Swearing at drivers, farts, weird vibes, and lots of pinball.
Mac DeMarco has road rage. Less than one minute after we hop in the Dodge minivan he uses as a tour van, he is flipping the bird to the big dude behind the wheel of the automobile he just cut off. “Fuuuuck! Youuuu!” Mac yells out of the window, dragging each word out nice and slow and loud while leaning across his girlfriend, Kiera, who is sitting calmly in the passenger seat. The big, now-furious dude returns the favor: He sticks his left arm out of his driver's side window – he is nearly touching Mac's van, because that is how close they came to hitting each other – and shoots his fat middle-finger straight-up at Mac and yells, “Fuck you!” After a brief but awkward staring contest, the man drives away.
Mac is proud of himself. He is beaming. He always wears a mischievous, shit-eating “Did I do that?” grin on his face, but now he is ecstatically smiling. He turns to look at me in the backseat of the minivan, his blue eyes gleaming, and, in his Royal British Voice, he says: “A little road rage never hurt anyone.” To avoid waiting at a red light, he cuts through a gas station parking lot on Myrtle Avenue, just a few blocks from the building on the Brooklyn/Queens border where Mac and Kiera have been renting a room since June. “Now that,” he says, “is how you skippy the turn light.”
There are moments when Mac's actions feel reckless, but he seems to never lose control. The 23-year-old is an unpredictable, charismatic performer, both on and off the stage. On 'Rock And Roll Night Club' and '2,' the two albums he released last year on the Brooklyn-based independent label Captured Tracks, Mac perfectly balances comedy, jackass-ery and sincerity. He is a refreshing alternative to the pretentiousness and preciousness and safeness that has defined indie-rock in recent years, and people are eating him up. As a result, Mac has been glued to the road for much of the past year, touring in support of his albums in both North America and Europe. Along the way, he has played some big festivals, including Pitchfork, FYF, Primavera, and Obey Convention. He will end 2013 with a two-month world tour that hits Europe, Asia, Australia and Canada. “It's gonna be wild,” Mac promises.
The inside of Mac's minivan certainly shows signs of the road. The floor is covered with ankle-high trash. Chip bags and candy bar wrappers. Soda cans. Magazines. Coffee cups. Crumpled pieces of paper where directions to venues were probably written and immediately lost amid the rubbish. Underneath some of the debris, lodged between the driver and passenger seats, there is a slightly bent copy of 'Rock And Roll Night Club.' The album cover shows Mac creepily applying lipstick, his lips puckered into a seductive circle, his eyes crappily coated in muddy eyeliner. The photo was taken by Evan Prosofsky, the Montreal-based filmmaker who directed Mac's video for 'Exercising With My Demons.' In it, Mac drinks a 40-ounce beer in front of a church while wearing corpse paint on his face and making lewd sexual gestures toward a small statue of the Virgin Mary. It is, Mac might say, very sketchy. “Sketchy” is a word that comes up a lot around Mac.
While stopped at a red light – this time there is no parking lot he can abuse to “skippy” it – Mac fires up a cigarette and turns on the radio. It is the summer of 2013, so of course Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' is the first tune we hear. “Fuck this shit,” Mac says. “Where's the classic rock station?” He scans. That Daft Punk song with Pharrell comes on. Mac, unsatisfied, keeps searching. Some old scat jazz number blares through and Mac snaps his fingers and says: “Come on, scat for us, Ki-Ki!” Kiera, still sitting calmly in the passenger seat, does not scat. Mac does.
We arrive at Green Village, a junk shop in Bushwick. Every inch of the space is packed hoarder-tight with clothes, televisions, stereo equipment, kitchenware, books, tools, coffee makers, coffee cups, coffee stained T-shirts, and everything else imaginable and unimaginable. Mac is specifically looking for a new hat. He always wears baseball hats; they are part of his signature style, which is very Chill Bro. Ripped and faded blue jeans with rolled-up cuffs; a baggy T-shirt; a dirty pair of red Vans; a grungy cap, his greasy, brown curls jutting up around its frayed sides. He also wears a small tape recorder around his neck on a chain; sometimes he uses it to capture song ideas, but he also records random things people say without their permission.
During shows, fans often steal the hats right off Mac's head. This upsets him: “Each one of my hats is filled with memories,” he jokes. He finds a basket filled with old caps in the corner near the entrance of Green Village and tries on about a dozen, asking Kiera for her approval. They finally decide on a blue-ish one that reads “magic on Broadway.” It has been autographed, but Mac cannot make out the signature. “Maybe it belonged to a big Broadway star,” he says in his Jewish Grandmother Voice, batting his eyes and smiling so the gap directly in the middle of his top row of teeth is exposed. That gap, another part of Mac's trademark style, makes him simultaneously tough and goofy and kind. His best songs harness these three qualities, so perhaps this gap is his secret weapon.
Mac is also on the hunt for an adapter, or some sort of electronic device, that will allow him to watch the footage he recently captured with an old Hitachi 8mm videocamera of his band's tour with the French indie-pop group Phoenix. Immediately distracted, he instead plays with an old cassette player and cranks up some classical music so loud a few people in the shop turn to look. They watch Mac and laugh as he pretends to be a conductor, waving his arms around and grinning like a madman. Once he has had his fun with the tape player, he finds a small, very 1980s-looking mini-television contraption among the junk that he thinks might play the tour clips. He buys it and the hat after unsuccessfully haggling with the store owner over the prices. As we leave, Mac leans toward me and whispers: “That guy drives a hard bargain.”
As soon as we get back into the van, Mac starts bugging out because he has to use the bathroom: #2. He is squirming in his seat, driving particularly fast so we can get back to his apartment ASAP. “I poop my pants once or twice a year,” he confesses. “Especially when I'm on tour and I'm eating terribly. You just gotta throw the underwear away and go commando.” By the time we pull up in front of his apartment, he is frantic. “Oh! My! God!” he yells. “Mackie's gotta dump! There's gotta be a parking spot for Mackie!” He finds one, quickly parallel parks and sprints inside, straight for the bathroom.
A long, narrow, dark hallway lined with bicycles leads into the first floor space of the building where Mac and Kiera live with 10 other people. Many of their roommates play in bands, including the Dreebs, PC Worship, Eola, and Ashcan Orchestra. There are seven bedrooms and a large combined kitchen and living room. The latter is filled with instruments – all the roommates' bands practice here – and a very small television is surrounded by an old sofa and some chairs. Across from a drum set, the pinball machine Mac recently purchased is perched in the right corner of the room. Mac is very serious about pinball.
Before moving to New York, Mac and Kiera lived together in Montreal. They shared an apartment for a while, but toward the end of their stay, they were just crashing on friends' floors and sofas. “It was an accidental move,” Mac says. “We were just here, so we decided to stay.” The room they share is tiny, with no windows, but cozy. “It's always dusk in here, but that's okay,” he says. It is filled with furniture Mac has found on the streets, as well as his instruments and recording gear. On the far side of the room, there is a loft bed with Mac's desk and workspace beneath it. Several of Mac's own concert posters adorn the walls, as well as some photographs, including one of him doing a naked handstand in one of the Great Lakes. He cannot remember which one.
When Mac finally comes out of the bathroom, he goes right to work with his new toy. He intensely fiddles with his camera and the mini-television thing he just bought in hopes that it will play the Phoenix tour footage. He briefly stops to turn on his current favorite album: Paul McCartney's third solo record, 'McCartney II.' “This is a weird one,” he says. Mac calls Paul a “sugarcoated little bitch,” but he also says McCartney is his favorite Beatle. While McCartney's claustrophobic and completely bizarro electro-pop tune 'Temporary Secretary' zips along, Mac searches for some wires to connect the camera and the mini-TV. He finds them, but the connection does not work. “I kinda knew I was gonna get fucked on this one,” he says. But we can still watch the tour clips with one eye through the videocamera's viewfinder, so that is what I do.
Like most tour scenes, it is pretty boring. There are long shots of the road and traffic and trees and Mac and his bandmates – guitarist Peter Sagar, bassist Pierce McGarry, and drummer Joe McMurray – drinking beer and goofing off to kill time. I cannot tell what they are saying, because there is no sound, but they look exhausted and delirious and happy. “Those guys were nice,” Mac says about Phoenix. “But the tour was crappy. It wasn't the funnest thing because their audience didn't really care about us. We get offered a lot of support tours, but I don't like doing them. I guess it would be cool if it was with a band I really admired, but we might as well do our own tour or bring along bands I really like, like Naomi Punk or our other friends' bands.”
For now, Mac is not thinking about the road. He is on vacation, spending his summer doing as much nothing as possible. “We end up in some really weird places out there, so I just sit at home and look at the Internet when I'm not on the road,” he says while looking at the Internet. “I have no ambition now to go out and meet people and go to parties. Plus, my whole job is partying, so when I'm not on the road, I just want to stay home.” He has been messing around with some new songs, and recording demos, but he is not doing anything too seriously. There will be a new album out next year, but there is no rush. “I need to learn how to enjoy making music again,” he says. “I want to satisfy myself first; hopefully fans will like it, if not, they can go suck it.”
Mac has not been able to completely shutdown his onstage persona, though. He is spending his summer in Brooklyn, and so he is recognized on the streets by fans more than he has ever been in the past. (It sounds trite, but really, if you walk around certain parts of Brooklyn, you will inevitably see a member of a buzz-y indie-rock band. Earlier, at Green Village, I am pretty sure one of the people rummaging through the junk was Samantha Urbani, of Friends.)
“Last night, these indie-looking kids walked past me and I could hear this girl say, 'Oh my God, was that Mac DeMarco?'” Mac says in his Jersey Shore Girl Voice. “Being recognized in public really sucks because people always want me to act like a total freak when I'm just trying to chill out. Sometimes it's fine, but some of these fans are really fucking crazy, man. People recognize Kiera now, too, which is partly my fault, I guess, because I brought her on stage at Pitchfork [Music Festival]. Now I hear people yell, 'Hey Mac, where's Ki-Ki?' I'm like, 'Wait, that's my girlfriend, man!'”
“It's trippy,” Mac says. “But I'm the one who asked for all this.”
Vernor Winfield McBriare Smith IV was born on April 30, 1990, in Duncan, British Columbia. That was Mac's doozy of a birth name. He was named after his great-grandfather, Vernor Winfield Smith, who was Alberta's Minister of Railways and Telephones in the 1920s. But his mother, Agnes, changed it when Mac was five-years-old to the only-slightly-less-clunky McBriare Samuel Lanyon DeMarco. “She did it to spite my father so he wouldn't get the namesake out of me,” jokes Mac, who has one brother and one half-sister. “My dad peace-d out pretty early on. He was one of those 'Christmas Dads' who just pops in on the holidays. My mother was the one who raised me.” Friends and family started calling him “Mac” as early as he can remember. The nickname stuck.
Mac spent his formative years in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta. “I grew up around a bunch of mutants and aliens,” he says. “Edmonton is like a jungle gym for juiced-up meathead dudes. That's the scene. So many jocks and chongos go there with their super-tight shirts and jacked abs. Hockey players and Ed Hardy-type assholes. Those guys wear Lacoste moon boots and sketchy, pre-faded jeans.” He did not fit in; he was fine with that. Mac played soccer as a kid, but he spent more time playing video games. (He loved the 'Final Fantasy' series.) When he was 13, he got so deep into computer programming he announced he wanted to be a computer programmer when he grew up. This was Mac's way of rebelling against his family, which included several musicians.
His aunt sang in a band called Hot City Brass. He refers to his grandfather as “the first saxophone player to ever play with a prosthetic arm.” And his grandmother, Sherrill, is an opera singer who lived and performed for several years in New York City and eventually ended up teaching at the Alberta College Conservatory of Music. He recently found some old tapes of her performing, and he digitized them. He plays a song for me and we sit silently for a minute listening to his grandmother's beautiful, bellowing voice. On his last album, '2,' he even named a song after her. “And if you go, don't cry,” Mac sings on the warm and jangly 'Sherrill.' “I'll be right there, at your side.” Mac can be a real sweetheart sometimes.
“In high school, everyone thought I was gay,” he says. “And that was tight because all the hockey players had really hot girlfriends who wore really tight fitting t & a clothes. Since they thought I was gay, I could get away with a lot of sketchy shit, like going up and smelling them. The girls knew I wasn't gay, though. It was weird. The guys left me alone. Lots of jocks. I did my own thing and nobody really bothered me.”
Mac says he drank a lot of beer in high school, but he also did pretty well in his classes. He was in the honors program, though he was not initially accepted because of his hard work. “I got into the program because, when I was put into my English class in grade 10, I looked around and realized I was in a class with a bunch of fucking thugs,” he recalls. “There were no normal kids in there! I found out they were in all the advanced placement classes, so I went to the principal and asked if I could get in.” It worked.
In his senior year, Mac began regularly skipping school. He was spending more and more time playing guitar, and hanging out in the recording studio with his band Outdoor Miners, who took their name from the song by English post-punks Wire. Outdoor Miners “really sucked,” Mac says, but they had fun. One day, his French teacher approached him about skipping so many of her classes and he told her he was too busy playing in a rock band. She asked Mac if he thought playing rock music was more important than learning French. Mac, of course, replied: “Yes.”
But he graduated anyway. He stuck around Edmonton for a few months, working as a day laborer with a road construction crew. “We'd rip the road up and chuck the old road into a dumpster and put down this stuff called popcorn that goes beneath the new pavement,” he says. After saving up some money, he moved to Vancouver. Right before he left, Mac started making blown-out and noisy weirdo-pop music under the name Makeout Videotape. He played all the instruments himself, and he put some of the songs up on MySpace. He did not play any shows while he was in Edmonton, but things started to take off in Vancouver.
“Like every other time I have moved since, I moved to Vancouver blindly, and lived with some weird guys I didn't really know,” Mac says. He stayed for three years. “It was a huge change from Edmonton. I met all these 18-year-old indie-rock people. In Edmonton, I'd talk about bands I liked and nobody knew what I was talking about, but in Vancouver, people knew more than me! I met all these girls and took them out on bike dates. I was really into meeting chicks back then. I was really into being a social character. Now I don't care: I just want to sit in this room by myself with no windows. But I wanted to be super-cool and meet all these people back then.”
He got into the local music scene, regularly going out to see local punk bands such as White Lung and Nü Sensae at small venues like Astoria and Funky Wicker Beans. He worked at Starbucks for a spell, but that did not work out. (Can you imagine Mac, deviously grinning, handing you a cup of coffee from behind the counter?) He then somehow landed a job with a social work-oriented community center. He applied to teach basic computer literacy courses, but the management there was so disorganized, they accidentally assigned Mac to teach classes at a nearby high school.
“I was 19!” Mac says. “These kids were calling me Mr. DeMarco! Some of them were older than me! It was super-fucked up, but cool, and I didn't say anything because it paid really well. I wasn't a very good teacher, and the kids looked at me strange. They could tell I was just some guy off the street who wasn't supposed to be there. They were like, 'What the fuck are you doing here?'” He eventually did end up supervising a computer lab, and so he taught the kids how to make music with GarageBand. “They let us do whatever we wanted in there,” Mac says, as if he was one of the students rather than their instructor. “So I helped them make these really hardstyle techno songs. It was super-cool.”
Mac started recording more of his own music, too. “I got this shitty Fostex multi-tracker, and I had no idea how to use it,” he says. “I set up this shitty little recording studio in the shitty garage of this shitty house I was living in.” In 2009, he self-released a seven-song Makeout Videotape CD-R called 'Heat Wave!' The songs were sloppy, but poppy. There were memorable melodies, but they were buried under layers of hiss and gunk. Mac might not have known how to use his recording equipment, but through the scuzz you can hear the first stirrings of his smooth croon and warped-pop sound. He sold all 500 copies of 'Heat Wave!' and he hit the road with fellow Vancouver residents Japandroids, who were touring in support of their debut album, 'Post-Nothing.'
His next effort, 'Eating Like A Kid,' another self-released CD-R, sounded a bit cleaner, and more focused, but still extra-grimy. The songs varied from the upbeat and punk-y 'Blondie,' to the romantic slow-jammer 'Deborah,' to the strange, lo-fi sun-bliss of 'Gigi Bungsu.' Over the next two years, Mac released two more albums and a 7-inch as Makeout Videotape. He mostly recorded alone, but sometimes teamed up with Alex Calder (who is now, like Mac, signed to Captured Tracks). And he toured with various configurations of musician-friends as his backing band. But, right when people started paying attention, he got sick of Vancouver.
“Vancouver has the same vibe as New York: nobody gives a fuck about you unless you're somebody,” Mac says. “I'd meet people at a party, then see them the next night, and they wouldn't even know who I was. But, for some reason, people always remembered Makeout Videotape. That was always funny to me because I hated the name. I would've started using my own name earlier, but I was too worried people would think I was some sort of sketchy Italian techno DJ. Vancouver was fun while it lasted, but then I became a town idiot. I was playing shows like four times a week and I just had to get outta there.”
Mac moved to Montreal with Kiera. They went to the same high school, back in Edmonton, but have only been dating for about three years now. For a while, they lived together, alone, and did not have any roommates. There were no distractions, and this is when Mac started really focusing on his music. He began recording under his own name, and his first batch of songs would eventually become 'Rock And Roll Nightclub.' His music found its way into the ears of Mike Sniper, the founder of Captured Tracks, who loved it. The label quickly signed Mac and asked him to clean up and expand 'Rock And Roll Nightclub,' which they released as a 12-inch EP last year. “First, they were interested in that low voice Elvis thing I did on some of those early songs,” Mac remembers. “I told them I didn't really have any more of that in me. But, luckily, Mike liked the other stuff I sent him, too.”
Mac's trip down memory lane is interrupted when Kiera comes home from one of her part-time jobs; she works at a flower shop in Manhattan, and also at the Brooklyn music venue 285 Kent. “How was work, Ki-Ki?” asks Mac. “Fine,” she says. They kiss. She tells him that MTV Hive has just posted the episode of 'Weird Vibes' Mac recently hosted after he played the Pitchfork Music Festival, for which he interviewed a bunch of attendees and other performers. “I wanna watch it,” says Kiera. “I don't wanna watch it,” Mac replies. And so Kiera climbs the steps leading to the loft bed to watch it on her laptop while Mac messes around on his laptop just below her. He turns on White Fence's 'Is Growing Faith' album, but we can hear Kiera LOLing at 'Weird Vibes' just above us. “What's going on up there, Ki-Ki?” Mac asks in his Suspicious Dad Voice. She is cracking up too hard to respond. “Oh, no,” Mac says. “Am I acting sketchy?”
Mac acts pretty sketchy in the video. It is 40-minutes-long and it consists of scenes where Mac successfully tries to make everyone he encounters as uncomfortable as possible. He employs about a dozen different voices, ranging from his Hillbilly Voice to his Mildly Offensive, Stereotypical “Gay Lisp” Voice. “I'm wet, I'm horny, and I'm ready to watch some cool-ass bands,” he says while laying down on the concrete ground backstage at the festival. He interviews Foxygen, Sky Ferreira, Toro y Moi, Waxahatchee, and White Lung. He also talks to Ryan Schreiber, the founder of Pitchfork, whom he calls “Schry Schry.” He asks Schreiber, since he is the “king of the fest,” where his throne is. Shreiber smiles. And then Mac walks around in the crowd asking the camera: “Where the fuck are all my fans? Is anyone interested in meeting me?”
“It's funny,” Kiera consoles. “You're acting sketchy, but not too sketchy. There's a great shot of your crotch while you're interviewing Foxygen.” Kiera has now piqued Mac's interest, and so Mac goes to MTV Hive's website to watch some of the episode for himself. “Oh! My! God!” he says. It is true. Mac sits in-between Jonathan Rado and Sam France, of Foxygen, all three of them shirtless, and Mac's crotch is bulging as if he is Robert Plant. Mac watches for a few minutes and seems almost ashamed of his behavior, especially as he watches him and his bassist Pierce nearly make Jarvis Taveniere, of Woods, have a panic-attack as they continue to ask him about how he makes his hair look so pretty.
“This is sketchy, but when the pressure's on, the pressure's on,” Mac says. “I just hope nobody thinks I'm an asshole.”
I arrive at Mac's apartment around noon the next day. The plan is to play pinball. Mac loves pinball. It is his latest obsession. He started playing to kill time on the road during his band's tour with Naomi Punk, and now he is addicted. He fell in love with the crazy sounds and the flashing lights and the strange rules. It got so serious that, now when he is on tour, he sometimes calls ahead to the venues to see if they have pinball machines, or if any places nearby do. “I am a certifiable junky,” he confesses. “As soon as I got my first multi-ball, I was hooked. But I can't play too close to showtime because I get too focused and too serious. I don't like to go onstage that way.”
Mac recently spent about $3,000 on a machine of his own. It is based on 'The Shadow,' the 1994 superhero movie starring Alec Baldwin and Ian McKellan. “It is a great, fun, fast-playing table,” Mac says, leading me into his living room to play a few rounds. “I am now a member of the gentleman's club of owning a pin.” Fifteen minutes later, Mac is cursing the machine. He cannot find his groove, so he wanders off to play the drums. Also, he has pretty bad gas. “Be careful,” he warns. “I just blasted a fart. Sorry, but it's gonna be a stinky day.” Mac is the kind of person who will not abstain from farting, but he will warn you ahead of time. It is sort of charming. “Let's get out of here,” he says. “Let's go to Sunshine Laundry.”
Back in the minivan, Mac pushes play on the CD player and Pachelbel's 'Canon in D' floats through the speakers. “Isn't this moving, Ki-Ki?” he asks. Kiera smiles and nods. Our first stop is to pick up Dustin Payseur, the founder of Beach Fossils, an indie-rock band also signed to Captured Tracks. Dustin's band is on a short break from touring so, like Mac, he has time to kill. When Dustin jumps in the minivan, Mac, always the showman, is playing air drums along to Survivor's Rocky Balboa-fight song 'Eye Of The Tiger.' He has his new hat on, backwards, his hair pulled through the front, with three devil-spikes sticking up.
Sunshine Laundry, in Greenpoint, is a laundromat with about a dozen pinball machines inside. Mac loves it here. Before he purchased his own machine, he came to play these a few times a week. He is at home here, and he quickly finds his stride. Compared to Mac, Dustin and I are terrible at pinball. I have gone through two dollars worth of quarters on the 'Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure' machine while Mac is still on his first game. He is killing 'Family Guy,' steady-banging multi-balls and power-balls and strategically slapping the buttons. “Oh, shit,” he says, “I just made it to wizard mode.”
When he plays pinball, Mac is calm and focused and quiet, which is the exact opposite of how he normally is. But Zen-like Pinball Mac Mode is interrupted when Dustin gets an interesting phone call. Apparently members of Medicine, the shoegaze/dream-pop band whose first album in nearly two decades, 'The Happy Few,' was just released by Captured Tracks, are hanging out at the label's new headquarters. Both Dustin and Mac are huge fans, and Captured Tracks' offices are just a few blocks away from Sunshine Laundry, so we walk over. On the way, Dustin mentions that Beach Fossils might be in Australia at the same time as Mac's band. “Awesome,” Mac says. “It will be like a second summer for us.”
Captured Tracks is currently settling into its new space on the ground floor of an apartment building in Greenpoint. On the left side is their office space; and on the right is the record store they are planning to open. They will sell the Captured Tracks' discography there, as well as other select vinyl and cassette releases; some of the label's artists will be curating their own section of the shelves so fans can get listening recommendations straight from the source. The plan is to have a soft opening in two weeks, the first day of the CT5 Festival Captured Tracks is throwing to celebrate its fifth anniversary. Mac and Beach Fossils will play, as will label-mates DIIV, Alex Calder, Wild Nothing, Soft Metals and Chris Cohen.
There is a lot of excitement in the office. The walls are freshly painted white and everything looks new. Label founder Mike Sniper and General Manager Katie Garcia introduce Mac and Dustin to Medicine, and they all quickly jump into a nerdy discussion about guitar pedals. On the walls of the office, there are posters of Captured Tracks artists, but there are more traces of Mac than of anyone else. There are Mac buttons that have Mac's face―his gap tooth and dirty hat―inserted into the classic Mad Magazine logo. Above a shelf of records, there is a Mac concert poster between a Wire poster and a Neu! poster. At one point, Sniper takes a photo of Mac standing next to an image of Modern Lovers founder Jonathan Richman, who is one of Mac's personal musical heroes. It is obvious that Captured Tracks considers Mac a huge part of its current identity, and an even bigger part of its future.
“We have high hopes for Mac,” says Katie. “He fits into the Captured Tracks lineup so well because he's an incredible songwriter. It sounds really simple and silly to say out loud, but it's honestly the number one thing we look for when signing bands… And indie-rock needed someone like Mac to be ballsy, yet lighthearted. The scene can get so stale after a while that it's nice to have a spicy personality like Mac's liven it up.”
Captured Tracks made its name elevating artists specializing in weird, lo-fi pop like Mac's, but none of them are quite like Mac. Unlike the others, Mac has a loud and ridiculous personality. His only equal is Zachary Cole Smith, of DIIV; but while Smith is serious and outspoken regarding the hidden, complex economics of indie music, Mac is just a sweet, clumsy, big-hearted goofball. And, compared to delicate, soft-pop acts like Wild Nothing or Widowspeak, Mac is an outsider. He is the Wild Party Bro who shows up at the concert and drinks so much cheap beer he loses his baseball cap and tries to make-out with someone's boyfriend and ends up going home with a mysterious bruise and pizza stains all over his socks. There is nothing sketchy about the rest of the Captured Tracks roster; Mac is the king of sketch (or at least of knowing how to push things right up to the edge of it without ever falling off). But, as his label bosses know, Mac is first and foremost a superb songwriter.
Even Mac considers 'Rock And Roll Night Club' to be a joke. He was "intentionally sketchy" on songs like 'Baby's Wearing Blue Jeans,' where he expressed his attraction to a woman and her pants. It was a trashy, sleazy rock album that celebrated rock's trashy, sleazy core. Some of the songs, like the title track, where Mac did his finest Elvis impression, were warped and dripping with DJ Screw syrup. It was over-the-top and conceptual and kooky. There were many silly moments, but on 'Only You' and 'She's Really All I Need,' Mac also proved he was an inventive songwriter with a unique ability to craft off-kilter and infectious melodies.
'2,' his second Captured Tracks release, was less wacky than 'Rock And Roll Nightclub,' and far more autobiographical: On 'Freaking Out The Neighborhood,' he apologized for all the sketchy things he has done onstage while pursuing his star; on 'Cooking Up Something Good,' he gave a shout-out to his little brother, who really is a ballet dancer; on 'Ode to Viceroy,' he sang about how much he loves Viceroy cigarettes. Mac's singular guitar sounded sometimes crystal clear, sometimes blurry, and always gorgeous (which is why we recently named him one of the 30 Best Guitarists Under 30), and he bent his elastic voice with ease from deep croons to cloud-kissing yodels. The music flirted with yacht-rock and AM radio cheese (and even Jimmy Buffet flip-flop vibes), but without ever drowning in trendy irony. It is hard to tell sometimes, but Mac's aim is true, and '2' was an deeply romantic and totally sincere statement.
The closing track, 'Still Together,' was an acoustic, child-like campfire ballad dedicated to Kiera. “And where I go, she's at my side, half of my life, together,” he sang. “It's easy love, it's like a glove, from up above, together.” In the last few seconds of the song, it was revealed that Kiera was asleep in the room where Mac was recording. “Ki-Ki,” Mac said, trying to wake her up. “It's time for bed.”
After the guys in Medicine leave for their hotel, and Mac and Dustin secure spots on the guest list for Medicine's show tomorrow night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, the two decide to make a promo video for the upcoming Captured Tracks festival. It gets real weird real fast.
One of the creepiest skits they come up with involves Mac pretending to be a drunk redneck. He rolls his shirt up―it is a Cleaners From Venus shirt, another Captured Tracks band―so his small gut is hanging out and he turns his hat to the side. He sits on a toilet and holds a bottle of liquor that is actually filled with water. In his Redneck Voice, Mac says: “I'm gonna fuck your face up.” And then he tries to chug the whole bottle of water, but has to stop because he almost chokes or pukes or both. He stands up and slaps his own ass five times with a fly-swatter (because Captured Tracks is celebrating its fifth year, get it?). He looks like an insane person, and the Captured Tracks staff looks very uncomfortable. But Mac is their guy, so they are probably cool with it.
Once Mac and Dustin do as much dumb stuff as they can possibly do inside the Captured Tracks office, they decide to head back to Dustin's house to shoot some more footage. Dustin lives with Katie just a few blocks away. (They are getting married next year, Katie says, and Mac is performing at the reception.) On the walk, Mac and Dustin hold hands. Mac spots some graffiti that reads “shitfather,” and so the two immediately decide this is the perfect name for the all-star band they have assembled for the Captured Tracks Festival. It consists of Mac on drums, Dustin on bass, Smith (DIIV) on guitar/vocals, and Jack Tatum (Wild Nothing) on guitar. Dustin says the band will play a Steely Dan cover song, but he cannot reveal the rest of the setlist.
Back at Katie and Dustin's house, things get even weirder. Mac and Dustin take their shirts off and put on leather jackets so Mac can act like Dustin's sex slave. Mac flexes like the Ultimate Warrior, his neck veins bulging, he looks like he is going to burst, and Dustin spanks him on the ass a few times. Mac puts on a Mardi Gras mask that makes him look like an alien, and he talks into a vacuum cleaner as if it is a telephone. They host a séance in an effort to resurrect Elvis, and then Mac puts a plastic bag over his head and pretends to suffocate himself in the bathtub. “This is really sketchy,” confirms Kiera. Katie agrees with Kiera. I agree with them both. “Okay, that's enough for now,” says Dustin. “I'm gonna go edit this.”
I step outside with Mac while he smokes a cigarette. I ask him if he fears that the gonzo, often-sketchy antics, like the ones I have just witnessed and the ones his concerts are known for, will distract people from his music. For instance, that one time he took his clothes off onstage and put a drum stick up his own butt.
“Everyone else took my clothes off,” Mac says in his defense. “I was so hammered, and once your clothes are off, where do you go from there? You put a drum stick up your ass! It was fun. I didn't think it would become an Internet phenomenon, but it worked out in my favor, right? Ozzy Osbourne bit the head off a bat, so at least animal rights activists aren't gonna tear down my door. I don't think the drum stick companies really cared.”
In Mac's mind, his live personality and his recordings are two different beasts. Both come naturally to him, though, which is why he can sing a love song to his girlfriend one minute, a love song to a cigarette the next, and then the next be the wild and crazy guy at the party who does that one ridiculous thing nobody else is willing to do.
“I've always been the goofball,” Mac says. “I take a Jonathan Richman approach to things, and it all really depends on how much I drink before I play. Sometimes it's a shit fest: stupid jokes, dumb cover songs, whatever. And the crazy stage stuff is normally what comes out when we're playing sketchy anyway. When you're playing a terrible show―whether you're too drunk or something is wrong with the sound―you do some crazy shit on stage and, bada bing, bada boom, everyone thinks it's the best show they've ever seen. That's my secret tactic.”
For now, Mac's plan is working. Being a successful pop musician is only partly about music; it is also about developing a marketable personality and pushing that personality to the limit. This is something few indie-rock artists are doing right now, and Mac does it very well. But, with only two albums out, and only one year of officially being “Mac DeMarco,” it is still too early to tell where the path Mac is walking will take him.
“I just want people to be entertained,” Mac says. “Sometimes things get out of hand, but I try to keep it fun-loving and good-spirited. The way I act on stage, or the way I act in the videos, is not necessarily who I really am. But since the band has my name, people think that's what I am. It's fucked up, but I don't regret anything. I thought it was funny when people had strange ideas about me in the past, but now it gets to the point where, the more things get carried away, the scarier everything gets.”
“It's scary, but it's a whole lot of fun, too.”