Wearing beat-up Vans, an old T-shirt, ripped jeans, and chain-smoking cigarettes, Mac DeMarco isn’t exactly the epitome of a rock star. The 27-year-old Vancouver native is as laid-back as the chords and riffs imbued in the music that launched his career as one of the most authentic acts in the industry.
Despite his casual joie de vivre, DeMarco is something of a workhorse when it comes to creativity. A multi-instrumentalist, DeMarco writes, records, and produces most of his songs, and even makes his own music videos, which he shares on his YouTube page. His latest album, This Old Dog, is one of his most personal yet, with lyrics that breezily touch on subjects like his relationship with his father and coming-of-age in a mid-twenties malaise. We sat down with DeMarco before he embarked on his international tour to get his take on his newfound celebrity.
Your latest album, This Old Dog, has been critically and commercially successful. Have you noticed the new level of fame you’ve achieved? How are you dealing with it?
I don’t feel like I’m really famous, or famous at all, but there’s, like, a weird sideways look you get from people and you’re like, “OK, why are you looking at me?” It’s just a human reaction, but, I think for some reason a lot of my fans are just like, “I’m gonna go and say ‘what’s up’ to him.”
And you make yourself really approachable. You even gave out your address in a track on your last album. How did that work out?
A lot of people were like, “what are you doing?” and “you’re gonna get robbed.” But it was fine. I lived pretty far out from New York City too, so if people were gonna come, they had to be really big fans to make the trip. I met a lot of cool people and a lot of really nervous people. It was interesting. And, I don’t know if I’d necessarily do it again, but I’m glad I did it.
Who are some of your musical influences? In the past you’ve mention Harry Nilsson, Neil Young, and John Lennon, but I also notice a little James Taylor as well, especially his songwriting.
I grew up on all those guys and it was a good base for me. I mean James, I missed when I was younger, so the last couple years I got a little more into his stuff. I think they kinda get passed off as not being great musicians or guitar players because they play acoustic, but James and Paul [Simon] are actually insane guitar players. In fact, a lot of their music is really intricate. A lot of the chord changes and harmonies are unbelievable. Nowadays, though, I pretty much just listen to weird ambient music or horror movie soundtracks.
Do you have a special way you approach writing a new song? Do you start with the music or lyrics?
It can be different. Just recently, I think because I had stuff like James Taylor and Paul Simon in my head, I wanted to sit down and write songs on my acoustic guitar. So, I’d have the entire song there before doing the whole recording process. But in the past, I had a riff or some kind of beat or something going on and kind of built around that. Sometimes lyrics come early, sometimes they come late. When it happens, it happens, and a lot of times it doesn’t work out, so it’s just luck of the draw.
The song “My Old Man” on your latest album seems to suggest you’re seeing more of your dad in yourself. Did you mean it to be autobiographical?
Yeah, it is. I mean, it’s sort of about growing up, but I think it’s a reflection of where I am in my life right now. A lot of the record is about my dad, my family…and different relationships.
Are you still close to your folks back home?
My mom, yeah. My dad was never really in the picture, so that’s part of the tale of the record I suppose.
Was your mom supportive of your music growing up?
She was. I don’t really know if I ever had a moment where I sat down and told her, “hey mom, I want to be in a band.” I was just always in bands and she knew that I liked doing it. She’d help out with what she could. I had a little studio at the house that wasn’t exactly soundproof at all, but she bought me a lot of my first gear. I never thought that I would be able to just be in a band and make money. That’s insane to me still today.
Why did you decide to cover the James Taylor song, “Fool to Care,” recently? How did the idea come about?
Well, my bass player that’s with me now, John, he’s really into James and he put me on to it a little bit more. I heard the track—I don’t really know what year it’s from, but it’s off the Gorilla album. I hadn’t heard that record and he played it for me and I was like “ooh, yeah.” It was like the first kind of off-the-beat song. John was staying with me for a little while and while we were off tour, we didn’t have anything going on, so we said, “why don’t we cover that James song?”
You’ve been praised for your songwriting ability. Did you always know you had a talent for lyric writing?Not really, I mean, I played with people all my life, in and out of different bands. When I was doing that, maybe once someone asked me to sit down and write a song. Usually, I would go off on my own and try to work on stuff, just to see if I could do it. For me, songwriting comes from recording over and over again and trying different things—alone. Even if it’s ripping stuff off.
How do you put together your music videos? Do you work with different directors that you like, or is it mostly your concepts?
Back in the day, when I had maybe two videos out there, I did everything on my own. From playing, to recording and mixing, so it felt better to do the videos myself with a couple friends. It made it so it was more in tune with what I was doing overall; we would just walk out of the house and make it happen. Even now, the video for “This Old Dog,” off the last album, we just went to Chinatown to shoot that. If it’s not me, I sometimes have my friend Pierce—who used to play with us, but he’s also a videographer—help us out. His style is just like, “well, let’s get some Tecate and turn the camera on.” Videos are great and it’s part of the process, but I never want it to detract from the music. It’s a video for the music, so my attitude is like, whatever works, works for me.
You lived in Far Rockaway in Queens. Did living by the sea influence your music?
Well, the record I did out there, Another One, I wrote a lot of in the winter. But it’s weird though, because in New York you usually don’t see a tree out your window or anything like that. It’s definitely a different vibe out there in the Rockaways. Especially since I was alone in that house a lot, hammering away at stuff. At night, for example, I would hear wind blowing through trees or the waves hitting against the shore. It affected the music in some way, I’m not sure how. I liked the house a lot, my roommates and I go back sometimes.
You now live in Silver Lake. What has the transition between Vancouver, Queens, and LA been like?
I like LA. I’m trying it out. A lot of people are down on LA but most of them haven’t had the opportunity to see it on a daily basis. It’s funny, when I was planning to move out here, I remember, even from my neighbors in Rockaway, were like, “oh, you’re moving to LA, great.” But, you know, I said, “I don’t have a bone in this fight because I’m Canadian.” I’m sure I won’t stay here forever, but for now, I’m enjoying it. New York has got a lot going on. I love New York, you know. It’s a different vibe out here and a completely different thing for me. We have space here. You know, I have a driveway. The quality of life is just a little bit higher.