We’ve been watching Mac Demarco from afar for a little while now, his debut LP ‘Rock and Roll Night Club’ was a glam rock expedition which captured the stunning pop sensibilities and lyrical prowess which we heard again in a different form with his recently released ‘2’ LP. We were lucky enough to lock him down for an early morning phone call and this Meredith bound legend gave us a frank insight into his transformation as an artist, his success and how it’s had an effect on his music and his life.
I OH YOU: Mac, Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us! What are you up to at the moment?
Mac Demarco: I just got off a plane and we’re playing a show tonight before jumping back on another plane tomorrow, so I’m just lounging around in my underwear. It’s a shame you can’t be here to witness what’s going on.
I OH YOU: Where do you think your main development as a musician came from in the context of somebody moving around whilst in the throes of developing as a musician?
Mac Demarco: I don’t know. I think a lot of what I’m doing today, I’ve been trying to do the whole time I’ve been a musician. I think moving around, for the most part, I was picking up new things – but there was definitely a certain type of person which I clicked with and so when I moved to Vancouver I just looked for the exact same kind of person. I’m talking about a certain taste in music, a certain set of ideals, and a mentality toward the whole thing which I wanted to surround myself in. It’s all related to people, even though circumstances change!
I OH YOU: Let’s talk about the transformation of your career for a second longer. You made the switch from releasing material as Makeout Videotape to Mac Demarco in 2012, why was it that you made the switch?
Mac Demarco: The Vancouver thing was like, that’s where I properly started playing. There were a couple of tracks that were through Makeout Videotape beforehand and then in Vancouver it transformed into a real band and we started playing so much. Yeah, it turned into this every weekend type thing, but outside of Vancouver nobody really had a clue who we were. It started to progress, but I caught myself and I realized that this shit really wasn’t working or progressing in the way that I wanted it to because I was stuck in the same mindset. Slowly the shows became fewer and farther between and then in the end we just weren’t playing. It was then that I made ‘Rock and Roll Night Club’ and I just switched over, so from there it wasn’t really about the shows where I was living, it became slightly more about Toronto and the United States a little more. The whole transition was just a natural progression, to answer your initial question (laughs).
I OH YOU: Do you think the shift toward a new project reinvigorated you in the creative mindset?
Mac Demarco: I guess it was slow but it felt a lot better. I was working on new material with new people and I was releasing through a new label. All of those opportunities came toward me after I started to capture those new tracks and that really excited me because it opened the door to the U.S, for example. The Internet really helped me through that phase of getting things going.
I OH YOU: There’s been quite a bit of controversy over bands touring Canada with the rise in taxes that bands have to play, conversely, was it hard being a Canadian band trying to make it?
Mac Demarco: Yeah, I mean it’s funny because being a Canadian band is really hard in that sense. I definitely think so, and I know my friends would agree that there are tonnes of great bands in Canada that nobody knows about outside of the country, but everyone within knows everyone because there’s a high tour rotation going on. I think there’s a really big challenge facing Canadian bands because it’s so fucking expensive to legally enter the States to go and play shows. And even if you do go down illegally and you try to book a tour, it’s hard to book good shows and it’s harder to get people to give a fuck about it. It’s easy to go down a bunch of times and have nobody remember that you’ve come through before.
I OH YOU: It sounds like there was a big temptation to push for those tours into the United States.
Yeah, I mean I wanted to and I tried a lot of times. We toured the States maybe like four or five times on really long tours and it took people a while to start coming to the shows. After those initial tours you’d get home and ask yourself “why the fuck did we even do that?” and six months later you’d find yourself heading back and I still wonder what the fuck we were thinking sometimes (laughs).
I OH YOU: With these particular tours; were they illegal?
Mac Demarco: Oh yeah dude! So many times. So many!
I OH YOU: Wow, I had no idea! Was there a scene outside of Vancouver that you yearned to be a part of, or even indeed felt a part of despite geographical isolation in those earlier years?
Mac Demarco: Just seeing things like, a lot of tapey and cheap label style stuff was really cool for me. I remember when I was living in Vancouver I was infatuated with what was going in in Los Angeles; bands like The Smell and pockets of that kind of stuff and I remember thinking “oh fuck, that’s gotta be like the center of the universe or something!” (laughs). Also New York, I remember seeing bands like Blank Dogs and the Crystal Stilts and thinking that was an unattainable thing, it’s hard for me to explain but everything just seemed big to me.
I OH YOU: Let’s follow the development of your sound for a moment; I wanted to ask how important it was for you to undergo a creative shift with your sophomore album ‘2’. I found it to be a much more candid experience, specifically in the honesty of the writing compared to Rock and Roll Nightclub.
Mac Demarco: I think I pushed the change a little bit. It was definitely important because by contrast, Rock and Roll Night Club was made and sold in a very weird and specific way. I was writing some personal songs relating to who I was and then that album came along and it was this big lipstick wearing, glam rock, low voiced, weird thing. It just turned out that it was the album that sort of made a name for me. It kind of ushered in this small era where I was showing up to gigs and people were yelling “where’s the lipstick, man?” and I would say “well, I don’t wear lipstick anywhere else except for the album cover”, so yeah there was a lot surrounding that. It drove me nuts and so I figured that I could go toward making something a little more personal to appease myself, and people seemed to like it.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGh97zsBfWk[/youtube]
I OH YOU: I was fascinated to read that you were focusing a lot more on the role of being a songwriter and using reference points such as Jonathan Richman and Arthur Russell. Do you think the role of a songwriter is evolving from what it used to be?
Mac Demarco: I don’t know, yeah I guess it sort of is. It’s weird, I was actually talking to somebody about this last night and I think that there’s tonnes of great songwriters who are out there writing songs but they’re not for themselves anymore. There’s a lot of ghost production going on and that’s fine, everybody has to make money, but I think what draws me to those people you mentioned along with others like John Lennon – I love their music, but also the personality and their character is behind that music. Maybe that’s disappearing, but I’m not really sure.
I OH YOU: Have things changed for you in the creative sense after the success over the past couple of years? Is it harder for you to retain honesty as a songwriter whilst trying to relate to your audience? Have things changed in your life to that point?
Mac Demarco: Yes. It’s been hard for a number of reasons. It gets weird and I’m still trying to figure it out. As soon as we get off tour it’s like “fuck, I have to write new songs right now”. I was always getting into the studio and pacing around in the mindset of like “what is Pitchfork going to think of this? What are the kids that love drinking beer going to think of this?!”. It drove me insane, but I think it’s weird for me because I never had those ideas floating around in the back of my head before because I was focused on writing fun songs. Trying to please people and hammering away at this bullshit makes you think “what the fuck am I doing?”. For me I am finally starting to realize that whilst it’s important to think of the fans, it’s a therapeutic thing to record by myself and come up with these songs and it’s kind of like meditation at times. I figured that if I’m not enjoying it, then I should probably just fuck off (laughs). That’s the conclusion I came to and I’ve been having a lot more fun experimenting and trying new things.
I OH YOU: Let’s talk about the live show. I went on YouTube last night and there are some amazing things, but also some things that can’t be unseen. What is it to be a part of the Mac Demarco live experience as a fan?
Mac Demarco: (laughs)…Well. I hope that it’s fun for people. Sometimes it sounds like shit, but it can be a turbulent thing. If I feel comfortable and my band feels comfortable and excited then we will always do a good job. It’s about the crowd too, I think shows these days are somewhat different and a normal experience can just be that you go, you watch the band and maybe you rock out a little bit. It’s kind of like this viewing gallery kind of thing and it’s harder to engage and involve people on a big stage. We like to goof off and be jackasses as a means of making people feel more comfortable, too. It’s a rockin’ ride (laughs).
I OH YOU: There’s an almost palpable sense of anticipation toward your co-headline shows with Twerps and the Meredith Music Festival later on in the year.
Mac Demarco: We’re super excited. It hasn’t really hit me yet, but I suppose I don’t like to forecast how many people will be at the shows so we try to focus on playing our best. It’s definitely wild to me that we’re coming to play all the way on the other side of the world. I’ve never been to Australia before and, although you’d hear this a lot, we’re fucking psyched about it.
I OH YOU: Have you developed much of a connection with any Australian bands throughout your travels whilst playing shows?
Mac Demarco: We’ve met the Twerps and I really love and admire that band. I don’t really know too many other Australian bands. I know Tame Impala, that Kevin Parker guy always says hello at festivals if we’re both playing and we’ve been introduced a few times which is nice. It’s probably going to hit me when we get off the plane, it’ll be fucking crazy. Hopefully we get to meet a lot of young kids that are doing crazy shit out there.
I OH YOU: I want to say thanks for taking the time and for being so rad! We’re super excited to see you down here later this year!
Mac Demarco: It’s my pleasure; we’ll see you real soon! Peace!
Mac Demarco tours Australia later this year:
WEDNESDAY 11TH DECEMBER – The Corner Hotel – MELBOURNE
Co-headline show w/ Twerps
THURSDAY 12TH DECEMBER – The Standard – SYDNEY
Co-headline show w/ Twerps
WEDNESDAY 18TH DECEMBER – The Zoo – BRISBANE
THURSDAY 19TH DECEMBER – The Bakery – PERTH
MEREDITH MUSIC FESTIVAL 2013 – MEREDITH
Interview by Scott Armstrong