In the back of Mac DeMarco’s new house in Silver Lake, there’s a pool that looks like something out of a David Hockney painting. A spacious avenue of brick tile encircles the glinting water. Southern California’s standard-issue flora lounges on the perimeter. On this cloudless March day, it’s still too cold to take a dip, but the pool’s proprietor remains vigilant about cleanliness, nonetheless. “The Carob tree drops a lot of shit into the pool,” DeMarco said, as he flicked a finger up at the looming culprit. Pool skimmer in hand, he showed off a technique he’s recently perfected to grab the sunken carob pods. “Make a little current at the bottom of the pool,” he said, wobbling the fiberglass pole back and forth like an oar. “And then you scoop ‘em up while they’re floating.”
This past August, the 26-year-old musician abandoned his digs way out on New York’s Rockaway Beach and set off for Los Angeles with his life in a U-Haul and his girlfriend, Kiera McNally, in the passenger seat. At the time, the songs that would become This Old Dog, his third full-length album, released this month, were mostly tape demos, in bits and pieces.
“The thinking was something like, When I get to L.A., I’ll just make the record there. But obviously, moving across the country to a house which is completely disheveled and f---ed up takes more than a week to set up.”
Raised in Edmonton, Canada, DeMarco has become some preposterously contemporary mixture of cult celebrity, in-demand festival act, recurrent meme, Instagram star, and critically acclaimed maker of records (five under his name alone). His last full-length, 2014's Salad Days, pushed out into the world at number 30 on the Billboard Top 200. (It went on to sell over 100,000 copies.) He has a fan club, run by his mother, Agnes. They’re looking to hire a part-time maker of “Dank Memes”. His most beloved single is a paean to his favorite cigarette. In the cities where his merry band of pranksters roll through, his shows are mobbed by teenagers and middle-agers, alike. Once, a charity eBay auction of his befouled Vans hit $21,000 (the buyer turned out to be a flake, but DeMarco happily wrote the check). His Wikipedia entry has been dutifully edited to note the atmosphere of his records: They sound, as it were, “generally lazy.”
For someone who appears to be professionally irreverent, he is painfully self-aware of his precise coordinates along this generally strange journey. “No cig photos,” DeMarco said, cigarette in hand, to the photographer who has just joined us. “I can’t be 'mister cig' any more. People are starting to get pissed about it.” He means, of course, moms are getting pissed about it. “My fans are 15-years-old now,” he explained. “Which is great...” He didn't bother to finish the thought.
Right now, it’s owning the blue stucco house with the brown grass in the front yard and a pool in the back that has left him a different kind of dumbfounded. “It’s terrifying. Never thought I’d spend or have that much money in my life. I’m from the prairies in Canada," he said. To no one in particular, he added, “I mean, a pool, the f---?” It is, however, spotless, and DeMarco, who it's safe to say spends a mind-bending amount of his life on the road, is enjoying the momentary spell of domesticity.
“We found five or six thousand vintage, mint porn mags in the basement when we moved in,” he said. He had finished with pool chores, and sat at a formica table on the patio. “Kiera is trying to sell them, but it’s kind of a weird market. The idea of selling vintage porn is cool, maybe, to kids like us, but then the actual buyers are these weird old dudes,” he said. He presented his best imitation of a porn collector with a shuffle and a pervy growl. “You don’t really want them around.”
DeMarco’s new songs are his most straightforward admissions yet. There are few of the nods and winks we're used to—these songs are concise and clear, with soft drum machines and Dad-strumming on the acoustic guitar. It’s Mac the straight man, singing about his absentee father, doling out some advice, his louche Lennon vibe holding it all together. With This Old Dog (“dog” made more sense than “cat,” he explained), the schism between the “jerk, jackass, goofball weirdo” that is on-stage Mac and the meticulous melody-making, stay-at-home Mac has never been wider.
“People, they’ll hone in on this thing like, ‘Look, he’s putting a cig between his teeth! Look, he’s making a fart joke!’ Even in interviews people are taken aback: ‘Oh, he can form sentences. Oh, he’s not a mongoloid,’” DeMarco said, more bewildered than bitter. “If they want that side of it that’s fine. I feel comfortable talking earnestly or goofing off.”
The public, of course, desires a coherent, uncomplicated celebrity. And DeMarco wants to make the kids happy—well, everyone for that matter, on stage and on the road. But privately, at home, the music serves a different end. “I don’t get a lot of time to think about things in my life or things that I’ve brushed over on tour, especially when I’m partying all the time.” Making a record, he said, “is a moment of clarity that I get.”
The record starts off with “My Old Man,” which is very literally about his then-dying father, who was diagnosed with cancer. Someone, as the song tells it, he’s not exactly itching to be. “I have a strange relationship with him. He’s an absentee, weird parent, maybe substance-abuser,” DeMarco said quickly, quietly. “I was rationalizing this relationship, maybe. My dad was really sick last year. And we said our goodbyes. I thought, See you later old man, you’re probably not going to hear this shit.” Mac paused, gap teeth slowly exposing themselves. It turned out that his father's prognosis would improve. “The funny thing is he’s okay now, and he’s probably gonna hear it. So, I’ll be expecting a phone call at some time.”
Across from the pool sits a guest house that DeMarco is having converted into a studio. It’s the first time he’s had a space just for music-making. “When I got the place, I thought I was going to do all this work on it, and then was I like, ‘Wait, I’ve never even used a hammer,’” he said, laughing. “I had to hire these guys.” He pointed to a pair of carpenters sanding down the drywall inside the space. He’s come to know the duo well. Both he and Kiera stop to periodically to chat with them. From his chair, DeMarco caught the attention of Martin, who’s worked on the house for the last several weeks. “Hey, by the way, you got a stud finder or something?” he asked, taking a drag from his cigarette, as Martin rinsed off a mud tray. “There are a couple of things I’m planning to put up on the walls.”
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