Mac On Top: An Interview With Mac DeMarco

Illustration by Kristian BauthusInterview by Andrew Patterson with illustration by Kristian Bauthus

During a visit to Halifax for the OBEY Convention, Mac DeMarco sat down with me not once but twice, to share some thoughts on his life and music (past, present and future). The first time we chatted was after a house show on a muggy Friday afternoon. He invited me to sit on the hood of his Volvo in the alleyway beside the venue.

We spoke for about forty-five minutes and Mac proved to be an incredibly thoughtful, charming and humble person. He spoke insightfully about the wave of fame he has been riding, the strangeness of not being able to hangout at his own shows for fear of what he referred to as ‘the punishers’ (fans obsessed with taking self-shot cell phone photos in his presence), the creeping feeling that sometimes he just wants the hummus platter (instead of a wealth of booze) in his rider, how to mix humour into art, his self-conscious tendency towards stage antics and his goals of learning to record music expertly as a back up plan for when the ride’s over.

All this coming from a twenty-three-year old who I’d seen the night previous, centre stage and backward ball-capped, lead his band through a raucous and not entirely flattering medley of some ‘choice’ Canadian classic rock anthems, The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’ and Limp Bizkit’s ‘Break Stuff’. Albeit, I also saw a capacity crowd sing along emphatically to Mac’s songs, word for word, big grins on their faces, front row enthusiasts nodding and dancing in delight, couples embracing in a gentle sway.

I realized after our first chat on the hood of his car, I’d failed to record the interview. I approached him the next day about doing it a second time and Mac was quick to offer his time to talk again. During a Saturday afternoon storm of tropical proportions, both of us a little hungover amidst heavy spring rain, this second time around proved more nuanced:

Who are you and where are you from?

My name is Mac and I’m from… Edmonton, I guess. Via Vancouver, via Montreal or some shit.

And what are you doing here, Mac?

Playing a waffle breakfast at the OBEY Convention. Second show of the weekend.

What are your impressions of OBEY thus far?

It’s cool. I didn’t know what kind of festival it would be, coming here, because we’ve played a lot of festivals lately. Usually real industry style. But this is like, y’know, a lot of local bands, some cool bands from out of town, the shows don’t overlap, the ticket prices are cheap. Everyone seems to be homies. It’s just a cool hangout session, very chill.

Have you seen anything strange or unusual here?

The only thing that strikes me as weird is that everyone thinks Halifax has these really great donairs, but they’re the exact same as Edmonton donairs. People outside of Halifax are always like “Oh, you gotta try it”, and then you get here and they’re just crappy Canadian donairs with that sweet sauce. They’re everywhere!

Would you describe yourself as an obedient person?

Maybe, sometimes. I don’t really have to be obedient. In my life right now, I can do whatever the fuck I want when I want to, so… If I have to be obedient, I guess I could be, but I just don’t have to be right now.

What makes a good song in your eyes? Or ears, I guess.

I think it has to be catchy, but interesting too. Y’know? You can write a catchy song, like ‘1-4-5 1-4-5’ blues kinda thing and it’ll be catchy, but it’s boring. So, you gotta keep it interesting. Keep it simple. There’s something about a good song that you just know.

Tell me about your bandmates.

Pierce McGarry, he’s the bass player. He’s twenty-seven, from White Rock, British Columbia. I met him when I lived in Vancouver. He plays in a band called Walter TV. Also the drummer, Joe McMurray, who’s twenty-five now, I think. I met him in Vancouver. Drummer guy from North Vancouver, plays in Walter TV. And then Peter Sagar, my guitar player, I think he’s twenty-four or twenty-five. I don’t really know, older than me. He’s from Edmonton, I’ve known him since high school. We used to play in a lot of bands together. Very sick voice.

You must get asked a lot of questions these days, do you have any questions yourself?

Questions? People ask me questions from other interviews all the time. I get asked the same question over and over. My question is ‘Why the fuck do you want to ask me a question that you took from another interview? Why do you want me to answer a question that you’ve already read on the internet? It’s very strange, y’know? And the other question is, ‘Why the hell do people wanna know this stuff about me anyway?’. It’s nice, but it’s weird.

What do you see in your future?

A swimming pool filled with blonde beach babes, but it would be full of milk.

What percentage of milk?

It would be Homo milk. Something creamy. Maybe even straight up cream; filling a swimming pool with cream would be sooo expensive. But, y’know, when you’ve got the cash now, you need to make investments. It’ll pay off someday. A pool with gorgeous girls, full of cream and maybe some gold statues of beautiful cats, like leopards. Maybe some pool toys, and I’d be in a bathrobe.

Do you feel like women have been good to you in your life?

Yeah, I think so. I was raised by my mom, she was pretty sweet. Even though I come off like a frat boy or a jackass sometimes, y’know, I respect women a lot. I mean, I’ve been broken up with a bunch, so fuck those bitches [laughs]. No, I’m kidding. Girls have been really good to me.

Can you tell me a little about a band you played in called The Sound Of Love?

I have this really good friend named Ryan. And in high school, when I first started hanging out with him he’d be over at my house all the time. Then this girl, Stella, was like [adopts effeminate voice] ‘I’m having this show at my house for my birthday party. Like, do you guys wanna play?’ And I had this indie band with Peter at the time, and I was like [adopts macho voice] ‘No, I don’t think so. We only play, like, DIY, downtown type stuff’. But then Ryan and I said ‘Fuck it, let’s make a band.’

Originally, we were going to try to make this German, kinda krautrock band and wear trench coats. We were going to call the band Morpheus and have little Matrix glasses, y’know? But then we realized that we didn’t know how to play that shit. But Ryan was a really great piano player, so he would sit down and just play a great R&B piano part. So it turned into an R&B band.

We wrote one song called ‘Blowjob Eyes’. It was for the girl who was having the party. She had those eyes. You’d see her in the hallway at school and she’d be all [adopts effeminate voice]’Hey’ and you’d think ‘Oh, it kinda looks like you wanna give me a beej’. Then we wrote one song about a girl with a really bodacious butt.

We had so many: ‘Queen of The Courts’, ‘Chinese Take-Out Lady’,’Velvet Bathtub Baby’. Just a lot of inside jokes or rumours about girls in school. And they all knew about the songs eventually, and they hated me. But Ryan’s a very nice guy and they all thought he was cute. So he would get away with it, but they really hated me.

We made a girl cry once. The school had asked us to play on the front lawn for a barbeque on the last day of school. This girl, her song was ‘Red Velvet’, she just wept. She hated me. [sarcastic] It was a great time in my life.

When you’re writing music are you conscious of the divide between, say, channelling the muse, for lack of a better term, and objectifying people? Do you concern yourself with that?

I would say that I’m conscious of that. If I have a muse that I’m writing about, I won’t hold anything back. I’ll say whatever I want. But sometimes it gets a little weird. Like, if I’m writing a song about something and I make it apparent, then it’s apparent. Sometimes I’ll write a song about something else, and I know what it’s about, but no one else really does.

Is there a line for you between art and entertainment?

Yeah. That’s the difference between the recording style and the show style.

Right. You have those pretty separated in you mind, eh?

Yeah, because the show is supposed to be entertaining and fun for everybody. But the recording, it’s supposed to be entertaining too, but I take it a little more seriously.

What’s being on stage like for you?

It’s fine. I used to get pretty nervous, but now, if it sounds good and we’re playing alright, it’s a good time. I like it. It’s exhilarating, y’know? You can be really tired going on stage and then you get off and it feels like you did cocaine or something. It’s a real rush. It’s great.

What have you learned about yourself over the last year?

I don’t know. I had to stop saying ‘yes’ to so much stuff. Because a lot of people want me to do really dumb shit, and when you’re doing dumb shit all the time, sometimes you have to grow a pair and say ‘Fuck that. Forget it.’ Maybe I’ve just become a bit more of a badass.

What are you proud of?

I’m proud of the albums I’ve put out. When I play a good show and someone comes up after and says genuinely that they connected with it, that’s great. It’s really all I’ve been doing for the last while, so when someone connects with it, that’s a real high point.

You must see a lot of bands these days, who excites you?

I love Chris Cohen. I love seeing him a lot. I really like Naomi Punk, they’re really sweet live. Who else? The band who played last night, PC Worship, I love them. Tonstartssbandht, I love them. Hmmm, who else is fresh? We just toured Europe with this guy Sean Savage. He’s really inspiring. He’s one of the older guys from Edmonton who got me into bands and now he’s opening for us which is weird. It was hard to play after him a lot of nights because he’s really, really good. Some Americans; White Fence and Matt Fishbeck.

You told me earlier that you don’t have an apartment right now. Is that weird for you?

It didn’t feel weird until I came home and thought ‘Oh, I can’t go there. It’s not mine anymore.” Sometimes I’ll want to reach for something and realize it’s in storage. It’s a little weird, but it’s also liberating. I don’t have to sweep my fucking floor, because I don’t have a floor. I don’t have a couch anymore. It’s easier this way. All I have is my backpack and my guitar case, so I can just get in my car and go somewhere else.

And where are you going to go next?

I don’t really know. Maybe to New York. I wanna go to the States. but it changes everyday; East coast, West coast, up here, down there, in the middle somewhere. I don’t know, we’ll see.

What draws you to America?

I’ve lived in Vancouver, I’ve lived in Montreal. I’ve been all over Canada. The only other place, I guess, is Toronto. I have a lot of friends there and spend time there. I’d rather go somewhere a little out of my element, though.

Toronto is pretty much America anyway.

Yeah, exactly. It’s like the American Canadian city. But I love the States. I have the opportunity to live there because we got the visas, so I might as well take advantage of it, I figure.

Have you ever surprised yourself?

Yeah. Every time a song turns out good on the recording, I’m like ‘Woah!’. And that’s when I know that it’s a good one. Because if I’m not surprised, and just think ‘Oh, that’s dope’ then I’ll say ‘Fuck it, that sounds exactly like I expected it to sound’. But sometimes you catch yourself off guard and that’s when it’s good.

This might be one of those questions I should have just read about, but… Tell me about the little audio clip at the end of your record.

My label wanted me to re-record that song, because we play that one, ‘Together’, at pretty much every live show. And it’s an old song; it’s a Makeout Videotape song. They wanted me to re-record it and I was like ‘Fuck that, it’s an old song, I don’t want to.’ But they insisted and so, instead of doing a whole proper bossa nova version of it, I just set up one mic and sang it. My girlfriend, Kira, was on the couch and she fell asleep by the time I finished. I remember getting up and seeing her and saying ‘Oh, Kira, blah blah blah…’ and then I went and turned the tape machine off. Then I listened back and heard by voice going flat, and cracking at this one part, but then I heard her waking up at the end and thought, ‘Ehhh, okay, I’ll keep it.’

That’s a good moment.

Yeah, it’s alright.