Q&A I Mac DeMarco

by Jessica Romoff

Photographed by  Jill Schweber  Styled by  Juliann McCandless

Photographed by Jill Schweber Styled by Juliann McCandless

I first saw the cowboy in the heat of the Coachella Valley, so dry it chaps your lips to sandpaper. On stage, he towered above the tumbleweeds of fans, as we stampeded to the crack of his voice, ricocheting like a shot from a winchester rifle through the valley. The cowboy had a gap-toothed smirk, a silver bullet smile. Each pluck of the guitar lassoed our hearts, with a beat tough as raw-hide, a cigarette dangled from his lips. His voice was barbed with a Canadian twang. Failed magicians, frat boys and surfer bros, a fistfull of atheists, herds of psychedelics, Instagram influencers, skater chicks, and many more have trekked miles to see him. After the show we all loitered around the stage, taking swigs of something that stings and rambled about how when he plays, his bones look light as eagles.

Four years later and it still feels like the desert, Los Angeles to be exact. It is the kind of heat where you sweat behind your knees and between your elbows, and I wish for handfuls of wind. I am trudging up a street that is endless, feeling like a pack mule dragging itself up the side of a mountain, saddlebags full of stones. “Here Comes the Cowboy” is throbbing in my head; the beat synchronizes with each step.

Once I reach the house, sweat studding my blouse, the door flings open, and I am greeted by Kiera. She is enveloped in a grey cherub hoodie, has smile like a gust of wind, and soft dove eyes. I enter graciously. The kitchen is whitewashed and bright, ornamented with long-limbed plants and garage sale trinkets. She lets me know Mac will be out in a second, “Here Comes the Cowboy” still barreling through my head. 

In a distressed Sublime t-shirt and trunks, Mac DeMarco, trailblazer of indie rock, the gap-toothed frontier of the DIY music scene, bizarre stage antics legend, saunters out from the hall barefooted, a tired grin dribbles up his cheeks. Stubble staggers across his jaw and chin. His voice still gravelly with sleep, DeMarco introduces himself and extends a hand. I was taken aback by his blue marble eyes, dishwater blonde wheat field of hair. To my surprise, he is less crowd wrangling, whirlwind rowdy boy, and more the dude abides, or a grizzly bear plucking sunflowers by a lazy creek.

We gather in the backyard to some patio chairs, prepped with a sturdy pack of marlboro reds and black coffee, and begin the interview. Through plumes of smoke and DeMarco’s deep belly, husky laugh, we discuss his latest album “Here Comes the Cowboy,” how he writes his songs, feeling more in tune with himself, growing up, and more. 

Photographed by  Jill Schweber  Styled by  Juliann McCandless

Photographed by Jill Schweber Styled by Juliann McCandless

When I ask him why he chose this symbol of a cowboy for the album, as he is not a cowboy, he explains, “I feel like [“Here Comes the Cowboy”] is almost an interpretation of what a cowboy is supposed to be, by someone who really has no idea what they are talking about, you know?” After listening to this audio multiples of times, one question I deeply regret not asking is, “Do you ever feel like the cowboy?” 

Check out the Q&A below

So how are you doing, how has your day been?

Kinda just woke up. Me and Kiera just watched that show Hannibal about Hannibal Lector

How do you like that? Are you a fan of the movie? 

Yeah I like it, I like the character. So - we had a nice morning doing that.. what else did we do? Yeah that’s it. I have done nothing today.

I am jealous. That’s the way to live sometimes… so this other musician and I were talking about how to categorize this new surge of Indie music that all has a similar sound. I didn’t know what to call it or how to talk about it. So we both established that it’s “Post Mac- DeMarco,” that’s the sound! So, I was wondering how it feels to have created an entire sub genre of Indie music?  You’ve been a huge player in empowering a DIY music market-

Well it’s funny for me because I know some of the bands that you’re probably talking about, you know. It’s flattering, and it’s also weird. I am a byproduct of say, Ariel Pink and R Stevie Moore and these guys that have been doing it. I think there’s people who have influenced me over the years, but I reached pretty far back to get it. Like, “Oh I’m gonna rip off this George Harrison song or this Kinks song,” but I think the difference in what the internet has kind of done now is, say, some of these new bands aren’t reaching back that far. If I was like, “Wow something came out three years ago…. I’m just going to do that!” That would feel weird to me, but some of these kids, they’re like, “Oh it was only three years ago? I guess I’ll just do it!” But at the same time too though, I’ve always said, “look we’re just normal whatever people playing, we’re not like crazy musicians or fancy or sexy rockers or we’re just so..”

But I think that’s what people wanted

It’s cool to put that out there and be like, “You can do it too!” and then kids went and put it out there too. So it’s cool. It’s funny because I guess I’ve been doing it for a little while now. I’m not sure how long many people have been paying attention to it. But yeah, it’s almost as if I get treated like a fossil sometimes, which I like, because I was always the youngest kid in the crew.

Oh, so now you’re like the uncle. A a nice change in roles?

Yeah it’s not bad. 

So I know that you’ve said in a couple of interviews that you only listen to video game music and The Beatles - I’m curious to how that influenced and inspires your music -- I feel like that’s an interesting cocktail to listen to? 

Yeah, I mean stuff like The Beatles and I was saying The Kinks, but for me that’s classical pop music, you know, post Elvis. I love Elvis too, but just right at the end of Elvis, right after Sinatra. That for me was when music started getting weird and fun. And I think you can hear that a lot more in my tunes. But with the video games stuff, growing up in the 90s or whatever and playing video games, that was kind of my first exposure to anything. And growing up, you just play the games and you’re not really thinking about what has been put into making them.

Photographed by  Jill Schweber  Styled by  Juliann McCandless

Photographed by Jill Schweber Styled by Juliann McCandless

But the sound I’m sure stays with you, the same video game.. chorus? The repetition? 

Yeah, what I always think about is, especially in older video games where you don’t have that much, it’s pretty basic sounding. To be able to get away with making a loop that’s 30 seconds, that keeps going and going and going and doesn’t make the person playing the game wanna blow their brains out, then you’ve figured it out. The Tetris theme song; I mean it’s annoying but it’s not that annoying. You know?

Yeah, and especially with Here Comes The Cowboy when you’ve described it, you’re like “It’s really repetitive” - but I don’t think it does the thing where it drives you crazy or makes you wanna blow your brains out. It’s really soothing.

It could be. I mean “Here Comes The Cowboy” people are like, “What...thefuck is that?” Which was part of what wanted to do too. I like it. I don’t know what I like about it, but I like it. You know what’s funny, I’ve heard some people say, “‘Here Comes The Cowboy’ it’s just too long,” which to me is so funny ‘cause I wanted to make that song even longer. It was maybe three times as long when I went to go get it mastered, but it wouldn’t fit on a vinyl.

Here Comes the Cowboy, is not a cowboy album from what you’ve talked about. You’re not a cowboy, it’s not a cowboy album. So how come you chose that symbol? 

It’s kind of an exotic cartoon character, and I grew up in that part of Canada where maybe there are cowboys or some modern reiteration of it, for those who work on farms. But the classical archetypal American cartoon cowboy doesn’t exist anymore. I feel like the record is almost an interpretation of what that is supposed to be by someone who really has no idea what they are talking about - it’s almost exotic. 

Yea, for sure. You’ve said with this album, you really struggled and grappled with trying to perfect something that was supposed to be imperfect, you know like ‘perfectly shitty’ and how do you know when a song is finished, or does it ever feel finished? 

That’s the funny thing with this record: most of the writing for it, I would just sit down and do something on this thing, and something over here, and a little drum, and sing a little bit, and usually I mean, the song feels finished the first time I put it down. It’s like there’s the idea, — some of the things I change a little bit. But the initial sketch of it is always the most organic feeling to me. There’s a difference in my mind between the song being finished, and the recording being finished, and the recording part was what drove me. I would fall in love with the initial the way it sounds. It’s kind of weird, I just popped it up and here you go, and then to try and be like, “Well now I have to make it sound a little fancier so like people will… you know… so it like doesn’t sound like shit.” And then there’s that teeter totter of, “But I want it to have the garbage aspect that it had when it was born.”

What is your creative process like, and how it has changed throughout your career. How do you write, how do you make your songs? 

I do a little bit more now that I’m on tour now, just because we have the facilities to do it in a way, like we’re not traveling in a compact car, sleeping on people’s floors anymore. There’s hotels and buses or whatever, so there’s a place that I could do it if I wanted to do it. But other than that it’s pretty much the same. I have my little studios in this garage here and it’s either there or in a bedroom somewhere else and it’s still very quick. If something is taking me more than an hour or two then I’ll kind of lose interest in it. But yeah, the main thing I think is it used to be, I’m gonna write some chords and then I’ll figure out lyrics afterwards. But now I’d like before I go into recording something, to have at least one instrument and some kind of narrative to it, a lyrical idea so it feels like there’s more of a foundation, but I think and probably a lot of people do it that way. But for me it was always the inverse.

Photographed by  Jill Schweber  Styled by  Juliann McCandless

Photographed by Jill Schweber Styled by Juliann McCandless

With your past album, This Old Dog, you were super vulnerable and open about your relationship with your family, and your dad, and I was wondering if you were ever hesitant to release it, and how it feels to perform on stage? 

Some of those songs were pretty weird to play for a little while. I mean some we don’t do as much anymore, some I’ll still do.

What’s pretty weird about it? 

That record especially, I think I was very shut off, wasn’t really hanging out with anybody, lived in a weird part of New York when I started writing it, like no one was coming by the crib. And it was more like writing in a diary, you know? You remember that it felt like that as soon as you put it into the public, and you’re like, “Oh yeah right shit.” But in the same way, it’s pretty liberating. It’s weird at the same time, and I don’t ever want to be feeling like I’m complaining or moaning about something 

It didn’t come off like that.

Oh I hope not. But I just think music is my only real... I mean I can talk to my friends and family and shit but emotionally for the better part of my adult life, it’s the way that I kind of figure out stuff emotionally.

And you’ve said that Here Comes The Cowboy was even more emotional and strenuous for you to write than This Old Dog. I was curious to why? 

I think I’m just in a different head space with everything, I had more of a sense of what world I’m putting things out into, you know what I mean? And the system I am a part of. I think a lot of things over the last couple of years have really grossed me out. Like the way the internet has gone, and the way that everything is getting sold, everyone is trying to sell everything, [takes a deep breath, exhales, pauses] it’s kinda wack [laughs].

No like it’s wack and really toxic. Especially when you have to be a part of it all to some degree as an artist..

And it’s just the idea of me writing a record that I was like, “Well, you know, and then we’re gonna have to promote it and try to sell it” and all that shit. I didn’t really do any of that this time. If the record label wanted to put up a billboard or something somewhere, its fine.

Yeah, now you’re like fuck it do what ever you want 

You know, I’m just trying to make some tunes, and that’s it. I don’t really care about the rest of it, which feels good. I think about that kind of stuff, the systems: you go on the tour, you gotta have the record to go on the tour, or you gotta sell this and then sell that, you gotta get the number and the billboard chart.

Well it’s really formulaic and robotic 

Yeah yeah it gets boring - you know, it gets boring. And I think that, I still love playing live shows and I love people coming out and listening to the tunes and stuff, but, as far as kind of trying to do the right press thing or like get the good review on the right spot or the… I don’t care [laughs] which is, probably, you know, a little alarming to most of the people I work with, but-

Photographed by  Jill Schweber  Styled by  Juliann McCandless

Photographed by Jill Schweber Styled by Juliann McCandless

But I think it’s really nice for your fans to hear that, ‘cause you’re just doing it for yourself and them

Yea for them for sure [lets out a large plume of smoke] just trying to you know, make something that pleases me and not worry about the rest of the crap. And an occasional beer here and there, but hey! You know, what can you do. 

A change of gears here - I was watching some interviews of yours, and then there was this video I saw, when I was scrolling through youtube, that said, “How to get ready for a Mac DeMarco concert” 

Woah 

And apparently there’s a certain technique. So I was wondering, if you were that fan making that video, what would be your technique to get ready for a Mac DeMarco concert? 

[laughs] What the fuck, I don’t know.. Um.. jesus. Shower? Brush your teeth? Wear something comfortable... arrive well hydrated. Um.. fuck - shit… Listen to some of the.. Tunes? Excite yourself. You know, if you plan on drinking, perhaps take public transportation. And go in with a positive attitude. 

Okay, that’s pretty solid.

What was theirs like? 

It was a makeup tutorial

Ohhh I see. [laughs] What the fuck 

Yeah I know, really you’ve inspired not only music but a new genre of makeup as well. I remember a friend telling me, you put your address to where you lived on an album? What was the craziest story that you may have had, or the coolest person that you met, that came? 

A lot of people came. Some people I still see out on tour to this date, this guy Taco we see all the time. People ask a lot like “Yo yo what was like the wackiest thing,” but for the most part, I mean we were pretty far away from the city, so if I lived on Bedford Ave and said like “Come on over,” then it would have been a fuckin’ mess. But if somebody was gonna come all the way out to Far Rockaway, they really wanted to come. So a lot of it was pretty shy kids.

Pretty dedicated people. 

But my favorite was this group of kids from Staten Island who came with their mom, and the mom brought us meatballs, like an Italian lady, and goes, “Oh I thought you were Italian, your last name was ‘DeMarco’ I made you the-” and she had this nice le creuset fucking thing and she was like, “But I have to come back and get the pan later” and I was like okay cool! But yeah, they were good meatballs. We got a lot of mail too, I’ve never gotten mail like that in my entire life. Like all kinds of shit. 

So you’re living a pretty domesticated life and it’s lovely, and you’ve said you’re becoming more ‘adult’ - so I was wondering, what are some adult things that you’re doing now that you didn’t used to do. 

I don’t know…. I mean hmm I’m pretty bad at being an adult still.

I heard you went to the dentist? 

I did. But that shouldn’t be an adult thing. I think that should be something that everybody needs to do [laughs] but I went and surprisingly didn’t have any cavities and I was like, “What dafuck?” but yeah, that was cool. But hey...what do I do? I’m really bad, everything is on auto pay. I don’t even know what the fuck is going on with any of my shit - as much as I have grown up, I love my whole team that works with me, they are very good at figuring out everything for me - 

That’s really nice, so you don’t have to delve in too much 

I mean if I had to sit down and do my taxes all on my own, whoa that’d be a fucking mess. 

I’m still in the place where I’m like, “taxes? What are those?” 

Yeah [laughs] so... so it all gets figured out and I help in anyway I can but yeah - I don’t know. 

Photographed by  Jill Schweber  Styled by  Juliann McCandless

Photographed by Jill Schweber Styled by Juliann McCandless

If the 22 year old kid who performed a sold out show in the UK at Birthday, if he saw your career now and the person you’ve become, how do you think he would feel? 

Hopefully stoked. You asked me a couple times how things have changed, and I think especially those first couple of years where things really started twisting, and I was like, “Oh my god there’s people at our shows,” I think over the past couple of years, I felt like a shift in myself. Maybe I was wearing some type of weird mask or facade for those years, where I was like, “YES I AM the party guy!!” And I’m good at making believe and doing it. I had a lot of fun and a lot of stamina back in the day. I think that if he saw me now, he’d probably think, “Oh, you’re a lot closer to where…” you know, “focused and myself.”

So you feel like you are more yourself now? 

I hope so. But I don’t really know for sure. I think I feel more in tune with myself, which is important. But back then it was just like, “Go Go Go! Whatever!” You know? “Can’t stop me now!” It was crazy. And I love those times too, but it was pretty insane. Now I’m just an old grandpa retired in Silver Lake.

Is there anything else you want to add? I don’t want to go too late. 

Keep it real. Real recognizes real. Brush your teeth, I haven’t done that yet today I probably should.

That’s okay

And enjoy ya life!