“Every single day I think hard about what I want to do next,” Mac DeMarco tells NME during a cigarette break, mid-way through his latest tour. “Am I going to be here for a long time? Do I want to make music forever? I come up with scenarios like ‘what if I moved to this little town and learned how to build chairs, wouldn’t that be interesting?’ Would it be cool just making an album every 10 years? I guess that’s why this new music is so personal, as I’m spending a lot of my time just thinking…”
The narrative around DeMarco being a wayward stoner with a cheeky gap-tooth smile, cigarette breath, and a penchant for debauchery doesn’t really make much sense any more. His latest album, 2019’s ‘Here Comes The Cowboy‘, is a fascinating left-turn that trades sunny guitars and goofy punchlines for meditative stillness. Now, with his slacker image in transition, Mac admits he finds himself at somewhat of a crossroads – and he’s loving it.
“On this tour, people have been like ‘TAKE YOUR SHIRT OFF AND CROWD SURF, DUUUUDE!’ So then I purposely play a new downtempo song that makes them feel uncomfortable and sad. The room becomes so fucked up and weird, and I like that.
“I know a lot of people don’t like me anymore, but it’s fine!” Mac admits. “I am just making songs, you can like them or not like them. It is totally fine. If somebody has thought not to like something, well, at least they’re thinking about it. I just think it’s lazy when it’s blind hate.”
With Mac ready to embark on his biggest UK shows to date, including London’s Alexandra Palace on Thursday November 21, we talked about going through changes, and what comes next.
You moved to California to settle down with your girlfriend and a cat. Are you happy to slow things down musically, mirroring your personal life?
“Probably. I want to slow everything down! Even my old songs, I want to slow them down and make them quieter. That’s my headspace right now. It isn’t chopped and screwed, but more like a Frank Sinatra kind of speed. With ‘…Cowboy’, I guess I wanted to make weird songs with just one lyric that are still five minutes long. Trying to write something concise is hard and I liked that challenge.”
“I want to slow everything down! Even my old songs”
So could the next album be your Frank Sinatra album?
“I honestly think about that kind of shit every single day. I’ve been listening to Frank daily for the last couple of months and I love him so much. I love his class. I love his voice. I can’t sing like Frank, but I think I can do a bit of the crooning. I slept on his music for so long and just thought it was grandma music, but he’s so cool.”
Are you inspired by his laidback energy?
“He doesn’t have to jump around to make you feel alive. It’s just a spotlight, a tuxedo and some songs, and people go ape shit. I love it. I would love to make a brass band album. I’ve honestly been thinking about it a lot. I would love to make my own kind of fucked up version of a Michael Bublé album. Right now I am focused on getting into the studio and making really simple love songs.”
Do you feel a need to be more experimental to distance yourself from that old ‘slacker’ impression of you?
“Things aren’t the same as when I was 22 and people were like, ‘OH MY GOD!’ I’ve been around the block a couple of times and people are used to me being around so there isn’t that buzz anymore. Looking back, I don’t even know who that guy was. I don’t recognise him so it was weird when I was making this album and that point came where it was like: ‘I NEED TO MAKE THIS SOUND MORE LIKE A MAC DEMARCO RECORD!’ It felt kind of forced doing that. People just want me to make ‘Salad Days‘ over and over, and that’s nice, but I don’t even know if I could make that record again.”
“Right now I am focused on getting into the studio and making really simple love songs.”
Do you feel a distance from your older records?
“I am not trying to completely detach myself as I am proud of everything I have done. I like playing those songs. It is just, let’s say, interesting, that people take particular things away from what I output. ‘CRAZY PERSON! SLACKER! CROWD SURFER!’ I guess that’s what people find exciting, but I also like this expectation being there as it means I can surprise people. If you listen once to my music, it’s like ‘look at these happy little beach songs!’ Then you listen again and it’s like ‘what is up with these drab lyrics?” I like the idea of that juxtaposition of two things that don’t really live or belong together. There’s a beauty in the confusion.”
Do you enjoy confusing people in real life too, outside of the songs?
“I used to do interviews and people would almost pretend to be stoned just to speak to me. That was weird. When I would actually string a sentence together they were like ‘What the fuck? He isn’t this crazy drunk kid!’ The Mac DeMarco persona and image is almost like an album; it’s out there and it’s been released already. There’s nothing I can do. I just kind of float on by.”
“I used to do interviews and people would almost pretend to be stoned just to speak to me. That was weird”
A lot of fans have grown attached to the song ‘Skyless Moon’, which Mac Miller was also a big fan of. What can you tell us about that?
“That song is definitely [about death]. I didn’t know if I would put it on the record. Mac was the kind of guy who would call me at 4am and he’d ask me to come over to his house to play bass guitar on something and I’d always say yes. His enthusiasm was infectious. I remember I was at his house and it was 5am, and he had these big ass speakers. He asked me to play one of my new songs and I played ‘Skyless Moon’ really fucking loudly. He just looked at me after like, ‘FUCK YEAH MAN!’ So I was like: I guess I have to put it on the record!”
Given his tragic death, is it a little bittersweet now?
“Playing that song live makes me feel weird. It reminds me of him and what we lost. He was just such a musical guy. He lived and breathed it. Remember this dude would spend his spare time jamming with the Dave Matthews Band, and would never be out of place! I meet a lot of people but it is rare you connect with someone that quickly and feel comfortable around them. Especially when they are that famous. [His death] is still very raw.”
On Mac Miller: “His enthusiasm was infectious. [His death] is still very raw.”
Are there any other rappers that you’d love to work with?
“Honestly, I don’t do too many collaborations as my process is very solitary. If it made sense though, maybe. I go over to Anderson. Paak’s house and jam with his band a lot. But because they are all such insane musicians, it makes me feel very shy. I just sit on the couch and have a beer and watch them in awe.”
One imagines you sat around your house listening to a lot of video game soundtracks and old Beatles albums. Is that an accurate image of your private life?
“I never leave my house. It is the same day, every day, and I like that structure. Your assumption is correct. Especially when it comes to video game soundtracks; I love the new Zelda: Breath of the Wild soundtrack. The village theme is, oh my god, what a piece of music! The Final Fantasy 10 soundtrack is like the only thing on my phone. I love video game music and ambient music. I am not good at making them, but I have fun trying!”
Who’s your favourite Beatle?
“Honestly, my favourite Beatle changes all the time. I probably listen to Paul‘s solo records the most. He did the home recording thing on ‘McCartney 2’ and started making these crazy albums at his farm, and I love that. People give him flack like ‘What the hell is this song about!?’ and say the lyrics are gibberish, but I think the songs on ‘Ram’ are beautiful! I guess when I want to get real and angry, I listen to John [Lennon]. If I want to be peaceful, I listen to George [Harrison]. Then I listen to Ringo [Starr]’s stuff if I want to go somewhere really weird. There’s a Beatle for every occasion of life.”
“I never Google myself, nah. I barely do interviews now.”
Do you ever feel tempted to just Google yourself?
“I never Google myself, nah. I’ve not read any of the reviews [for ‘…Cowboy’] from the internet. I barely do interviews now. I like talking to people in real life, that’s fun! I don’t care if anyone uses it, but for me, I barely use it. When I had Instagram, I wasn’t promoting anything, I just posted pics of my double chin. What scares me is this idea of young kids being fooled into this false sense of worth. They quantify their worth through likes and shit, and it isn’t good. Fuck that man.”
Is there anything you like about the internet?
“The internet is great for a lot of things. You can get a good recipe for a salad. Music is available freely. People from all over the world can become friends. But there are addictive qualities to a lot of it too. For younger people, I don’t think it is good. It is something people need to be careful around, especially vulnerable people, and I think more people are realising that now.”
What can people expect from the Alexandra Palace show?
“People say it’s beautiful there. It will be so cool. We will be playing long songs until they turn us off. The show is going to be a real family affair. I’m so excited for the show but it’s weird because I am also excited by the idea of scaling things down a little too. I am honoured to do Ally Pally, but it is also pretty fucking big!”
“The internet is great for a lot of things. You can get a good recipe for a salad”
Will you be shaking things up from here, then?
“We sometimes do the song ‘Here Comes The Cowboy’ to open the show and people are like ‘What the hell is this!?’. It is liberating to make songs that can just exist and you don’t have to think about how they’ll translate to a stage. I am not saying I’m gonna suddenly make ‘Machine Metal Music’ or anything, but I guess my contemporaries keep making music in order to make the venues bigger and crazier, and I’m not sure if I want to do that.”
Mac DeMarco plays the below shows. Get tickets for the Ally Pally show here.
21 – London, Alexandra Palace
23 – Manchester, O2 Apollo
24 – Glasgow, O2 Academy
25 – Dublin, Vicar Street
26 – Dublin, Vicar Street
27 – Birmingham, O2 Academy
28 – Liverpool, Bramley Moore Dock Warehouse