Don’t Call Mac DeMarco a Rock Star
Mac DeMarco may command the third-largest font size on the 2019 Coachella lineup, but he doesn’t bring a rock star-sized ego to the stage. “When a musician has a security guard…” he tells TIDAL, trailing off into a monumental scoff. “Give me a break.”
This remark is true to form for our planet’s most down-to-earth songwriter. He prefers middle-of-the-road guitars, like Staggs and Teiscos. He often performs like he’s on the tail-end of a bender. By his telling, he doesn’t want his live show to be an “art gallery,” but a community.
And that warmth spills over into the music. Friday (May 10), DeMarco releases Here Comes the Cowboy, his simplest, most inviting album to date. Tracks like “Nobody,” “Little Dogs March” and “All of Our Yesterdays” exhibit rock’s impish Alfred E. Neuman figure as he mellows out.
It’s the latest detour in a career of feverish experimentation. DeMarco introduced himself to the world with 2012’s Rock and Roll Night Club, a zonked mishmash of power-pop guitars, tape deconstructions and Elvis impersonations. On each subsequent work, he’s stripped back the self-conscious weirdness to reveal his inner Syd Barrett or John Lennon.
Most songwriters go outsized and ambitious on their fourth album; DeMarco pulls back. Cue up any song, and you’re liable to hear the bare minimum: a 4/4 groove, the scrape of a cheap acoustic guitar, DeMarco’s nicotine-stained tenor. When he catches a hook, he repeats it to the point of hypnosis. All of it’s to say: I’m with you.
TIDAL talked with Mac DeMarco about growing up in comfort, bending his ear to train sounds and why he despises celebrity culture in pop music.
The album has such a clean, spare production style. Did you make a conscious decision to avoid clutter in your songs?
Yeah. Back in the day, I only had a couple of tracks on my tape machine to record on. I didn’t have the opportunity to go crazy and do 90 tracks. Nowadays, I can do that. On my computer, I can just overdub and overdub and overdub. But it’s more challenging and rewarding for me if something can be simple.
I have nicer gear; my instruments are still kind of middle-of-the-road, whatever. But I appreciate the honesty of recording these instruments. My piano doesn’t sound that great, but it sounds the way it sounds. I didn’t want to fix it, necessarily, or make it sound fancier. My crappy old acoustic guitar, too. I just want it to be what it is.
These songs seem to begin and end at the same pace, instead of hitting peaks and valleys. Do you value groove over drama when you write songs?
Yeah, it’s another part of keeping it simple. I like repetition. I’ve gotten worse at writing more parts to my songs. I tend to think that you find something simple, it works, and if it doesn’t, well, I guess you’ve got to butter it up. It’s kind of like a train. I’ve been thinking about trains a lot. Trains have got a good rhythm to them. [Makes train noises] Just kind of movin’ along. I like trains that feel like that.
Is that what inspired the song ‘Choo Choo’?
It did. My girlfriend came in the room and said, ‘Choo choo,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah! Choo choo!’ Cowboys and choo choo trains. I was listening to a lot of Sly Stone, Larry Graham bass lines and things like that.
What attracts you to those guys?
Sly’s songs can be eight minutes of one repeating idea. Sometimes it gets a little technical, but it’s not super-technical. Sometimes it’s sloppy or falling apart, but it feels so good. That’s because of Larry Graham. The emotion Sly and the Family Stone were able to put into their playing makes them so amazing. They feel it in a way a lot of people have trouble feeling.
‘Nobody’ seems to explore the space between fame and anonymity. Do you ever fantasize about not being a public figure?
Everybody has been tricked into thinking they’re some kind of public entity or personal brand, especially with the way it is nowadays with social media. Nobody sees the backside of it. The concept of one personality. It’s like putting a song out into the world. When I put it out, it’s not really mine anymore. The way people perceive you is as much everyone else’s as the artwork that you’re putting out.
You often seem to be singing about your encroaching thirties. How do you think the next 10 years of your life will go?
I really don’t know. I hope they’re happy and that things are still good. I’m really bad at thinking ahead and planning ahead. I’m good at looking back. I hope it’s cool and comfortable and chill and that I can keep making music. If not, who knows?
Were you always this in-the-moment?
I never had goals. I never think, ‘I want to play this thing at this point in time.’ I just think, ‘Let’s go on tour, that’s great!’ I want it to feel natural.
You’re a highly relatable musician, rather than a pop star with a public veneer. What made you want to portray yourself that way?
When I first saw Jonathan Richman, I thought everyone looked completely involved. It wasn’t an art gallery, it was a community. I wanted to do that. The ethos of fanciness and celebrity in being a musician or a pop star is really cheesy. When somebody has a security guard, it’s like — gimme a break.
Hopefully people who listen to my music will take away, ‘Look at this guy! He’s fat, kinda bald, falling apart, drinks too much. I could do that too!’ It’s an encouraging thing. I hope people can take away the confidence that they can do it. Somebody’s gonna have a good time.
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