Photo by Thursday Friday.
Mac DeMarco is like that class clown who’s secretly a genius. When he’s not crowd surfing with his pants off, sharing gross-out tour stories or stripping nude every change he gets, this cheeky little scamp is writing some of the best pop songs in the world. After melting hearts with his former project Makeout Videotape — climaxing in the front-to-back masterpiece Ying Yang cassette — he’s now reinvented himself as a smooth talking glam god on the Rock and Roll Nightclub EP. With its songs about boogie woogie women, a fetish for denim, yacht rock guitar solos, and crooner dad vocals, Mac laid it down as a goof, but guess what? It’s another tour de force. Signing to Captured Tracks has shined the spotlight his way, but Mac’s decided to treat it like everything else in his life: a chance to act stupid and make his friends laugh.
NOISEY: You started playing music in Edmonton when you were pretty young, right?
Mac DeMarco: I was probably 15, turning 16. That was back when Alberta had the policy where you could fax a form into the liquor board and play bars if you were underage, but you can’t do that anymore.
Was that a good way to learn about rock ‘n’ roll?
My whole family are musicians, so I always wanted to do something different. Then junior high started and I learned to play guitar. The girls were like, “Oh man, you can play this AC/DC song?” And I was like, “Yeah, I can!” When I was that age, there was a really good all-ages scene, and I started meeting all these older guys in bands. I think that’s really important. What sucks in Edmonton nowadays is that none of the community halls have shows because a bunch of kids got stabbed. People would have big parties but then suburban thugs would come, so no one wanted to rent out the halls. Then the liquor board thing happened. Kids can’t really rock out anymore.
When did you start doing Makeout Videotape?
Me and my friend Alex had a joke band called The Meat Cleavers and all the songs were Alberta-themed, like “gas, car, going to the bar.” Just singing about sketchy chongo bars in Edmonton. Then I moved to Vancouver when I was 17 or 18, and I recorded my first album six months after that. I didn’t know anyone when I moved there, and I was just surfing MySpace to find the cool bands. Moving to Montreal was really fun too, but I already knew everyone, so it wasn’t the same 18-year-old enchanting adventure.
Here’s the video for “Only You” (cinematography by Evan Prosofsky):
I heard about a tour you did around that time where you caught scabies. What happened there?
It can be sexually transmitted or just from touch, but I’m pretty sure I got it from sexual transmission. It’s basically these little bugs or worms or something that crawl under your skin and take a shit. You get real itchy. In Canada you can get this cream and then you have to cream your whole body, butthole included. I was in Texas when I got it though, and in America the cream is prescription only. We had to roll through the entire United States, and no one wanted to sit next to me. I was Patient Zero, essentially. But I got back to Vancouver, lubed up and felt great after that.
Is it fair to say you took on a persona for Rock and Roll Nightclub? Is there a character behind it?
I guess so. The story is that I was trying to record a new Makeout Videotape album and I wanted to do a bunch of power-pop Ramones songs with really fast power chords. When I listened back, it sounded so bad, but then I slowed it down a bit and it sounded way sweeter! I sang over it kind of funny and slowed that down a bit too. Plus I had tonsillitis at the time, so my voice was super weird. I feel like a lot of people think it’s a pre-meditated thing, but the photos of me wearing fucked up make-up were taken on Halloween, and the songs are just a joke. I like those songs and I think they’re good, but there’s definitely humour to them.
Is it also fair to say that your main motivation is making yourself and your friends laugh?
Definitely. Me and my friends have a weird sense of humour, and I think a lot of people get it, but it’s also kind of an in-joke thing. With Captured Tracks and the internet stuff that people are paying attention to, not only can I make my friends laugh, but I also have an opportunity to be a jackass to so many people I’ve never met before. A lot of people take this stuff really seriously, like ‘Cool, people are paying attention to me,’ but I just think it’s funny. Rock and Roll Nightclub is kind of a jokey, fun thing, but I’ll probably try to do some more sincere songwriting on the next one. You have to keep it balanced, and then you’re feeling groovy.
Here’s the video for “Exercising With My Demons” (once again, Evan Prosofsky):
Last question: Why are you so obsessed with Viceroys?
OK, this is the evolution of me smoking cigarettes. I never really smoked until I was 18 or 19, and I’m almost 22 now, so that wasn’t too long ago. I had a roommate named Ira, and he would give me a smoke every once in a while, and they were Belmonts. Then I got to the point where I wanted to buy a pack, the first step of the addiction, and I realized that Belmonts were super expensive. In Vancouver, it was something like $13 a pack. Fuck that. I got back from tour with my friends’ band Walter TV and I was super broke. I had to move back to Edmonton, and was working all of these jobs like lawn mowing and duct insulation. Manly man Alberta jobs. Really shitty. But that was where the Viceroys came from. It’s the working man’s smoke. I just smoked them so much then that I grew to love them, and they’re so mildly priced. $5.55 for a pack in Montreal. You can’t go wrong with that price, and the packaging is nice. You can go with Pall Mall, the other very discounted cigarette, but they don’t have the haul a man like me is looking for. I’m looking for something that really cuts your lungs up and gives you a fat fume. The biggest, nastiest smelling puff. I’m not talking about the Viceroy Blues either, you gotta stick with the Red. Go Red or go to bed, that’s what I say.
Follow Jesse at @wipeoutbeat
Previously - Electric Voice Is Creepin' It Real