Sitting in his Silver Lake home, smoking down the phone, Mac DeMarco sounds like the same old dog he’s always been: he’s sick of doing press, he can’t wait to get on the road, but most of all he’s just glad he’s got to this point. “A lot of people have got their vinyl copies already and it leaked a couple of weeks ago so a lot of people have heard it already. But it’s exciting I guess… I’m just glad people are listening to it.” We’re talking about his fourth studio album and how, days before its official release, half the world has already decided it’s the sound of a refined, more mature DeMarco. Mac, for his part, isn’t so sure.
“I just think it’s a cheap thing to say,” he sighs, anticipating the topic. “People have been saying it since Salad Days,” he goes on, adopting a campy ‘journalist’ voice mimicking what those who have declared “oh he’s growing up now, it’s incredible.” DeMarco would rather people spent less time trying to dissect his personal development and more time listening to the album itself. While most stars of DeMarco’s stature would relish the chance to divulge the inner growth that inspired their new work, for Mac, it’s clearly a waste of time. “It’s like who gives a shit y’know?” he says, almost certainly aware of the irony that actually hundreds of thousands of people give a shit. “I just did some things, and I wrote about them, it’s the same as any other album I’ve done.”
Many would disagree. Written over the course of a year or so and split between New York and L.A, This Old Dog deals in DeMarco’s usual brand of lackadaisical love songs and dreamy ballads, but also delves deeper into his private life than anything before. Most notable are the two tracks that bookend the record, opener ‘My Old Man’ and its closer, ‘Watching Him Fade Away’ which tackle his relationship with his father, who, at the time, was in hospital, suffering a serious illness. It’s a subject more complex than any DeMarco has dealt with on record before. “I think that the main difference on this [album] is that some of the lyrical content is a bit more direct, whereas on previous albums it’s been a bit more vague,” he concedes. “It’s just more out in the open, but a lot of the themes are the same [themes] I’ve been dealing with for years now. I’m doing me; I’ve always been doing me.”
For all the discussion in the press about the new mature DeMarco versus the old DeMarco (and there has been a lot), the truth lies somewhere in between the two. “I’m still a goofy guy, there’s nothing wrong with being goofy,” Mac says, the frustration in his voice breaking a little as he lights another cigarette, finding the crux of his argument as he exhales. “Here’s the thing. Any human being, you got an ebb and flow, you got a balance.” His voice softens, “I’m goofy sometimes, true. I’m sure you are as well, and sometimes I’m serious. I’m not afraid to be earnest, I’m not afraid to be honest, I never have been, but the thing is with this press campaign, instead of only homing in on the goofiness, people are like “Ah yes, yes, yes, let’s move towards the mature,” which is fine, it’s just hilarious to me.”
Mac DeMarco is used to people making assumptions about him. For years, he was the frat boy with a sensitive soul, known for stripping off at shows and spending entire tours trashed. Then came the loveable goofball, less likely to shove a drumstick up his arse on stage, but still just as fun and with more melodies. The world, except for DeMarco, has now decided it’s time for his ‘Lennon without McCartney’ phase, to become the rock n roll hero so much of the music press has been seeking since Pete Doherty started to go grey. All of it, Mac argues, or at least some, is out of his control.
“It’s always out of my hands anyway,” he says, shrugging it off. “I’m not trying to be grumpy. People can do whatever they want with me; people can do whatever they want with my songs. It’s not up to me. It’s up to the internet; it’s up to other people.”
This desire to be understood as someone regular, approachable and accessible, might seem very post-Ed Sheeran. Indeed, in a pop landscape where relatability is as important as sex appeal, it would be easy to be cynical about some of DeMarco’s desires for normality, but unlike Sheeran, DeMarco is not a pop star.
However, while DeMarco can tire of the prying press, he has nothing but time for his fans, many of whom could rival that of any boy band or pop star you could name for dedication. “A couple of kids did drop by here,” he reveals, “I don’t know how they got the address but that was cool, I enjoyed that” he muses, breaking into a laugh as he admits “my roommate and my girlfriend not so much, but I thought it was a cool thing to do.”
Dressed in dungarees and dirty Vans his fans can be found across the world, unified in their imitation of Mac. “A lot of people dress like me nowadays… but I’m a comfort over style kind of guy. A lot of people associate different things with me, like wearing overalls or red vans or jeans with the cuff up sometimes, it’s funny because it’s like I didn’t invent any of this. I dress like a cartoon character” he concludes when forced to sum him his sartorial impact. “It’s flattering but very confusing when kids are all dressed up like me. It’s more like Halloween than real life. The kids dress up for the show. I hope.”
Speaking of Halloween, “There was a girl who gave me a pig foetus in a jar,” he recalls fondly when asked about his favourite fan encounters. “[It was] like a pickled pig foetus with a bunch of tattoos. She’d tattooed me as a mermaid all over the foetus,” he laughs, not even slightly perturbed. “It was in New York when I was with Peter Sagar, he was still playing guitar with me, he plays in Homeshake now. He’s never really one to say what’s up, he kind of stays away. He was like, “Hey Mac buddy, someone has a gift for you,” and I was surprised because it’s weird for him to engage. He was like “I think you should see this one” and this girl was like “I got you this big jar with a pig foetus with a bunch of tattoos on it,” he elaborates, completely nonchalant about the whole affair. “It makes sense though because, I don’t know what her plans are now, but she wanted to be a tattoo artist. So maybe it’s better, because pig flesh is very similar to human flesh, to practice on a pig, rather than on your friends?” He pauses for a second, as if expecting a genuine response.
Not all encounters are positive however. As DeMarco recounts the time a fan ripped out all of their hair out in front of him, his otherwise easygoing demeanour gives way to some concern. When we speak, DeMarco has been in the news for opening a fan fiction contest, encouraging his devotees to send in their best DeMarco-themed literature. In actual fact is has been his fan club that has been encouraging them to do so. “I’m not really super involved with it,” he confesses. “I don’t really know what fan fiction entails. I always thought fan fiction was some kind of porno fantasy, so hopefully it’s not something like that.”
This summer Mac DeMarco will headline Wiltshire’s End of the Road festival alongside Father John Misty and Bill Callahan, his first major festival headline performance anywhere in the world. It’s one of his favourite festivals and his only appearance in the UK outside of his album tour. Last time DeMarco and his band graced the End of the Road stage they threw a birthday cake into the crowd to celebrate the festival’s tenth anniversary, so their headline performance is bound to entail even greater antics. Before this, he’s got a run of shows on America’s East Coast, a trip to Canada and a jaunt around Europe to get through and Mac is intrigued to see if the new set will cause as much chaos as his live shows thus far. Elsewhere, DeMarco hopes to try his hand at a collaboration for the first time (bar a brief appearance on Aussie mentalist Kirin J Callanin’s new record), teasing a possible team-up with a “yacht rock” hero of his, which may or may not be former Doobie Brother and now Thundercat-collaborator, Michael McDonald. “I’ve met Mike a couple of times, very very sweet man, so if he would lend me his musical prowess, I’d be blessed” Mac grins, unable to resist a final provocation before our interview comes to an end.
No matter what any journalist or fan decides, it’s always going to be hard to get a handle on Mac DeMarco’s inner workings. He’s a singer that’s made his career on balancing the goofy with the heartfelt and a lazy, happy go lucky image with a relentless tenure of touring and recording, not to mention writing four albums on his own. It’s a cliché that the simplest things are often the most complex, but it’s one that rings true as far as DeMarco is concerned. Whenever you think you’ve got him pinned down, he’ll reveal some new truth about himself or sidestep a question, the conflicting narratives acting like a cloud of squid ink as he makes good his escape, back to the comfort of subtle jokes and tour stories.
This summer might be a landmark moment in his career but if any of his fans are worried that his new life in LA is going to change him, they shouldn’t be – “I’ll be back. I live a very see you when I see you kind of lifestyle,” he says. “I think most people can appreciate that.”
This article originally appeared in Notion 76’s Festival Guide. Mac DeMarco headlines End of the Road festival, Friday 1st September.