Mac DeMarco is known for his vulgar on-stage shenanigans, a reputation that’s fuelled in part by an infamous 2012 incident in which the songwriter hung from the rafters of a Vancouver venue and stuck one of his own fingers where the sun don’t shine.
These days, however, things have changed, and DeMarco approaches his performances with a higher level of modesty.
“I don’t drink before we play anymore,” the 24-year-old says when reached in the tour van en route to Minneapolis. “I think that a lot of the craziness that has happened on-stage—the weird incidents—those were usually alcohol-induced.”
He goes on to say that, when performing sober, he is “more focused on having a good time at the show and making sure everybody else has a good time. I’m getting the songs across.”
Statements like this suggest that the cheeky indie-rock ragamuffin—who used to live in Vancouver and performed as Makeout Videotape before moving to Montreal and then Brooklyn—has matured into a consummate professional. This refined approach is paying off for DeMarco, since the recently released Salad Days is one of the blogosphere’s most buzzed about albums in 2014.
Sonically speaking, the record isn’t a huge departure from the 2012 effort 2, since the tunesmith recaptures that prior LP’s warped guitar warble and breezy jangle-pop smoothness. Beautifully catchy numbers like “Blue Boy” and “Brother” are stand-out examples of DeMarco working confidently within his comfort zone, as he croons sweetly over slippery six-string licks.
He also ventures ever so slightly into new terrain with the keyboard-laden numbers “Passing Out Pieces” and “Chamber of Reflection”, the latter employing sparkly synth leads for a moment of woozy dream-pop bliss. The feather-light melodic flutters of the chorus are particularly gorgeous.
These songs were captured in the cozy confines of DeMarco’s Brooklyn bedroom, a space that he has lewdly dubbed Jizz Jazz Studios. “I get self-gratification when I can make a recording sound okay by myself. I’m learning and teaching myself as I go,” he says of his DIY recording process. “I kind of use the tape machine as an instrument. I speed it up, slow it down—you don’t really know what’s going on until you have all the pieces of the puzzle next to each other.”
But doesn’t he find it stifling to live, sleep, and work in the same small room?
“Yeah, but I kind of like it that way,” he reflects. “When I go in to do a record, I’ll go out and buy a coffee machine and a carpet and set it up so I don’t have to leave the room at all. When I’m in there, I’m in there.”
It’s appropriate that he recorded Salad Days in such an intimate environment, because the songs touch on some deeply personal matters. “Let My Baby Stay” is a gentle acoustic ditty about his girlfriend’s immigration issues while living with him in Brooklyn, and the world-weary title track alludes to DeMarco’s conflicted relationship with his music career.
“We have been touring a lot, and my life has been changing in a lot of different ways,” DeMarco reflects of the cathartic writing sessions. “I never really had a chance to sit down and realize what had changed until I wrote the album, so it all kind of came on like a semi truck.”
There’s an undercurrent of cynicism to some of his words, particularly in the title track’s album-opening lyric: “As I’m getting older/Chip up on my shoulder”. He reveals that such sentiments are “tongue-in-cheek”, going on to note how grateful he is for his recent success.
DeMarco’s quirkily charming persona and autobiographical lyrics have meant that his personal life has become a source of fascination for fans and journalists alike. The singer describes this attention as “very strange”, but he says that he’s taking it all in stride.
“The stuff that comes out on the Internet like ‘Mac’s crazy, he lives in a dungeon, he’s stinky, he’s weird’ —say whatever you want, it’s not going to bother me,” he offers good-naturedly. “Some of it may be true, a lot of it probably isn’t true. Any way that people want to take it—I’m just a vessel for someone else’s entertainment now, so I don’t care.”
Philosophically, he adds, “You write a song, and as soon as it’s out there, it’s not really yours anymore. A lot of details of my life kind of don’t belong to me anymore. I made the decision, I just didn’t really know the ramifications, but it’s still fine.”
In other words, Internet trolls are welcome to have a field day. DeMarco’s laid-back outlook toward negative attention becomes clear when he recalls his awkward experience touring as the opening act for French hit-makers Phoenix in 2013. “We got a lot of tweets like ‘That band should never be allowed on-stage again ever, anywhere,’ ” he remembers with an easygoing chuckle. “It was great.”
Mac DeMarco plays the Vogue Theatre on Tuesday (July 1).