It’s a rainy evening in central London, embattled commuters are darting from awning to awning as they try to avoid the sky as they scuttle home, and Mac DeMarco’s working his way through the better part of a pack of 10.
Dressed in scuffed-up jeans, a musty, threadbare T-shirt and a green baseball cap with the legend ‘Mac’ scrawled on a square of fabric and stapled into place, the notoriously laid-back Canadian’s all slacker charm and goofy grins as we sit, sheltered by a shallow doorway, outside the Scala where, in a few hours, he’ll play the first date of a shotgun string of European shows.
“Have you been to that pizza place?” he asks, flicking ash onto some unfortunate commuter’s shoe as he uses his smoke to point, general-surveying-battlefield style, at Kings Cross’ grimmest pizza joint. To any passing office-jockeys, cantering home in their Clarks slip-ons, it must look like Clash is explaining the mechanics of our voice recorder to a particularly cheery looking and awe-inspiringly underdressed tramp.
“I’ve moved to New York now, Brooklyn,” he confides, apparently forgetting his pizza-foraging mission. “I’ve been living there for four months but it’s like I don’t live there; I’m never there, and when I am I’m sitting in a bedroom with no windows writing songs.”
He cracks his trademark toothy, wild grin. “But it’s amazing! In Montreal you get lonely, but in New York you could never – there’s all kinds of crazy people in New York.”
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Mac DeMarco, 'Ode To Viceroy', from the album '2'
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Although DeMarco’s been in Brooklyn long enough to record a follow-up to 2012’s ‘2’ album and invest in a pinball machine, to the untrained eye the only sign of change, at least superficially, is a tiny, artfully clipped moustache, perched haphazardly on the top of his lip and held in place, one can only imagine, by a smear of tar taken from the stash of dirty cigarettes he slurps down, with incredible dexterity, every few sentences.
While being the new king of the slacker scene seems like a pretty sweet deal for a 23-year-old kid out of a dusty corner of Canada, for DeMarco, the crown has its thorns.
“I’ve been listening to a lot of weird Japanese music lately,” he says, “and it’s so far from what my music is, and it’s hard for me cos I’d love to make music like that but I’ve trained myself in the last six years to write two, maybe two-and-a-half-minute songs.” He suddenly beams: “Maybe on the next album.”
He laughs, as if to dismiss the idea, but this is Mac DeMarco and, as his seditious on-stage antics have proven (one particularly memorable show, clips of which occasionally surface on YouTube, featured the young Canadian getting intimate with a pair of drumsticks) there’s very little he’s not willing to do in the name of art.
Tonight however, he’s planning on taking things a little easier. “Well, not easier,” his manic grin again punctuating the slight pause, “but I’m going to try and be a little more responsible.”
He adopts a gruff Elvis-like voice: “Last time, we were like, ‘Man, the shows are going to be sold out so I’m going to get f*cked up’.” He hangs on the last syllable as he adds to the growing pile of ash by our feet. “And I ended up just sleeping all day, every day, and like feeling super sick.”
Another gap-toothed smile surfaces. “Some cities from the last tour had a very dark vibe. It was like, ‘I did that weird drug, with that weird person and just don’t remember a lot’.”
Besides the memory loss, and week-long hangovers, touring with the same set of songs for the best part of a year has brought its own difficulties.
“The stuff on ‘2’, we’ve been playing it so much, for so long, that it’s f*cking boring. And playing ‘Rock And Roll Night Club’ songs, it’s like, holy shit this is so old’.” He catches himself: “I like playing those songs, but it’s weird now, because I have this whole set of new songs that we could be playing.”
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Mac DeMarco, 'My Kind Of Woman', from the album '2'
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These new songs, which were finished in a last-minute burst before his flight to London, make up the track listing of his upcoming LP, recorded in his Brooklyn base and scheduled, tentatively, for release on April Fool’s day.
“I’ve tried to stay away from writing songs like ‘My Kind Of Woman’, where it’s like a pop song about nothing,” he admits. “It’s what people thought I was doing with ‘2’, becoming very personal, but it was one thing writing songs about your mom and dad and being like,” he slips into a perfect whiny slacker drawl, “‘Oh, I don’t feel so well’.”
This time every song on the album “has a very specific meaning”. “It still sounds sort of the same, still the same set-up”, he explains, and although a few of the songs are “all keyboard”, a marked departure from ‘2’, he’s sticking to what he does best.
“Just the mentality of man, I want to write pop songs, catchy pop songs. It’s funny to me thinking, I wonder if people think now I’ve got some success, I’m going to have this giant studio album?” he laughs, “but even the recording, at best, is as good as ‘2’ or even sketchier because I was rushed.”
He pauses, stands and shakes out his legs. “Hopefully people like it,” he finally says, then, cracking a feral grin, adds: “I think they will.”
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Words: Rob Knaggs
Photos: Chris Rhodes / Céline Bodin
This article is taken from issue 90 of Clash magazine – get full details on the M.I.A.-starring issue here.