. Despite his rowdy public persona and onstage antics, there is a subterranean Mac that is more thoughtful, analytical, and reflective than some may assume. The hermetic time he spends recording in his bedroom studio between touring stints suggests that his music is the result of a covertly deep meditation on memory and self-improvement, while he explores the fringes of the retro pop paradigm. What results from this process grants DeMarco the freedom to dole out healthy doses of reality while remaining dreamy to the ear. Regardless of which side of Mac you relate with, it’s never a bore to visit his bedroom-cum-Shangri-La that is so seamlessly portrayed in his oddly personal music.

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Hey Mac

Hey big boy

I would like to congratulate you for all your success at the Grammy’s, including your win over Kendrick Lamar for best Rap album of the year.

Thank you, it isn’t easy.

You seem like a pretty tender guy, but there seems to be a lot of un-tender, older male figures in your lyrics, like Rick and Terry for example. Do you lament getting older or do you aspire to these rugged portraits that you create?

Those names I’m definitely lamenting. Cause, ok here’s the story of those names. My dad had a friend named Rick when I was growing up. And I was so young that I don’t really remember. But my mom tells the story where I think he was a crack user like a heavy sketchy carpenter dude, and he would come over, and I don’t remember doing this but my mom said I would go to the window when a car would pull up and usually it would be “oh what’s up! Some- one’s here!” but for Rick I would look out and see him and say “uh oh, it’s Rick”. Bad, bad news when Rick would roll up. And my dad also had a friend named Terry that had a dog whose name was either cokehead or shithead, who was also a very lamentable figure.

So these are real people, not just part of your narrative fantasy?

No, it’s fantasy, but it’s loosely based on reality.

What do you think you’ll be like when you’re older?

I could see you in a humble cottage in rural Japan with a collarless button up shirt and an extensive vintage synth collection. To be perfectly honestly ill probably become a Rick or a Terry. It’s ok with me.

Speaking of the future, your new album seems to have some new sounds on it. Have you been experimenting with new instruments?

Yeah I actually have one right here. Looks like we’ve got a Yamaha RX-5 here. Beautiful Drum machine. It’s an 80’s version of the popular Linn Drum which is an older series of drum machine that was popularized by albums like Purple Rain by Prince. You can find it in tracks such as…uhhh… “Computer Blue.” The whole idea of that drum ma- chine is that it comes with one kit and you can slow the samples down, you can’t really modulate it in any way. You can kind of make your own rhythms but not really. It’s all about slowing it down, seeing how tasty you can make that sound. Back in the good old days it wasn’t about having sampling technology or five hundred drum kits, you just have one motherfucker and that was it. It was huge and you had to just do what you could. So I bought this thing instead, it doesn’t sound as good, but it sounds all right.

Where did you find it?

Oooo, it was at a place called Lozaro’s music in Edmonton. I think Lozaro likes to call it Lozaro’s Music but it’s basically what everyone else would call a Pawn Shop. But let’s talk about Lozaro a bit, I’d say he’s probably about 65 at this point, maybe 4 or 5 teeth in his head. A heavy odor comes off of him, I’m not sure if it’s from his mouth or just from his body. He smells really bad but he’s a very tender man. I have given him quite a bit of business in my day. He runs his little music shop and has tons of old gear, some of it nice, most of it broken.

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Drawing by Mac


Is that where you bought your signature Mac DeMarco guitar?

No that’s actually where I bought my amp that I used the entire time I was doing my Makeout Videotape thing. My friend Jeremy and I only paid him half the money for it up front and then gave him a fake name. We wheeled it out the back and never paid the other half. Where did the infamous guitar come from then? I got that from Lillo’s Music, which I am banned from now because I stole an accordion when I was 17. I got it in my backpack and I got out on the street and I was thinking “fuck yeah I got an accordion” because I was really into Beirut at the time or something. So I walked all the way down the street to a corner store and I actually bumped into an employee from Lillo’s and he said “oh cool accordion man, that looks just like the one we have in the store”, and I told him it was my Grandma’s and asked what he was doing outside while he was working and he told me he was “just picking up some mail” which was pretty suspect so I peaced out and actually stashed it at my friend Alec’s house in his basement. When I got home the owner Vic Lillo actually called me and said “Mac hey what’s going on uhhh maybe you grabbed an accordion or something?” he was actually very civil about it and I ended up giving it back. It was kinda sketchy but I told him that I needed to borrow it to see if I could repair my friend Jared Boyce’s accordion by taking apart the stolen accor- dion to see how it worked, which was obviously a complete lie. It turned into this big long ordeal. But anyways, I guess I learned to not take what you don’t need, in this case it was an accordion.

Behind the scenes video footage

 

So I heard you have a pinball machine?

Yes I do, I have The Shadow. I believe it’s a 1994 Bally/Williams.

I guess you must encounter quite a bit of pinball while touring, have you ever phoned a venue in advance to see if they have pinballs?

Yeah I have quite a few times actually and the promoters always get weirded out and wonder why I’m asking. We actually played a venue that was pinball-themed. It was in Grand Rapids. We were 2 hours late for the show and the owners were really mad thinking “oh rockstars think they can come two hours late when we’re paying them two grand” but then after the show was over they saw us all playing pinball and our mutual love for pinball smoothed over the entire situation.

What a strange way to make amends. You tour in a van now, but in the past you were more of a sedan man, right? What happened to your cars?

Well let’s see, my first car was a Ford escort. My sister had a Chrysler Daytona that she really loved but that broke, so she bought this shitty Ford Escort that she eventually ditched in my Mom’s driveway. A few years went by and it just sat there after she moved away. Finally I started driving it and eventually took that little fucker all the way across America three times, across Canada a bunch of times, and all without insurance or a license. It broke a billion times but it was a great car. But, eventually, when I moved to Montreal, I didn’t have rent money one month so I ended up selling it to the scrappers for fifty bucks. It’s prob- ably a tiny cube of metal by now. Then after that I had a Volvo wagon. It was an ok car but I remember the first day I had it, it broke down in the mountains. It broke down on us three or four times the first tour we took it on. The starter went in Washington D.C., It actually broke down all the time. I loved it, it looked cool, yadda yadda yadda. But it was cursed for sure. And the whole time we toured in that car we had to have a widget to open the hatchback.

A widget?

Well it was actually my friends Alex and Ellery’s curtain cord, like a string to pull your curtains up. So we had to attach it to the hatchback handle on the inside, because you couldn’t open it from the outside, and then we had the curtain cord attached to the seatbelt in the back seat. So you had to use this thing from inside the car to open the back door and it would always get tangled in a bunch of gear, which was a huge pain in the ass. So we were touring in the car for two years and the gear chute didn’t even really work. The Volvo was basically a piece of shit.

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Didn’t you have to put a little engine mod on the Volvo?

Yeah my mom and I had to drive the Volvo to Calgary from Ed- monton to go see my brother, Hank. We got there real quick, no problem. But then on the day we were supposed to come home from Calgary I was still jet-lagged from flying home from Aus- tralia so I woke up at about 6 in the morning and started driving and we got about halfway and the car started smoking, smok- ing a lot, so we pulled over and had to get it towed to Kenora or Ponoka or wherever it was, and luckily my Dad was free that day so he and his buddy Randy the mechanic drove up to Ponoka and they did a quick fix. Randy took a look over the engine for a little while, figured it out, went into the Esso station and bought 2 neon green hi-liter pens and some little zip-ties, reached into the engine and snipped a couple tubes in half, jammed the 2 hi- liters into where the tubes were. The car ran but there was no longer any heat in the car. But there you go, that’s Randy for ya.

I think everyone needs a Randy now and then. You have a new album coming out called Salad Days, a title that sounds like a sketchy diet choice. What is the real story behind the title?

It’s from the play Antony and Cleopatra and it’s more or less like Shakespeare invented a slang term. My friend Victor would say it all the time and I thought it was slang from this year or last year or something, but it’s actually hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years old. So that was a bit confusing to me, so Joe McMurray had to explain it to me and it’s like a fresh period, a pure period, a youthful period in your life. So I’m not sure the whole album correlates to that term but the song ”Salad Days” itself does.

Do you think your salad days are behind you?

No I don’t think so, but it’s interesting I think because the song goes “Salad days are gone…” then the chorus goes “acting like my life’s already over” so it’s sort of like a call and response because there is a line that says “oh mama, oh dear” so it’s like the mother responding to the child saying “act your age and try another year” so it’s kinda like “grow up you idiot”. But yeah it means all these things but I think most kids will just think that it’s a weed reference.

Do you have a large stoner following?

Yeah definitely. It’s the only time I get asked to smoke weed and I get asked almost every single show. They say “yo Macky boy you wanna toast a doobie in the alley after your set?” And then I always have to say “no, sorry, I’m not really a weed smoker, but maybe my guitarist Peter would like to do it” and kids get really really disappointed. They get a really sad puppy dogface and say “oh… that’s too bad”. But when Peter smokes with them they think it’s good enough, and Peter is always game. I just got back from Australia though and out there it’s all about meth. It seems like in Australia they can’t get a lot of the Western drugs as eas- ily so instead of not doing drugs, kids just think “well I guess we can make this drug easily” so it’s not really that taboo to smoke meth down there. Before I play “Cooking Up Something Good” I always say something like “hey what’s up, this song is about smoking meth” which is a joke, but after we played this festival this kid came up to me and said “yo man, wanna come smoke some meth in my tent?” and I had to just politely say no.

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A lot of your music touches on conspiracies and cults. Of all the theories you have come across, which one do you think is the most plausibly true?

For a while I was super sure that the Baba Vanga prophesies were true. I was terrified about missile launches when I recorded Ying Yang. But none of that ever happened so I don’t care any- more. But lately the Freemason stuff has been interesting to me; the thing about the Freemason stuff is that I got really terrified of it for a long time. I was looking at it like there is some secret evil lurking out there, I gotta figure out what the evil is. And you see Freemasonry shit all over the place, in every city you’re in because it’s very present in society, you see it on people’s bum- pers and whatnot. But on this latest album, what I realized is that they are there and it’s more of just like a weird religious cult, well not really religious, but if you look at it that way it makes a lot more sense because they just have different ways of think- ing about things, different lessons. It’s kind of like looking at the bible or Christianity because Christianity is evil too. I realized this last year, it’s super fucked. I went from thinking “oh my whole family is Christian that’s nice” to thinking “oh the entire church is super fucking crazy”. But yeah I started looking at Freemaso- nary like the 10 commandments, it’s kind of like: those are pretty good guidelines, y’know? For example, if you look at my new song “Chamber of Reflections,” the chamber of reflection is a room Freemasons go into for a day or two by themselves and there is all these weird objects that symbolize some old bullshit, but what they’re supposed to do in this room is they’re suppose to reflect on everything that has happened to them in their lives up to this point and they get it all together. Then when they come out they’re supposed to leave it all behind and move for- ward as a fresh newborn human, essentially. After that they are allowed into this community where they make good men better. I kind of felt like I was doing my own chamber of reflections in my room with my music: you get all the demons out and then you go party again no problem. So yeah, it’s more interesting to look at it like that, instead of watching Eyes Wide Shut fifty times and saying “oh, this could mean that”. That’s kinda fun, but it’s pretty ridiculous.

So are there any newer bands, Captured Tracks or otherwise, that you’re into these days?

Chris Cohen I love, Naomi Punk I love, Alex Calder, love that boy. Ummmm…

Maybe you get asked what your favorite bands are way too much?

Yeah but I never know what to say, so I say nothing. I feel like I should start saying something. Well Connan Mockasin, Run DMT and Salvia Plath I like, I was just with those guys the other day actually. They have a new album ready under a new name, The Doobie Sisters, but I guess they can’t be called that anymore be- cause of legal shit. So I don’t know what they’re gonna be called but they’re really sweet. They have five other projects on the go it seems. Right now one of them, Mike, is working on a ‘This American Life’ type podcast but it’s all about peoples’ poop sto- ries. He takes rideshares and then records peoples’ poop stories. He has accumulated some insane stories.


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Mac recording with Cassie Ramone

If you had to give him a poop story, which story would you tell?

Most of my poop stories are pretty normal: I pooped my pants at a restaurant, I pooped my pants while I was spooning with my girlfriend, I pooped my pants while I was spooning with my friend Alex. But my most epic poop story is probably when my drummer Joe and I were sharing a hotel room in Taiwan, and I had contracted some sort of stomach parasite, and I was on the floor in the hotel bathroom trying to get it out, and I had gotten Joe to step on my stomach but it didn’t work. I was in so much pain. So eventually I just went down on my hands and knees and just pushed as hard as I could and this stream of black shit came out and I stood up, and from where I was standing it was a perfect straight black line on the floor.

That’s absolutely disgusting.

Yeah it sucked. The worst part was having to clean it up. But wait I have more bands I wanna list. When I was hanging with Con- nan Mockasin I met his keyboard player, a guy name Rory, and he has a band called Inifinite Bisous. He’s a weird little dude but he likes a lot of the guys I like, like Yellow Magic Orchestra and Harry Hosono, so he makes crazy synth music, kind of like Jerry Paper but a little softer, less wonky sounding than Jerry Paper. Also Tonstartssbandht, Andy Boay, Eola, Jerry Paper, Juan Wa- ters, Amen Dunes.

But in terms of your music, would you say that it’s mostly the older pop masters that are your main influence?

Yeah, I guess so, yeah. But it’s not really the traditional pop mas- ters, I like listening to the older weirdos: Yellow Magic Orchestra, Brian Eno, Ryuichi Sakamoto, the stuff that’s sometimes almost unlistenable and just sort of strange.

So who are the masters to you then?

Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Harry Nilsson, Elton John, Todd Rundgren, Randy Newman. Actually speaking of masters, I was reading an interview with Blood Orange where he was talking about how everyone agrees that Michael Jackson is the best but no one ever asks why he’s the best, which is interesting to me.

Is Michael Jackson dead?

No, definitely not. He was at his own funeral, he was at the party afterwards, he was at the giant TV memorial, but he was in dis- guise the whole time. He bought all this property in a Middle Eastern country where they wear burkas so he can hide out in one of those. He was going bankrupt, so he faked his own death to get out of paying taxes. Now he’s just living there.

Is that what you plan on doing during the twilight of your career?

I’m just waiting for Michael to invite me.