Mac DeMarco on his new record, Coachella album leaks, and Kirin J Callinan in cowboy boots
Mac DeMarco has just turned 27, a famously dangerous age for musicians, not long after moving to L.A. from New York. His new album, This Old Dog, is out May 5th via Captured Tracks & Remote Control Records. It’s his third full length release and his first since 2014’s Salad Days. It follows 2015’s mini-LP, Another One. Four singles have already been released, showing off hints of his quirky new direction, and a touch of the vulnerable, deeply personal slant this record bears.
On the phone from his Silver Lake home, Mac’s quiet and relaxed. Fresh from playing Coachella, he’s putting his feet up and counting the days until his new record is released and he heads off to tour the world again. Known for his sketchy shenanigans and seemingly bottomless levels of oddball energy, it’s refreshing to catch him taking it easy. Despite his huge success in the last few years, he remains down-to-earth and charming as he discusses the finer points of This Old Dog, his move to L.A., and the latest stuff bouncing around the internet. Although he’s never seemed to be one for secrecy, he’s relatively quiet on the subject of his new record’s family focus. Perhaps it’s just modesty, but he downplays the vulnerability and raw introspection of his new music as the simple by-product of what happened to be running through his head since writing his last record.
This Old Dog is a solid progression from Salad Days and Another One. There are plenty of new ideas to appease those getting a little tired of Mac‘s older sound, as well as a slew of tunes perfect for fans of Classic Mac. The record is built on a handful of demos he recorded in New York and L.A. using what was laying around – including an acoustic guitar, synths and a drum machine. Although they’re instruments that aren’t traditionally part of his sound, much of it ended up remaining on the album, which overall is quite stripped back in both a conceptual and sonic sense. Wandering between dreamy and cheesy, thoughtful and cheeky, at the end, this one will make you cry.
Catch our chat with Mac below, and keep your eyes peeled for a cheeky nod to his touring plans at the end of 2017.
How are you, man? What are you up to, what have you been doing today?
Just interviews all day, but you know, just hanging out at my house.
I guess we’ll start with Coachella, how was [it] this year compared to 2015?
It actually felt really similar in a couple of ways, like we played the same stage, a little bit later than we did last time, but yeah, it was kinda crazy. It was a lot of fun, we saw a lot of friends, but it definitely has a specific vibe, ya know. It’s different than other festivals, it’s wacky. But I had a good time.
Is it the biggest festival in the world now?
I don’t think so, ‘cause they do somewhere between… I think it’s eighty to a hundred grand attendees? I think Glastonbury is bigger for sure. There’s gotta be some jungle fuckers in Europe that are still bigger, but I don’t know.
Can I get a peak and a pit? Your best moment, your worst moment for the festival?
Best moment… We hung out with Michael McDonald for a long time on Friday evening, well on Saturday evening too. That was great, really sweet guy. We got to see him, he played a couple of songs with Thundercat. Thundercat’s show was amazing. And uhh… worst would probably be that evening, throwing up out of the van on the ride home, that wasn’t the greatest thing ever.
You mentioned you played with a few friends, did you see any Aussie bands? I know King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard were on the same stage as you.
Yeah, we hung out with them. They played right before us, so it was pretty sick to chill with all the dudes.
Did you catch them on Conan last night?
I haven’t seen the video yet, I tried to find it yesterday but I don’t know if it was up yet. I’m gonna go check it out at some point, yeah.
I watched it right before I called, definitely check it out!
So you mentioned during your set that the album had been leaked, you shouted out a bunch of torrent sites, what’s the story with that?
[Laughs] umm, it was hot on the stage, we’d had a couple drinks… Kinda trying to deter that now, everyone who works with me is just a little bit aggravated this morning, so… What can ya do?!
Are you bummed that it leaked?
No I’m not bummed, my albums always leak, and this time it was a lot closer to the release than usual, so… It comes out in like fifteen days or something, so I don’t know, I’m happy that people get to hear it, but I understand why it’s a complete logistical nightmare for everyone that’s put a lot of time into working on it for me.
Do you care much if kids go out and get it for free, be all sneaky on the internet?
I don’t really even understand how it works, but I think… Nah, I mean, if people want to listen to it, even by the time it releases there’s just going to be a full stream of it on YouTube anyway. So as long as people are listening, it’s cool enough for me!
Do you care much about the whole illegal downloads vs streaming vs physical sales thing? Like some artists will drop an album exclusively on one streaming service, which is kind of annoying for fans who want to listen. Like Kanye West, at least to begin with, he put his album out only on Tidal and a lot of people were pissed off. How do you feel about that kind of thing?
He probably owns some part of that company, so I’m sure it makes sense for his bank account or whatever. I don’t know, the easier it is for people to listen to something the better, I figure. I don’t really understand how my music even gets on streaming services or which ones it’s on. I don’t have a subscription to any of them. It sounds kind of like, what was that other trick they did? Every Samsung Galaxy came with like Jay Z’s new album or something like that? It’s weird with the internet now, to get your records to sell, but I don’t know, I understand people that put time and money into it, and want to make money off of it, but I’m living a fairly comfortable life and it’s still shocking that people listen to my stuff in the first place, so it’s just really cool that they do that. I don’t know. I don’t really worry about it.
Well let’s talk the new record, This Old Dog. I’m a massive fan, I loved it, and I can really hear a new direction, not just with the instrumentation and stuff like that, but lyrically and conceptually as well, can you tell me about that?
Yeah I don’t know! I guess it’s like, a little more synthesiser, a little more drum machine, a lot of acoustic guitar. I just kinda let it flow out whichever way it was gonna come out and to tell you the truth, I didn’t think about it that much. There were points on tour where I’d be back and I’d be like, “Ok, what am I gonna do?” and then when I actually went to sitting down and doing some stuff, I just let it happen. And then I’m happy with it, so there it is!
I was going to ask if you were trying to push your comfort zone by moving to instruments you hadn’t really used before or you didn’t know super well, were you trying to shake it up at all? Or trying to break out of a mould?
In a way, I think it’s just a product of, you know… The last bunch of records have been mainly electric guitar, and that’s what I play on stage, I’m pretty comfortable on one when I’m playing my own songs at least. But I don’t know, keeping it fresh for me. I wanted to do something that excited me and that I felt happy with, so… The acoustic guitar was around, I was strumming away on it, I guess I wrote the songs a little bit differently. It was more like the song was there and I put a couple things on top of it. But I don’t know, I just kinda went for it, you know.
Well I think it sounds great! When you play them on stage – you must have debuted some of it at Coachella – did you play it all on electric guitar?
We only really did one song that had an acoustic, so instead of plugging in the acoustic I just used the electric, but we played a couple of songs, and we already had that set up, so that’s ok. It’s kinda cool right now, we have another guy playing in the band and we’ve set it up so we can do some of the songs in different ways. I can play acoustic guitar if I want, or electric, or we can do this or do that. It’s nice, we can have a piano around, that’s always a treat. Things like that. A couple different arrangements for a couple different songs, it’s cool.
So you can kind of just play however you feel on the day?
I think when I first listened to the album it felt really sort of raw to me, vulnerable. Not just in comparison to your older records, but across this record itself from beginning to end there were sort of layers being stripped away. Is that an intentional thing? Is the record intended to be a whole listening experience start to finish?
Yeah, I think I try to make all my records kind of flow in some way or another, but with this one… I don’t know. I bought some new stuff to record with and I had more options, and I went, “Ok, I can put this here and I could put that there!” and then I’d listen back and be like, “Fuck this shit!” So I just wanted it to… you know, the songs were the songs, and then I just let them do their thing without too much more shit piled on top. Just simple and easy, yeah.
A lot of them are pretty short as well, a lot of the tracks come in under three minutes, except for ‘Moonlight On The River’ which is a bit longer. Is there a reason behind that, or it just came out that way? Or were you trying to be concise?
I think my songs have always been pretty short. I have a kind of affinity for bands that do really short stuff, like Guided by Voices, stuff like that. You know, like thirty songs on an album and they’re all like fifty seconds long. But I don’t know, they just kind of came out that way and it’s almost the same if you look at it as… There’s a whole bunch of stuff in the production, like a guitar solo or something. I look at it the same way with the song structure, where I’ll be writing something, and I’ll have it flowing, and I’ll be like “Ok, should I put a bridge in?” and then I’ll try, and then be like “Fuck this bridge!” A lot of the songs don’t even have choruses really, they don’t even have bridges… The purest form, maybe. I don’t know.
No messing around, straight to the point.
I really liked that track, ‘Moonlight On The River’, ’cause it was kind of in keeping with your older sound. What’s the story behind that one?
I wrote it in L.A. If it didn’t have that bit at the end it’d be a pretty short song as well, so… I didn’t really know how to end it, so I kinda just went right ahead and turned all the delay pedals up and churned out an eclectic tune I guess and went to town, you know.
Did anyone help you make the record? Do you have any sort of features on there? It got reported last year that you were working with Andrew VanWyngarden from MGMT, or you were at least in the studio with him, did that turn into anything?
Oh I was just at his house! But no, I did everything on the record myself. The only outside person was my friend Shags, Shags Chamberlain, he came over. I had mixed it, and then we just kind of made sure that nothing was exploding or like, really heinous sounding. Just made sure it was translatable, and then he came and got a master or two. So it’s the same as just doing it in my bedroom all by myself again, pretty much.
It’s pretty clear that there’s a family focus in the record, you mention your dad a lot, and your sister too – maybe I’m getting a bit literal there ‘cause the song’s called ‘Sister’, but I know you’re very close with your mum as well, she came on tour with you to Australia, you did the Laneway festival. You’ve sung about family before, you’ve got a half-brother and a half-sister, right?
I have a full brother and a half-sister, yeah.
You’ve sung about them before, but it was only sort of little references, like in ‘Cooking Up Something Good’ you said “brother’s in the ballet” and I’ve heard that that’s actually true, your brother does do ballet.
This time around it felt very real, the core subject matter was your family, why is that?
I don’t know, I think for me, I don’t get a lot of time to think about things, and some of the relationships in my family are a little bit more oddball than a normal dynamic. But you know, with this record I had some time, it was over a longer period, we weren’t touring as much and I moved, I had time to sit down with my thoughts a little bit more, so… A lot of the songs that I wrote in New York too, I wasn’t really thinking like, “I’m going to put this on a record,” I was just kind of, you know, writing songs almost like, therapeutically, or whatever. So yeah I was just thinking about it, and now everybody can listen to it too, if they want to.
You just mentioned that you moved, you moved to L.A. from New York, you relocated again. I feel like the relocating comes with little shifts in your sound, like there was Makeout Videotape back in Vancouver and Montreal and then you started playing under your own name, you went to New York, you made a few records, now you’re in L.A. and you’ve got a pretty fresh new sound. Is there something to that? Does the relocating affect the music?
I don’t really know, I mean, half this record was done in New York, so I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe. I think the next one will be my like, Los Angeles, you know, yacht-rock, mountain of cocaine, whatever the L.A. sound is, you know [laughs]. But I don’t know, I took one bedroom in New York, moved it out here… It felt the same. Similar. But definitely when I looked out the window, it would look a little different, so, I don’t know if it’s really set in on me yet but I’m sure it will.
How have you been finding living in L.A. versus New York?
It’s great. I mean, I love New York, I love going there still. I’ve got a lot of friends there, a lot of my family’s from there too so it’s kind of different in that way for me. But yeah, it’s fun ‘cause I didn’t live in New York City really, I lived out on the outskirts of town, so living here, the main difference is I’m more central. I see people, people come over to my house, so socially it’s different for me, which I haven’t had for quite a few years, so it’s a little refreshing. It’s also a little terrifying sometimes, but you know, it’s cool. I’m really enjoying it.
Is it good to get away from the address that you gave out on the end of your last record?
Ahh, no I liked that! It’s cool ‘cause my roommates still live there, but no, people keep asking like, “Well you had to move didn’t ya?” but it’s not, I could’ve stayed there, it doesn’t matter. I just needed to freshen up everything, everything else.
How have you been killing time in L.A.? Are you still obsessed with pinball?
I don’t really go out and play pinball that much anymore, to tell you the honest truth. I think that was kind of a product of when I first moved to New York and I didn’t really know anybody or know the city at all, and I just was like, you know, people are busy, they have school or work, so I’d be like, “Well I guess I’m gonna go play pinball by myself all day.” Yeah pinball’s great, but here, I don’t know, I don’t really leave the house very often. In New York I had a pinball in my house so it was kind of like, you know, that worked, but here I go out to eat, but other than that I just like to make music and hang out.
Did you see the new teaser trailer for the new Star Wars movie?
I diiiid, I did.
What are your thoughts?
Looking good! You know, it’s looking good. It’s hard to judge off the teaser, but it’s looking good. Looks like we’re gonna get some Luke, you know, looks like things might be taking a different turn to what people are expecting, I don’t know. Perhaps Rey is a Kenobi after all, we’ll find out.
Could do with some more Gungans in there?
I could DEFINITELY use a couple fuckin’ Gungans in there but I know it’s not on the cards. I wish.
Have you ever been on that Facebook group (your mum is in it, this is why I ask) ‘Mac DeMarco Shitposting’, actually I think it’s called ‘Cigposting’ now, but originally ‘Shitposting’. You ever been on that?
No I haven’t had a Facebook in like three years now, maybe two. I don’t know, what is it?
Memes basically, about you. It’s hilarious, I wondered if you’d ever self-indulged.
I don’t know, yeah. I like Instagram but other than that I don’t really do the social media thing that much. But it’s fine if my mum’s in there!
Going back to the record, you said that it’s like your acoustic album, but it’s not really acoustic, but it feels like that. But you called it an Italian rock record, because you’re Italian. What exactly is Italian rock? What are your favourite Italian rock records?
See I don’t even really know, that’s the funniest part to me. And I’m only 25% Italian so it’s barely Italian, and if anything I’m like Canadian-Italian or American-Italian. There’s a certain degree of separation. For me, I mean, I like Italo disco, like I really pumped that guy Ryan Paris’ track a couple of years ago, I love that kind of stuff. That stuff I love. Italian rock I don’t really know. There’s certainly some bands that we played with in Italy when we toured there, and they’re all great, but I don’t know. This Old Dog, I guess that’s Italian rock [laughs].
Do you have any Australian tour dates lined up soon? I know you’re sort of bouncing back and forward between the States, Canada, the UK, Europe, all over for the rest of this year. Are you coming back to Australia any time soon?
We will be there, I think in your summer, so at the end of the year. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say for what yet, but something kind of familiar to us and it should be just a whole bunch of fun!
What are your plans for the rest of today?
Kirin [J.] Callinan is gonna come over, we’re gonna take some photos of him. He’s gotten really into buying cowboy stuff… You know Kirin right, he’s Australian?
Yeah! I was reeeeaaal, real drunk when they interviewed me for that, but it was fun. His new album’s great, sounding amazing. What I was going to say was in the last week or so, he went to go see Dwight Yoakam, and he’s obsessed with cowboys now. He went to this like, cowboy store, he bought all of these cowboy outfits, and cowboy clothing is like, utilitarian, it’s expensive clothing, you know. So he spent like $800 buying cowboy boots yesterday. So we’re gonna take some photos together, but he’s going to be in full cowboy style.
That’s unreal, classic Kirin!
Well that’s all the time we have, thanks for chatting with me and congrats on the record!
Thanks dude, see you in Australia. God bless!
This Old Dog is out May 5th via Captured Tracks.
Words by Ted Dwyer