Music's Turbulent Priest

PHOTO BY MAFALDA SILVA

PHOTO BY MAFALDA SILVA

Mac DeMarco is asleep, sprawled out on a Shoreditch sofa with his tangled hair standing upright in salute. The Canadian musician missed his plane from New York and only arrived on a second flight three hours ago. He’s exhausted, smiling at the room through half-closed eyes.

Crowned indie star by the music press after his second album, 2, and a string of exuberant live shows, Mac has been proclaimed both brilliant and out of his mind. Whether his songs are about cheap cigarettes (Ode To Viceroy) or getting up to no good (Freaking Out the Neighbourhood), there’s always a slow guitar melody swaying comfortably in the background.

Salad Days is the more mature and much anticipated follow- up, released in April after having leaked online a couple of months before. The off-kilter guitar and pop simplicity is still there, executed with the carefree spontaneity of someone who looks like he hangs around sleepy mid-American towns with a piece of straw poking out of his mouth.

“On this album I re-learned how to have fun. Why I did it in the first place,“ Mac says as we sit down on the sofa with two cups of tea. “It’s my hobby and it makes me happy. Once I figured that out, it was a breeze.“ Post-release, Mac is taking it slow. He shows me a multitrack tape recorder he brings with him in his van. “I’m just having fun, playing with my friends and playing songs that are not necessarily going on the next album. Maybe I’ll write a song about a stupid thing with a really dumb guitar solo just because it’s fun for me.“

Salad Days was recorded in Mac’s Brooklyn flatshare over the space of two weeks: “I used to do all my albums in shitty apartments in Montreal and people would get fucking pissed when I played the drums. Now I can do what I want. I haven’t had that freedom in a long time.“ Music has always been a turbulent means of expression, ever since Mac rehearsed Led Zeppelin songs in his mum’s garage and a neighbour, angry about the noise, kicked in the door with a baby clinging to his chest. As a teenager he formed Makeout Videotape—“me pretending to be a band with a funny name“—and toured around Canada with a rotating group of friends.

He has played long and intensely enough for his sound to be laissez-faire, as if suddenly plucked from a daydream and recorded on tape in the back of a van, which, come to think of it, it probably has. But the sunny melodies sometimes mask introspective lyrics that only protrude after several replays. On the eponymous opening track, Salad Days, a campfire guitar melody and Mac’s cheerful vocals distract from lyrics like, “As I’m getting older, chip up on my shoulder / Rolling through life to roll over and die.“ The discrepancy between Mac’s contemplative personality, illustrated through his music, and goofball on-stage and media persona is conspicuous. “I’m trying to create songs that are sincere to the way I am, but the media always clings on to some outrageous event like, ‘He put a drumstick up his ass,’ so you can’t really sculpt yourself in the public eye.“

Mac can hardly be surprised that this incident on a Canadian festival stage, his reaction to fans complaining that his shows weren’t as crazy as they used to be, has persisted in the popular imagination. But he seems uncomfortable with the waves his antics have made in the press. This kind of behaviour chimes with a male-dominated rock culture cheered on by testosterone-high crowds that has long fallen out of favour. Music might be tidier, even a bit boring, nowadays, but the exhibition of frat party masculinity is, and always has been, incredibly tiresome.

On the other hand, the media’s preoccupation with Mac’s “dopey lunacy“ perhaps unfairly ties him to gangs of rock dudes rolling around in broken glass, while his many reflective moments drift quietly past in the distance. Either way, his notoriously relaxed approach to fame is under strain. “I can’t read stuff on the internet anymore,“ he says, shaking his head. “It drives you fucking nuts and you forget the line between how you’ve been painted and the normal person.“

In the end, it comes down to the ‘kids,’ as he calls his fans. He rather enjoys the fact that Salad Days leaked. It gave him the chance to see the songs people connected with before the reviewers could set the tone. “You write a song and it means something to you as long as it’s yours, but once you put it out there it’s anybody’s,“ he says in his slow-paced Canadian accent. “It stops belonging to you after a certain point. The meaning disappears.“ When I meet Mac, he’s just a tired guy with funny hair who happens to love music.

This interview originally appeared in issue 21 of Oh Comely