Taken from the Spring/Summer Issue.
On a damp, cold spring day in Montreal, 23-year-old scruff-pop singer Mac DeMarco is lounging on a friend’s bed smoking Viceroys and wearing his signature red Vans. The room is filled with charity-shop furniture, and DeMarco has to clear a pile of clothes from a chair for us to sit down. Although the Edmonton-raised artist is now based in NYC, this is the city where he cut his teeth, hanging with the pop experimentalists of the Arbutus Records crew – people like Grimes, Blue Hawaii and Doldrums. The last time he played here some kids stole his shoes while he was crowdsurfing and he spent the rest of the night walking around in his socks. “They put them on the internet,” he says, shaking his head in disbelief. “I had to go to their place to get them back.”
Everyone wants a piece of DeMarco and his “jizz-jazz” – his term for his melodic mix of jazz, folk and pop. In the past couple of years he’s gone from backing moody electronic artist Dirty Beaches on tour to playing sold-out shows across the globe, charming audiences with his gap-toothed grin and ecstatic live shows. Today, we’re in a third-floor walk-up in Montreal’s arty, gallery-packed Mile End district, where friends come in and out so frequently that the front door never actually shuts. “It’s like Seinfeld,” deadpans our photographer. DeMarco and his girlfriend, Kiera, are crashing here with friends while he and backing musicians Pierce McGarry and Joe McMurray rehearse for their upcoming tour to support his current, career-best album, Salad Days. The most pressing concern this afternoon isn’t honing the riffs and licks though, but a spot of arts and crafts.
In the corner of the apartment, DeMarco’s friend Jesse is swirling toxic silicon in a giant plaster cast of the singer’s face as Kiera looks on with a mildly bemused expression. “We’ve already cast Jesse’s penis and an arm,” McGarry says. The props are for the forthcoming video for “Passing Out Pieces”, which won’t exactly be a serious affair. “The amount of indie-rock videos where there’s a girl in a tutu running through a forest in Vancouver…” he laughs. “Like, holy motherfucker, what’s going on here? The videos are shit and the bands are so serious. It’s like, gimme a break, brother.” Consider him an antidote to po-faced indie-rock pretentions.
He’s also sworn to secrecy about his recent topless cameo for Tyler, the Creator’s comedy TV show, Loiter Squad, even though the pictures are all over the internet, but describes his OFWGKTA buddy as “a very intelligent young man” before switching to a fair imitation of Tyler, hand motions and all. “Working with Tyler is crazy, man! Shiiiit!” Throughout the afternoon he changes his intonation to describe people and situations with the nous of a seasoned comic.
For DeMarco’s generation of Canadian kids growing up in mid-sized cities, their first taste of live music was at local shows in the mid-00s. Bored 15-year-olds too young for the bars and too broke for ticketed concerts took refuge in community centres and church basements. Looking for diversions in Edmonton that didn’t revolve around the city’s gargantuan mall (the largest in North America), he fell in with a crowd who introduced him to the lo-fi punk sensibilities of Beat Happening and the messy Detroit garage rock of The Gories. “They played their instruments so bad,” he says of the latter. “They were so drunk, but they were the coolest!”
He eventually started bands of his own – notably noise-pop outfit Outdoor Miners, with his current guitarist, Peter Sagar – and after moving to Vancouver after high school, he started playing with buddy Alex Calder as Makeout Videotape and recording seriously. But as this is Mac DeMarco we’re talking about, it was only as serious as you can be when your album cover is a doodle of Mickey Mouse hanging out with a smiling blob with a hard-on.
He later moved to Montreal, where Albertan expats such as Sean Nicholas Savage were already established. “When we’d tour here with my old band, Montreal was always the craziest show,” DeMarco hoots. “Someone would have a threesome at the show or something else fucked up would happen and it was like, ‘This is amazing! This must happen all the time!’” It didn’t, but it gave him the confidence to expand his creative horizons and record his solo debut, the album-length EP Rock and Roll Night Club, released through NYC indie imprint Captured Tracks. On the record, he sings about a hot girl in blue jeans and being a man in a deep Elvis croon. The sleeve depicts him wearing a baseball cap and applying lipstick.
“I’m just trying to have fun, and maybe the way I hold myself kind of freaks people out”
If DeMarco’s first EP and his debut album, 2, were about trying to write the perfect pop song, Salad Days is a reflection on what happens after you succeed at that task. He gave himself a month to write and record Salad Days in the Brooklyn loft he shares with Kiera and ten others. DeMarco says the album is a meditation, and puts on a calm, soothing voice. “It’s the ‘me time’, the ‘think about your life’ time.” It’s hard to imagine the crotch-grabbing, chain-smoking, sleep-mask-wearing goofball we meet today coming up with the mature, committed pop lilt of tracks like “Let Her Go” and “Brother”, but the blend of wildness and tenderness is one of the most unique things about his music. It’s young, vibrant and weirdly self-aware, while simultaneously not giving a fuck.
“I’m just trying to have fun, and maybe the way I hold myself kind of freaks people out,” he says. “I don’t feel like an outsider, and I think my friends feel the same way I do. Now that we’re playing to larger audiences, maybe we’re weird to some people. But I’m trying to express what I am. I’m done with this flying-to-LA, playing-through-some-jackass’s-amp shit,” he smirks. “I want to have my stuff, get stinky, stay in the van for two months and really get into the groove of it. I love getting into the groove of it.” He lets the “oo” drag out for just a moment too long.
His ecstatic live shows are hot property – catch him in the UK next month – and fans are going the extra mile to see their alt pin-up in the flesh. Even his mum’s been getting Facebook messages. “My mum calls once a week: ‘I just met this girl, she’s had a really hard life. If you could just do this one thing…’” He laughs uncertainly. And I’m like, ‘Mum, they’re fleecing you! You can’t respond to these kids.’ It’s sweet but – you go to my family members? What is wrong with you?”
Everyone bundles into their second-hand parkas to head off to rehearsal, the silicon mask abandoned on the table next to empties of Pabst, cigarette butts and a bottle of wine. Out on the street, Mac stays behind just long enough to say “God bless” before charging off after his band.
Earlier, he’d reflected on a return to his adopted home of New York in a couple of days. “It’s great there, but with the people I know there it’s never just hanging out, there’s always a little bit of business,” he said. “There’s this real sense of playing to complete strangers, a lot of whom are probably weird shopping-mall-style people.” If a Topshop-clad audience is the marker of success, then DeMarco might just be winning by a country mile.