Mac DeMarco, On Show

Published July 9, 2014

ABOVE: MAC DEMARCO

Much has been said already about the on- and offstage antics of Canadian indie rocker Mac DeMarco. Two separate incidents— involving one always controversial orifice, a drum stick, and DeMarco’s own thumb—pointed towards a potentially GG Allin-inspired character arc. But at a ripe 24 years old, it seems like DeMarco is ready to stand on the merits of his music, primarily. DeMarco’s second full length LP, Salad Days (Captured Tracks), retains some of the off-kilter elements of his early tongue-in-cheek lay-about solo project, Makeout Videotape, but feels decidedly intimate and self-reflexive, perhaps even more so than his full-length debut, the well received, tastefully ironic, and cleverly titled 2 (2012). Some may even be impudent enough to call Salad Days mature, and it just may be. Even Demarco has willingly referred to his tunes once or twice as “dad rock.”

The shock-and-awe novelty, which is becoming somewhat played out for DeMarco’s most popular fan, friend, and contemporary Tyler, the Creator, creeps in at times, but by no means takes center stage. Tyler, who enlisted DeMarco for his ongoing TV project Loiter Squad, cites “Chamber of Reflection” as a personal favorite. Potentially mainstream friendly slow jams like the almost poppy “Let Her Go” grooves with the twilight vocal twang of Marc Bolan of T. Rex, while flirting with the subject matter, pace, and “weak” styling—a term John Cale of The Velvet Underground once affectionately used to describe the lounge-lizard offerings by the uncannily affable Jonathan Richmond.

On July 12, DeMarco will take the main stage of the Village Voice-sponsored 4Knots Music Festival at the South Street Seaport alongside the jammy yet hardcore godfathers of guitar rock, Dinosaur Jr., as well as Nashville rockers Those Darlins, Massachusetts-based Speedy Ortiz, the guerilla art-rockers Viet Cong, and more. It’s Demarco, however, who has the best chance to steal the whole shebang. DeMarco, who has lived in Brooklyn with his girlfriend for almost two years now since moving from his hometown of Edmonton, to Vancouver, and then finally Montreal before coming to one of the trendiest music towns in the United States, should taste the fruits of what some could call a well deserved New York homecoming, before launching back into a massive world tour.

KURT MCVEY:  Where are you right now?

MAC DEMARCO: I’m at the corner of Eddy Street and Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco.

MCVEY: Are you at The Fillmore tonight?

DEMARCO: No, I think that’s later in the year. Tonight and tomorrow night we’re playing The Great American Music Hall.

MCVEY: Let’s talk a little about this world tour. San Francisco is just the beginning. Is the prospect of being on the road for the next seven months daunting for you?

DEMARCO: It’s a little bit daunting I guess when you look at it [the tour schedule]. I just never really look at it. I just go to the airport when I’m supposed to go. [laughs] I’m pretty used to being on the road now. We’re booked up until February. That’s because I’ll pretty much say yes to any gig as long as it seems like people will come see us play. Also, I’m getting a little bit better with not feeling like shit the whole time I’m on the road, so that’s a nice change.

MCVEY: You’re playing a show in Helsinki, Finland in August, and then your next show is three days later in Tel Aviv, Israel. Do you have a different relationship with fans in different parts of the world?

DEMARCO: The Middle East is a new thing for us, but we’ve been to Europe a bunch of times as well as Asia, and Australia. The crowd can be a little different in some places. For example, in Europe, people tend to be very respectful. They try not to make too much noise at inappropriate times. In other countries, people can be very still. Sometimes I’m not sure if a crowd is into it until the end, when they usually want me to do something crazy for the encore. I love meeting different people around the world. It’s a huge reason why I do this.

MCVEY: Do you feel a certain pressure at this stage of the game to do something outlandish during a show, in a similar way that a band may feel pressured into playing an old hit? Are you over that, to a degree?

DEMARCO: I think people do expect something a little weird to happen. Maybe they’ve seen something I did once on the Internet and expect that I’m gonna do that every night. Sometimes weird things do happen, it just depends on how we’re feeling. The cool thing about kids assuming these things is when they come to the shows all excited and amped up and acting all crazy to begin with, it makes it more likely that we’ll act crazy. The energy has to flow back and forth.

MCVEY: It’s an exchange.

DEMARCO: If people ask me to stick drumsticks up my ass at this point, I’m just like, “Yeah, whatever.” [laughs]

MCVEY: Some of the articles I read said you are living in Bed-Stuy while others said you were in Bushwick. For all the Brooklyn people out there, what hood do you officially live in?

DEMARCO: I live right on Broadway, on the border really. If I had to guess, I’d say I’m more on the Bushwick side, but don’t hold me to that.

MCVEY: I know you’ve been collaborating here and there with Tyler, the Creator. What I’m more interested in is the fact that Nardwuar has interviewed both of you.

DEMARCO: Yes, Nardwuar!

MCVEY: What happens to him once the interview is over? Does he vanish into thin air leaving only the puffball from his plaid hat behind? He’s kind of an ageless music wizard journalist or a leprechaun or something.

DEMARCO: I’m afraid he doesn’t vanish or anything like that. [laughs] You know, I was kind of curious too, because I’ve been watching his interviews since I was 12 years old.

MCVEY: I remember that great one he did with Cobain back in the day, where Courtney Love kept trying to butt in and soak up his magic.

DEMARCO: Right, right. It was crazy to meet the guy. He just hung out and talked a bit more with me and my band members. He met my family. He’s really just a fan of the whole musical experience.

MCVEY: I love his sleuth skills, his energy, and his enthusiasm. I think it keeps him young. He doesn’t let cynicism creep in, and for a music person, that’s pretty rare.

DEMARCO: Yeah, he’s cool.

MCVEY: Let’s talk about the 4Knots Music Festival. Have you ever played a show with Dinosaur Jr.?

DEMARCO: We’ve never played in such close proximity with them, meaning the same stage back to back, but I know we played a festival in France somewhere once or twice, but this one should be really cool. We’re flying in from Los Angeles just for the festival, which makes it exciting. Maybe I’ll have a chance to stop home for a minute before heading back.

MCVEY: The next stop after 4Knots is Colorado. Are you or your bandmates interested in what’s happening over there with the legalization of marijuana?

DEMARCO: I’m not a big weed smoker to tell you the truth, but my guitarist Pete is very interested in—I think it’s basically weed soda? They sell them at gas stations now. It’s basically a Coke with weed. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll give those a shot. When in Rome, I guess.

MCVEY: I know you’ve been vocal about not drinking so much before or during shows. Is that still a strict thing for you, or have you just casually scaled it back?

DEMARCO: Yeah, I don’t drink before we play anymore. There have been a couple of shows where I do, but those have usually been weirder, smaller, one-off, no-big-deal kind of shows. I’m not that hard on myself. I’ve been drinking on stage for years and years. I think I’m in a spot right now where I’m trying to cut some things out of my life. I’d like to feel present during the show and have a good time without feeling like I have to barf the whole set.

MCVEY: When you play live now, do you ever dip back into your Makeout [Videotape] stuff, or is that well in the past?

DEMARCO: It’s nice for us because the album [Salad Days] is still fairly new. A lot of people haven’t heard some of these tracks live, so it’s still exciting for us to play them in new cities. When they go off well, it’s still like, “All right, that totally worked!” [laughs] I might pull out the Makeout stuff if I’m playing alone, but I don’t think, based on the way I arranged those songs, and how they exist, that they’d fit within the context of the new band.

MCVEY: I was watching the video for “My Kind of Woman” and I couldn’t help imagine you as some kind of love child between David Lee Roth at peak rock-‘n’-roll clown and Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. How does that sit with you? [laughs]

DEMARCO: [laughs] I’ve actually gotten David Lee Roth before and that’s actually quite flattering. Thank you. Maybe I’ve got a little Buffalo Bill in me, hopefully not the part that likes to kill and skin women of course. I’d like to think there’s a little of that Rocker David Lee Roth in me, but not the super greasy, sketchy, shit-bag part, you know? [laughs]

MCVEY: You’re 24 years old, about to embark on a world tour; do you ever think about being around the same age as those Van Halen guys and wonder whether or not you’ll still be doing this? Do you see yourself touring well into your golden years, like a Neil Young type, or are you just too focused on the present?

DEMARCO: It’s so crazy now with the Internet and being able to play shows to people who are actually interested in you. I still feel so lucky when that happens. Things just happen so fast. Who knows? In a year or two if no one listens to my music, I wouldn’t be that surprised. I would love it if they do. Neil Young is the prime example, the grand goal, if you will. He’s still shredding and he never lost his credibility.

MCVEY: How are things with your girlfriend? Is she still in the country?

DEMARCO: Everything’s fine now. I have a visa, and I put her on it. For a while things were a bit dicey. Imagine telling a girl, “Come to the States with me. Maybe you’ll get kicked out, and bonus, you can’t get a job!”

MCVEY: [laughs] I know it’s early, but are you writing on the road now at all, or do you prefer to do that at home?

DEMARCO: I brought a little four-track in the van with a couple battery-powered keyboards, my guitar and some weird effects things. So yeah, instead of sleeping all day and wasting away like I did on past tours, I’m going to make a conscious effort to give it a try. It feels nice to still be in that early grace period for Salad Days. I can breathe easy. I’m having fun.

MCVEY: How do you feel about the guitar’s place in contemporary music?

DEMARCO: I like guitar. It just turned out that it’s the instrument I learned to play. I have a lot of respect for it and I’m learning more and more everyday. For me, the classic band setup—guitars, drums, bass—will stay fresh forever. I don’t know. I’m still into it.

MCVEY: If you could play with any musician from anytime up on stage, who would it be?

DEMARCO: Probably Michael McDonald.

MCVEY: Really? Why him?

DEMARCO: I don’t know. He’s just got those velvety, weird, crusty pipes and he plays a damn nice keyboard, I’ll tell ya. [laughs]

MAC DEMARCO WILL PLAY THE 4KNOTS MUSIC FESTIVAL THIS SATURDAY, JULY 12. FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, PLEASE VISIT HIS FACEBOOK PAGE.