Interview: Mac DeMarco
The former volunteer for medical experiments is hitting pay dirt as a glam rock, lipstick-wearin’ weirdo
Words Cian Traynor
Photography Christina Hicks
Mac DeMarco’s dirty mind is bound to get him into trouble. Though still relatively unknown, the promising output of this 22-year-old Canadian goofball has been consistently tagged with one word: sleazy. He’s the kind of guy who has caught scabies on tour; the kind of guy who’s worked at a vet clinic putting animals in body bags and jacking off in the bathroom. But sleazy? Mac disagrees.
“I’m like a gross, teenage, don’t-change-my-socks-enough guy but not necessarily a craaaaazy, dirty dude.” He pauses for a beat, then laughs. “Okay, maybe I can be sometimes.”
Using a Frankenstein’s monster of a guitar he bought as a 16-year-old for $30 and a chorus effect he believes no serious musician would ever use, Mac has been self-recording punchy pop songs for years, mostly as Makeout Videotape — a name that eventually became too awkward to share with relatives.
Last year, while sick with tonsillitis, Mac banged out some tunes on a four-track and slowed them down, giving him an Elvis-like croon and a sound that resembles a cassette left to bake in the sun. Combining fake radio skits, and photos of Mac in drag as well as infectious songs about strutting and denim fixations, Rock And Roll Night Club proved such an absorbingly warped listen that Captured Tracks soon offered to release his next album.
But Mac’s self-described ‘jizz jazz’ also struck many as an oddball in-joke: was it sentimental songwriting or a psychotic display of disingenuousness? The ambiguity is something Mac revels in. Though his smoother new album 2 is overflowing with enough off-kilter pop magic to inspire a following, Mac reckons women will be repulsed by the seductive crooning of a gap-toothed jackass, whether it’s heartfelt or not.
“You’ve got this strange glam rock, lipstick-wearin’ weirdo,” he explains. “Then when we play live, I’m kind of a jerk.”
Goofing off on stage with lewd jokes, Mac adds, is his way of piercing the veneer of cool that other acts take too seriously. “Sometimes you have to lighten the mood a little bit and say, ‘Look, I’m an immature 22-year-old. Let’s have a fun night.’”
But with a character like Mac, it’s easy to see how things can quickly become unhinged.
“One show, I was hanging from the rafters in Vancouver and stuck my thumb up my ass, then put it in my mouth. That was pretty gross. Then another show, I wasn’t even supposed to be playing; I just rolled up with my iPod and started singing karaoke version of my songs. All of a sudden, my clothes came off, everyone’s pouring beer on me and I stuck drumsticks up my ass.”
Speaking outside a McDonald’s in Arizona, sipping coffee as trucks roar by, Mac ploughs through every answer with an excitable candidness, mocking his teenage taste in Limp Bizkit and shrugging off comparisons with Kurt Vile. Given that his older relatives all think he sounds like Jimmy Buffett, he’s learned not to care what anyone thinks.
Mac is the kind of guy who doesn’t like to spend more than a day on anything; the kind of guy who drinks pots of Nabob instant coffee (“it tastes like sewage but it gets you so jacked”) and chain-smokes Viceroy cigarettes for their nasty-smelling, lung-cutting puff. He even wrote new track ‘Ode To Viceroy’ as a love song to the brand, a conciliatory gesture after flirting with another discount cigarette.
Originally from Edmonton, Mac moved to Vancouver as a teen and found work among a road construction crew who nicknamed him ‘Lil’ Bitch’. Convinced he’d be regarded as more of a badass in Montreal, he made his way east last year but, not speaking any French, his prospects were so dim that he resorted to volunteering for medical experiments.
“At first it was like, ‘Just read out these words and we’ll record you on camera.’ Then there were some like, ‘Okay, we’re going to put you in this dentist chair and shoot a high-powered magnet into your brain.’ There were others where they made me shove my arm in really cold water and run on a treadmill for two hours straight. I did some weird, weird things but not as weird as some of my friends. One had a triple muscle biopsy on his thigh, so they corkscrewed into his leg, pulled out a whole bunch of meat and they only gave him 600 bucks. But you gotta get paid somehow!”
Lately, life’s been somewhat easier since US retail chain Target used one of Mac’s songs in a commercial, freeing him up to tour in his new car and concentrate on making a living from just having fun. “I never thought that I’d be able to do that — it’s insane!” he says with a final laugh. “So if I can just keep rollin’ like this, that’s all I could hope for. I don’t care about anything else.”