Twenty minutes before he’s due to take our call, Mac DeMarco hears an unexpected knock on the door of his house in Far Rockaway on Long Island, right at the edge of New York’s city limits. He looks out of his bedroom window on this warm July afternoon to see two strange faces peering in. “Two kids just rolled up to my house unannounced,” he tells us, with an air of bewilderment. “I woke up to talk to you and there they were, staring at me.”
Yet perhaps Mac shouldn’t be entirely surprised. On ‘My House By The Water’, the instrumental closing track of his upcoming new mini-album, ‘Another One’, the 25-year-old Canadian – who moved out of his legendarily squalid Brooklyn apartment last year in order to reap the benefits of the Atlantic air – can be heard reading out his address and saying, “Stop on by, I’ll make you a cup of coffee.” The record isn’t out for another month, but the two kids – who have travelled from Staten Island, an hour’s drive away – hacked into Captured Tracks’ website, downloaded it and promptly made the trip to the whitewashed wooden bayside house Mac rents with two friends.
After hearing their story, Mac invited them in, made coffee and sat them in the back garden with Kiera McNally, his girlfriend of six years. “I guess we’ll have to entertain them for a little bit,” he says, as if it’s totally normal. “They’re fairly nice, healthy looking – it’s probably fine. I asked how they got the album and one said, ‘We’re just really good with computers.’ I guess that’s all I need to know!” He adds that they’ve promised not to leak the music and thinks it’s cool they’re keeping it for “their own pleasure”. Not that Mac seems to care too much if his albums do leak – he’s always been keen to share his songs as quickly as possible, in much the same way he’s happy for fans to turn up at his house unannounced. “Fuck it, if they wanna come, they can. I’m not afraid.”
Given the obsessive nature of his following, Mac’s nonchalance seems brave. Frenzied outpourings greet his every move on social media (a scroll through his recent Instagram posts yields comments including “THIS COMPLETED ME” and “MAC FUCK ME”), and he’s regularly jumped in the street by admirers. When he dives into the crowd at the end of every gig, fans claw at his clothes, hair and shoes, desperate for a piece of their hero. Online forums buzz with photos and gossip about Mac, Kiera and his three touring bandmates, guitarist Andy White (who replaced Peter Sagar in 2013, after he left to form Homeshake), bassist Pierce McGarry and drummer Joe McMurray. Mac’s unstinting amiability and willingness to chat and pose for photos, usually with a cigarette hanging from his gap-toothed grin, means that people feel he’s theirs.
The fact that Mac chose to give out his address on the new album suggests that he’s happier than he’s been in ages. Last year’s ‘Salad Days’ betrayed an anxiety to build on the underground success of his first two albums, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightclub’ and ‘2’, without abandoning the autobiographical lyrics that became his trademark. Mac wanted to prove that there was more to him the goofy, drumsticks-up-the-arse caricature but the focus in post-‘Salad Days’ interviews of tour burnout and relationship woes gave journalists the opportunity to pursue the clichéd ‘tears of a clown’ angle, concluding with barely-concealed glee that this former joker was now a depressed wreck. Mac says that this whole narrative was “overblown” by journalists who needed a “focal point.”
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“I did so many interviewers and every single person wanted The Dirt,” he says. “Now I’ve done the ‘dirt’ album, hopefully I can just be a music guy.”
He admits that his old, squalid, windowless apartment where he recorded ‘Salad Days’ didn’t exactly help to alleviate his feelings of isolation and frustration. “That old place sucked ass,” he says, remembering the cramps he’d get from squeezing into the tiny space between his keyboards, drumkit, amps and his grotty bunk bed.
Making music comes much easier in Far Rockaway. He recorded ‘Another One’ in a week off between tours, and after a recent run of shows – two of which saw him share the bill with The Strokes (see sidebar) – he returned home and recorded nine instrumentals in four days. “I think I’m gonna put that on the internet tomorrow or something,” he says. Twenty-four hours later, ‘Some Other Ones’ appears on his Bandcamp page, a dreamy collection of synth and slide guitar-led tracks with names like ‘Onion Man’ and ‘Peter’s Pickles’. The same day, Mac chucks two barbecues into the back of his Volvo estate and drives to Brooklyn. He parks on a pavement, blasts ‘Some Other Ones’ from his car stereo and spends the afternoon grilling hot dogs for fans in exchange for donations to a local food bank. He chuckles at the idea, calling it “a good excuse to leave the house and chill somewhere else”.
Mac’s been doing a lot of chilling lately, and spur-of-the-moment plans like the free album and the charity BBQ are the products of an extremely relaxed mind. “There’s no pressure,” he says, seemingly free of the self-imposed deadlines under which he produced ‘Salad Days’. “I’m just having fun making music by myself. ‘Another One’ came from jamming in my spare time. I did want to put something out [this year], so there was maybe a tiny bit of anxiety, but not really. It’s like ‘Who gives a fuck, y’know?’”
Mac says he was feeling “pretty happy” while making ‘Another One’, but its eight songs tell a slightly different story. The slow piano chords of the title track underpin him hopelessly singing “Must be another one she loves”. ‘Just To Put Me Down’ is a sad tale of rejection only partially lightened by a delicious, light-fingered guitar solo. A sense of melancholy permeates much of the record’s 23 minutes, but there’s a simple reason for that. “It’s a concept album about love. But the thing about love songs is that people don’t need to know what they’re about, it’s not important,” he insists. This time, instead of dissecting each song in the press as he did with ‘Salad Days’, Mac wants to “give the songs away right off the bat”, ensuring that the lyrics and straightforward and universal, applicable to anyone. “You lose connections with songs once they come out anyway,” he continues, “So I’m cutting out the trial period. Anyway, it works with love songs – everybody feels funny in their chest sometimes.”
Surely he can’t expect to get off the hook that easily? Won’t anyone with even a passing interest in his music assume these songs are about him? “Yeah, they will. But people scrutinise my relationship all the time and I don’t care what anyone thinks. My feelings aren’t so important, it doesn’t have to be that cut and dried. This record is a fantasy love album, it’s all fantasy.”
For Mac, the key quality of ‘Another One’ is that its songs live in harmony and need each other to flourish. “There’s something to be said about an album that feels like an album,” he says, “Maybe I’m turning into an old man, but my music is definitely getting more relaxed.”
His serene state of mind has also been achieved by learning to say no. “I was doing interviews all the time for ‘Salad Days. I like doing them, but I’m not as game to do every single thing people ask. It’s like, ‘No, I don’t wanna go to The Bronx to do a radio show, I live far away!’ I’m more into people just having the music. I’m more focused on playing the shows, writing the songs and being a musician instead of a spectacle. Although I probably still am…”
Mac is naturally outgoing and still can’t resist playing up for the cameras at his shows, but the considered songcraft of ‘Another One’ is evidence that he’s keen for the Mac DeMarco caricature not to overshadow his music. “The shock-rock days are over,” he insists. “I might still act like a goofball, like getting Kiera up on stage and going, ‘I love my girlfriend.’ But the truth is I do love her, I’m not ashamed of that. I’ve got my friends who I love and then there are the people who consider me an internet meme or something and that’s totally fine. I’m trying to ‘be me’ in interviews now but as soon as things get put on the internet… it’s strange. Stuff comes out in a crazy way. But at my house I’m a real person and I don’t have to worry about that stuff.”
After another few weeks at home by the water, Mac is back on tour, with September’s UK dates including two shows at London’s 1,700-capacity Roundhouse. Now he seems to found the perfect work/life balance, he’s looking ahead to the tour with relish. “This is what I asked for – I like touring. It can be nuts, but we’re doing this from the heart. We genuinely have a good time, we’re all friends and we party ’cause we want to.”
Until then, Mac’s to do list is pretty slim. He’s thinking of moving at the end of the year, maybe even buying his own place, but that can wait. For now, he plans to occupy himself playing Coldplay covers in his bedroom, checking out the “prehistoric” crabs at the bottom of his garden and “bumming around with Kiera”.
Mac lights a cigarette and heads into the garden where his two superfans are still sat with Kiera, listening loudly to ‘Some Other Ones’. “You wanna speak to one of the kids?” he asks, over blasting keyboards that sound like an ice cream van jingle.
There’s a crackle, then an excited voice says: “Hello? It’s David.” How does it feel to be the first fans to visit Mac’s house? “Great! We recognised his curtains from Instagram, banged on the door and just told him we love him. We’re gonna hang out.” In the background, Mac laughs his head off.