Mac DeMarco and Julian Casablancas on TikTok, Mozart, and Chick-fil-A
In this video game called life, Mac DeMarco and Julian Casablancas have reached the level where you don’t really need to give a fuck. Not that they ever did. As the frontman of The Strokes and later The Voidz, Casablancas defined the sound of early 2000s rock and roll, one synonymous with leather and everything else cool. DeMarco, meanwhile, with his signature gap tooth, Fender Strat, and flat brim cap, has become the default artist for those looking to turn on, tune in, and drop out, no substances required. A sunny through-line and low croon—when he first started, people would ask, “Why the fuck does the guitar sound like SpongeBob?”—has crowned DeMarco the king of aughts indie, free of pretension and the perversions of the pop machine.
In the realm of actual video games, they’ve nearly reached god mode. For the latest update of Grand Theft Auto Online, The Cayo Perico Heist, the biggest overhaul of the game since its explosive 2013 release, Casablancas hosts a radio station in Los Santos, GTA‘s fictional version of Los Angeles. DeMarco joins to give Los Santos denizens “Cosmic Commute,” his own take on daily horoscopes, his bathrobe-in-the-afternoon disposition translating seamlessly into “hippie yoga man radio voice.” But the friends don’t care much for promotion. On a warm L.A. evening, DeMarco made a cross-coastal phone call to Casablancas amidst a New York City blizzard to discuss everything on their minds right now: TikTok, internet wormholes, Nirvana, Jim Belushi, Mozart, Ozzy Osbourne, and Chick-fil-A. —SARAH NECHAMKIN
JULIAN CASABLANCAS: Where art thou in the world?
MAC DEMARCO: I’m in L.A. You’re in New York?
CASABLANCAS: Yeah. I’m in a snowstorm right now, a blizzard.
DEMARCO: Yeah, can’t say the same about here.
CASABLANCAS: Man, thanks for the horoscopes. God, they’re so good. I listen to them all the time.
DEMARCO: My pleasure. You met Kiera [McNally, Mac’s girlfriend]. She wrote them with me. I don’t get to do hippie yoga man radio voice that often, so it was good.
SARAH NECHAMKIN: What’s your sign?
DEMARCO: I’m Taurus. What are you, Julian?
NECHAMKIN: I see Taurus.
DEMARCO: Yeah. Apparently it makes sense. Here’s the funniest thing about this whole thing though. I don’t know a damn thing about any of this astrology. Kiera knows everything. Her sister is making these books that read people’s charts. I have no idea what the fuck’s going on, but here I am reading the horoscopes.
CASABLANCAS: Numerology is always weird to me because numbers are super man-made and made up, but I think of astrology as actually based on climate more than stars. Kids are born into either a cold world or beautiful weather. But then it gets cold six months after; that’s how it affects a lot of personalities. So I think some of the signs that are in the spring and the fall are inverted personality-wise, depending on which side of Earth they are on in the Southern Hemisphere. There’s some truth to it is my point, maybe.
DEMARCO: I’ve seen it happen a couple times where Rhianne, Kiera’s sister, reads someone’s chart, and she’ll know something. It’s like some psychic shit. I don’t know. I just like playing guitar, and that’s about it. Fuck it.
CASABLANCAS: Well, thank her.
DEMARCO: What have you been doing? I guess the last time I saw you was at the show we played almost a year ago to the day.
CASABLANCAS: Wait, which show?
DEMARCO: New Years’ Eve.
CASABLANCAS: Oh, shit. New Years’ Eve, of course. Fuck, I’m so bad with time.
DEMARCO: Yeah, I have no idea anymore.
CASABLANCAS: I’m just running around. I’m trying interviewing. I’m meeting all these political folks in person. Anyway, I’m interviewing you, right? I should ask you questions. Maroon 5 or Train?
DEMARCO: Train? I don’t know what Train is.
CASABLANCAS: You don’t know what Train is? “Drops of Jupiter?”
DEMARCO: I don’t know Train. I like the name though, locomotion.
CASABLANCAS: You like trains in general, okay. I feel like I always talk about how there’s not really art in mainstream music. There will be movies like Moonlight, where it’s not mainstream, but it will win the Oscar. But in music, it just seems like that kind of stuff just stays in the secret shadows. Maybe you like pop music. Where are you at with all that?
DEMARCO: It’s depressing in a way to me. I’m really out of touch. I don’t do the social media thing. I’m pretty bad. Especially now, I never see anybody. But when I do have a taste of what is going on right now, there’s some components that I’m interested in, but for the most part, it’s alarming. It’s alarming the way that the kids interface with it now. It’s like, people are doing meals with McDonald’s now. Is that cool? What the fuck is going on? It drives me crazy. It makes me feel old. What can I say?
CASABLANCAS: On the list of positive musicians of today other than yourself—just exclude me—are there a few you can think of off the top of your head?
DEMARCO: You know those Crack Cloud kids? I met a couple of them 11 or 12 years ago in Calgary, Alberta. I’m from Edmonton. They’re from Calgary. We have what they call a light rail transit system, and I met them at this train stop when we were all quite young. We’d all been drinking, and it was confusing, and we had this strange teenage drunk interaction thing. And then later they came down to play L.A. and I pull up expecting to be like, “Hey, I like you guys.” And they were like, “Well, we’ve known you for 12 years already, remember?” It’s a strange little story. Jesus Christ, rock and roll is alive and well in Vancouver, British Columbia. Other bands—friend Rory plays guitar with this guy Connan Mockasin. You know Connan, right? Connan’s in New Zealand being a dad. Actually, they opened up for The Voidz at some point.
CASABLANCAS: Sure. We all played together.
DEMARCO: That guy in that band, he’s actually great too. His name is Sam [Dust]. He has a thing called LA Priest. I think he lives in L.A. There’s a bunch of people in L.A. My friend Jerry Paper, Mild High Club. Drugdealer is another friend of mine. The Garden, I like those kids, these two twin brothers. We’ve got Snail Mail out in New York City. I was talking to her earlier. Her name is Lindsey [Jordan]. She’s working on a new record right now.
DEMARCO: It’s weird right now. We’ve got this coronavirus bullshit. People ask, “Oh, you must be making all of these records.” And it’s like, “No, I haven’t.” There’s a block for me. I need things with definite ends.
CASABLANCAS: Are you just in your bathrobe every day?
DEMARCO: Oh, fuck yeah. Big time. I just got out of the bath. It’s earlier in the afternoon here. It was maybe 3:30 when I got in, a weird time to take a bath, but I was like, well, there’s literally nothing else to do.
CASABLANCAS: I think that justifies the bathrobe more, though.
DEMARCO: Yeah, sure.
CASABLANCAS: I think the reason might be because the pressure valves of what people do, the going out, seeing shows, hanging out with friends, all those things, is what makes your blood circulate. You’re a social dude, I would say.
DEMARCO: Yeah. I’ve been writing songs, but the idea of doing a full record and then the idea of that record coming out in the middle of a pandemic digitally only, and then there’s no prospect of ever performing these things unless it’s on a live stream or something, I’m worried we’re going to come out of coronavirus, and there’s going to be 9,000 albums that are all like, [Singing] “Oh quarantine, baby, baby.” I’m not there for that.
CASABLANCAS: I have so many questions now flooding in talking to you. Ariel Pink—are you guys rivals or buddies?
DEMARCO: We’re homies. He’s a big brother. I’ve been listening to him since I was maybe 16 or 17. But nowadays, I see Ariel around L.A. He comes and records here every once in a while. When I first met him, I was nervous.
CASABLANCAS: Being the new kid on the block?
DEMARCO: He gave me a bit of guff first, for sure. We had some strange interactions. But now, I think it’s been long enough where we can just hang. He came over to record in my studio a couple months ago. I get nervous every time. I admire him, even though I try to play it cool now. But he’s a wild guy.
CASABLANCAS: Word. Because you are a very funny dude, I was almost thinking sometimes you give me the energy of Bill Murray or John Belushi.
DEMARCO: I’ll take that.
CASABLANCAS: Is comedy something that comes into the equation, or is it just second nature?
DEMARCO: It’s not something that I’ve ever thought about, really. It’s part of a defense mechanism as a young social person. I would just be a jack-off, and then it would make the situation lighter. The idea of comedians in comedy clubs and comedy sets, that stuff is confusing to me in some ways. If somebody’s trying to do that as their thing, that’s cool. It just seems weird to me. For me to half-bake it into the music thing or something makes more sense. But I’ll spend two days straight just watching Don Rickles do his thing.
CASABLANCAS: It pops up in little moments. For me, there’s almost no comedy, just little lines come out. But for you, it almost clashes. Because the songs are intense—you could imagine you singing some of them real dead serious, tears streaming down your face. But then, you come out with your personality, which is fun-loving.
DEMARCO: I agree with you. It’s a weird juxtaposition. Some of my songs are fun. Some of them are maybe a little more serious. I even think of it in terms of the music too. Because when I first started putting stuff out, kids were like, “Why the fuck does the guitar sound like SpongeBob? What the fuck’s going on here?” People don’t have that much of an attention span, but if you can do something like that, the strange and the serious at the same time, then people go, “Wait a minute, what the hell’s going on?” And even that little wait-a-minute, that bit of confusion, maybe makes people stick around longer, and maybe it’s good they stick around. Maybe it’s not. But I find it interesting.
CASABLANCAS: Have you ever played a show where you’re just depressed and dead serious the whole show?
DEMARCO: Yeah. Plenty of shows. Usually it comes off as I’m pissed off. There will be those shows every once in a while. But depressed? Usually when the bottle goes back more and more and more, that usually has something to do with that kind of vibe. But I try and keep it light.
CASABLANCAS: Maybe it’s almost too intense and too volatile. Someone like John Belushi, you think about even if there is a burning intensity or seriousness deep down. Maybe you just save that for the dark recesses.
DEMARCO: Yeah, exactly. Or Robin Williams. I think there was quite a dark soul on that guy but he’s fucking on fire most of the time. I’m not trying to say it’s like, “candy-coated on the outside, dark within, babe.” I’m just doing my thing.
CASABLANCAS: “I’m a twisted, broken soul. Wear clown makeup to hide my shattered insides.” We’ve talked about scarring things on the internet. Dark wormholes. Any good random things that you wish you hadn’t seen, or weird execution videos? What’s the hot internet tip of the week?
DEMARCO: You just listed off my browser history there. It can go one of two ways right now. I just recently figured out how to tune all the algorithms, so I don’t have any advertising coming in here. I’ve tried to turn off as much of the “Recommended For You” thing as I can. What that leaves me with is pretty much just the front page of the internet. It’s like, “Welcome to YouTube, check this out.” Yeah, I’m seeing these TikTok stars. It’s bleak. It makes me think about the world a lot. I’m like, “Man, kids are making millions playing video games on a live stream. That’s nuts.” Power to them, but it’s nuts. And then, I trickle down. Like, the other night I was watching this YouTube channel called suitbusters, which I’ve known about for a couple years. It’s this group of middle-aged dudes that wear suits, and they do all kinds of things in these suits. They get nice and messy in a mud pond. Sometimes they get them wet in the shower. Sometimes they’ll rub banana cream pie on each other. I saw one the other day where they were emptying Nesquik jars onto one another. But the funny thing about it is I always consumed it on YouTube. And on YouTube, there’s community guidelines. But what I was consuming was the PG YouTube version. Whoa, Nelly, I went to the website the other day. Jesus Christ, it gets a lot crazier than I thought.
CASABLANCAS: Some examples, please?
DEMARCO: Let’s just say that they finish the job. They finish the job every time.
CASABLANCAS: What do you mean, they finish the job? I’m sorry.
DEMARCO: It’s a fetish with the suits. Something about nice high heels or nice clothing that’s supposed to be clean and used for some purpose of fashion or business, they like getting it dirty. This is some kind of fetish. Fetish, sexual. They’ve got this whole community based upon messing up each other’s suits. It’s making them sexually aroused. Let’s just say that on the website versions of these videos, sexual arousal is to completion.
CASABLANCAS: Okay. Wow. I don’t want to get you in trouble, so I’ll drop it. Speaking of getting into trouble, I personally feel you were made for this internet age. I know you’re going through your phases, and you’re an artist, and I respect whatever it is. Obviously, #MeToo is great and overdue and necessary, but the “burning a witch” Instagram mob thing, I guess that’s why you’re off social media, I’m assuming.
DEMARCO: Not really. I just got off of it before my last record came out. I think what happened was I would scroll through Instagram every morning, and I was looking at all these photos of people that I went to high school with. It was like, “Oh, look, so and so that I haven’t talked to in 12 years is eating eggs Benedict for breakfast.” It got to a point where I realized this is of no use to me, and I’m fully addicted to it. I don’t even post. Why do I have this?
Don’t get me wrong, people get mad at me on the internet all the time. There was this whole thing with this artist Mitski where we have the song and album title. But I think a lot about social media, because people around my age are one of the last generations of people that remember before the internet. I have a lot of friends that are maybe five, six, even ten years younger than I am. These people have had a Facebook since they were in junior high school and elementary school. Computers were always around. I like the internet, but watching the way that it’s changed, it’s really difficult to believe people only use it for work. “You’re a bigger artist than I am,” people say that to me. And, “You’re in a position where you can delete it.” At first, I was like, “Okay, I understand.” But now, I look at it like, “They addict you to this thing, and now they’ve got you handcuffed to it.” It really bums me out. The burn-the-witch vibe on the internet is one thing, but also, especially on Instagram, they’ve tricked everybody into thinking that they have their own personal little sales company or brand. And in a lot of cases, sure, do your thing, make your art, get your thing out there. But it’s brainwashing straight-up, and it’s terrifying. I just can’t look.
CASABLANCAS: It’s a weird vanity chamber. For me, it’s almost for just political stuff now. It’s nice to be able to talk directly if you want to clearly say something, but other than that, it’s a minefield. Have you ever thought about writing a movie or a script or something?
DEMARCO: Maybe. I actually had an idea for a movie the other day. That one I’m keeping on ice for a sec, but we’ll see. I think I have some plans coming up.
CASABLANCAS: Nice. Beardo [Jeramy “Beardo” Gritter, guitarist of The Voidz] had a question or two for you. He says hello. Beardo’s question was: Any inspiration from Kenny Rogers?
DEMARCO: Kenny Rogers, damn. I like the hair. He usually had a beard too, didn’t he?
CASABLANCAS: Yes. I think he always had a beard. Born with a beard.
DEMARCO: It’s just that classic salt-and-pepper look. I’ve got respect for Kenny. I’m looking at a picture right now where he’s with Dolly Parton. Jesus, love it.
CASABLANCAS: He also asked, if you didn’t become a musician, what would you be doing right now?
DEMARCO: I had a long laundry list of strange jobs before I didn’t have to work them any more, because we were on tour all the time. I worked at a grocery store. I did landscaping. I was doing medical tests for a while at these universities. I did early childhood education for a while.
CASABLANCAS: This was while you were doing music though, right?
DEMARCO: Yeah, it was always the job, and the music was the thing that would hopefully work out. I worked at community centers and at this high school for a while. I got signed up with this thing, it was some mix-up with this provincially-run program. They thought I was doing my practicum for a university or an education degree. I wasn’t. I was 18. But I got to work with these kids with computers at this community center. Hopefully, if I didn’t do music, it would be nice to do something like that. Realistically, I’d probably be a fucking electrician or something, or a plumber maybe. I’d probably end up in a trade. But that wouldn’t be bad. Money’s pretty good in a trade.
CASABLANCAS: How about politics? Mayor Mac DeMarco.
DEMARCO: No, not for me. I try and stay educated about what’s going on, but it’s a long game. You’ve got to start young. I think about it a lot. I think about these people that straight out of high school, they’re like, “I want to be the president someday.” That’s a lot of weird handshakes. I’d rather play my own game. A street named after me, that sounds great. Mayor? Maybe not.
CASABLANCAS: Oh, man. Well, I’d vote for you. All right, lightning round. We’ve got these names, just tell me what you think of them. Bob Dylan.
DEMARCO: Bob Dylan? Tight. My monitor guy talks about him a little bit too much. If I had met him, and we were both young, 25 or something, I don’t think I would have liked him. But I’ve got respect for him.
CASABLANCAS: Interesting. Nirvana?
DEMARCO: Hell yeah, let’s go. Cobain, baby.
CASABLANCAS: The Doors?
DEMARCO: I rode for the Doors when I was a younger man. Junior high school, oh my god, I thought Jim Morrison was just an absolute, you know. And nowadays, I’ve got my respect, but it’s not exactly my cup of tea anymore.
CASABLANCAS: John Lennon?
DEMARCO: Oh yeah. God bless his soul. Everything about the guy, great.
CASABLANCAS: Ozzy bulldog Osbourne?
DEMARCO: Dope. Kiera’s mom gave Ozzy Osbourne a Thai massage in our hometown once. She said he was really lovely, and he wanted a bread recommendation, so she sent him to this really nice bakery. She gave him a Thai massage. That’s what’s up.
CASABLANCAS: How about John Legend?
DEMARCO: I don’t know too much about John Legend, the singer guy. I had a bone to pick with him at the beginning of quarantine, because he was one of those artists that was doing the at-home shows on the laptop. “Oh, here we are in quarantine.” He’s on the Colbert show or something playing piano and singing. He’s just doing it into the microphone on his MacBook. But I understand, it was cute. We’re at home. It’s the aesthetic of “Oh my god, the world’s ending.” I get it. But just one mic, John Legend. Just one mic.
CASABLANCAS: Mozart or Beethoven?
DEMARCO: Mozart. We both got the daddy issues. I think watching that movie Amadeus, you realize that rock stars were still rock stars I don’t even know how many couple hundred years ago.
CASABLANCAS: Taco Bell or Chick-fil-A?
DEMARCO: I’ve never really had Chick-fil-A, so I’m going to have to go with Taco Bell on this one. We used to go to Taco Bell a lot because they have vegan options. Andy in my band was vegan, so everybody could eat. I’ve got love with Taco Bell. What are you choosing?
CASABLANCAS: I’ve got to go Chick-fil-A. I used to eat a lot of Taco Bell when I was a kid, but my love for Taco Bell got blunted. They used to have this thing, I think it was just an East Coast thing. They used to have BLTs with mayo and soft tortilla and bacon. It was just the greatest thing ever. Then they stopped making it, so it’s always been a bummer. Chick-fil-A is a new discovery for me. It may be the best, I think.
DEMARCO: Now I’ll have to give it a shot.
CASABLANCAS: Yep. People always give me shit because of the religious thing, but I’m always like, “All companies are evil.”
DEMARCO: Yes, it’s true.
CASABLANCAS: Most companies, I should say. If you’re going to go by moral companies, then you walk around with no technology or clothing or… anyway.
CASABLANCAS: Are you going to get a vaccine?
DEMARCO: Yeah, I guess so when it starts rolling out. I’ve got a friend that did the guinea pig trials, and he seems alright, so let’s rock and roll.