Mac DeMarco’s next record might stray from the laid-back guitar tone you know and love (or perhaps can’t wait to be rid of) and might be filled with the greatest electronic love epics of our time — but don’t hold your breath. As much as DeMarco is willing to test his limits, and jokes about his Chicago House revival “love banger” record, he seems completely, unerringly content. Ahead of his appearance at Falls and Southbound festivals over New Years, and headline shows in Melbourne and Sydney, we speak to Mac about the art of the love song, something he gets close to perfecting on his latest release, mini-LP Another One.
He’s calling from his house in Far Rockaway, Queens. This house is as much a character on Another One as the departing lovers that DeMarco laments. On the record’s cover he’s perched by the water, which his house opens straight onto. The sounds of the waves replace DeMarco’s vocals on the album’s closing track, at the end of which he calmly gives his address, and an invitation to come over for a cup of coffee.
It’s a move like this, one that would be completely unimaginable for most other successful musicians, along with his decidedly kooky onstage manner and various behind-the-scenes videos, that has earned DeMarco the reputation of indie-rock’s class clown. As we talk, it becomes increasingly clear that although this persona isn’t inauthentic, it is certainly a facet of his life as a performer, less so of his life as a musician. On the phone he’s serious, contemplative, self-effacing and relaxed, pleasantly not performing.
Noisey: You’ve talked about Another One being a whole record of love songs. Do you have any favorite love songs you were emulating
Mac DeMarco: I don’t know about really looking at anything specifically, but I’m just kind of a fan of the whole thing — like I love The Beatles, Harry Nilsson, stuff like that. I’ve always just kind of tried to make love songs. Love songs are easy to write, you know, everybody can relate to that. I’ll give you a couple of my real, big, heavy-hitter ones I love: I love that song "Something" by The Beatles, I think that’s a George song, I think that’s a great song. "Just The Way You Are" by Billy Joel — oof, that’s a treat, right there. Let’s give you a Harry Nilsson one, let’s try… maybe “Without Her”. That’s a great track.
It almost feels like these songs read as romantic advice or counselling — you’ve got so many young fans, do you feel a bit like you’re a sensei imparting wisdom?
A little bit. I mean, I’m not an expert, is the funny thing. I’m terrible at this stuff, I don’t know how to live my life. I’m so confused. But I think maybe just admitting that can help some people out. There’s a couple of ways I feel like [I can] help kids in some way. I think for me one of the big things is, you look at our band — we’re not super sexy rock stars, we don’t know how to play our instruments that well, we’re just doing our thing. But we’re able to do our thing. People can connect with it. For me, when I was younger and before I started playing music a lot, when I was first playing in bands, it wasn’t seeing bands on MTV that made me [think] “Oh, I gotta do this, like these guys with the crazy videos!” It was bands in my hometown, like little bands with kids my age, I was like “Oh my god, they’re doing it, why couldn’t I do it?” I feel like that’s a good push for kids, I think, if you feel like doing something you might as well do it.
So much of your perceived “personality" is attached to your persona as a musician and the characters in the songs — are there things you keep to yourself?
Yeah, there are some things. More and more, these days, I retract a little bit from letting people know whatever the hell they want. I mean, even though I am really open with the people who listen to my music — and I’ll talk about anything, I don’t really mind. I think it’s just the nature of the beast, especially nowadays on the internet and stuff, it’s like there’s certain aspects of my personality, like in the videos or whatever, that people are drawn to more, and those aspects get honed in on, or blown up, or whatever, to create this very insane idea of what I am on a day-to-day basis. Which is totally fine, you kinda sign up for that when you decide you wanna do something like this, so it’s okay, but the more it happens, the more I’m kind of like “Ah, I’m just spending the day at home like an old person today.”
I know you record on tape, and you’re into those “imperfect” sounds, and that’s something that’s consistent across all your records. Do you ever get tempted to experiment with something totally different? To open up Ableton and make an EDM love banger?
I wouldn’t know how to do it, is the problem. I actually released a free album earlier this summer, it was like an instrumental album, and that was the first time I’d ever used a computer to record, but I didn’t use any of the effects — I was still using all this rat gear, and weird instrument shit — it was pretty much that the computer was just my tape machine. But it was the first time I’ve ever tried it, and it sounds pretty cool, so I was kinda like “Woah! I don’t have to worry about tape hiss? The machine’s not gonna break? Why have I been doing it that other way?” But I really like the quality of [tape]. Also this thing about the work ethic of using tape. It’s really limiting, in a way, where you only have so many options, you can’t punch in, you can’t do a bajillion tracks. It’s nice for me, in a way. You gotta cut the fat if you’re gonna do it that way. But we’ll see what happens. Maybe the next album will be EDM. All my friends are getting really into house music now, all of a sudden. It’s kinda like the cool new music trend I think, like the real cool one, like “cutting edge”.
So yeah, I’m doing an EDM Chicago House-style “love banger album” next, so look out.
Mac DeMarco Australia January 2016
Jan 3 – Melbourne at 170 Russell
Jan 4 – Melbourne at 170 Russell
Jan 5 – Melbourne at 170 Russell
Jan 6 – Sydney at Enmore Theatre
Also appearing at Falls & Southbound Festivals.
Greer Clemens is a Melbourne writer and musician. Follow her @greerclemens