Indie rocker drinks beer, “hangs”
by Isaiah Sears
Mac DeMarco is a man of contradictions. The Canadian singer-songwriter recently signed to Brooklyn label Captured Tracks to spread his infectious take on songwriting, a style he calls “jizz jazz.” Mac’s christening of the genre sums him up pretty succinctly: he’s a guy who makes smooth, soulful slacker rock that can both spook and serenade the listener, oftentimes simultaneously. I had the pleasure of seeing him play recently, where I took some pictures and had a few words with him and his band. DeMarco is an artist whose sound and personality need introduction. We’ll start with the music, and then discuss the man.
Mac’s debut EP, Rock and Roll Night Club, is interesting right from the cover, which depicts Mac applying lipstick to his crooned duck lips. Inside, a chopped and screwed Mac, sounding like Bastard-era Tyler, the Creator, introduces his listeners to “96.7 the Pipe,” in which “a triple shot of Mac [is] comin’ at ya, stuffin’ it down the chute.” Aroused? That’s fine if you aren’t yet – Mac’s sleazy demeanor wears down as the album progresses, finishing with a few genuine soft rock love songs that ditch the grimy aesthetic for entrancing guitar medleys and genuine vocals.
Mac’s debut LP, entitled 2, picks up where his previous EP left off. The tracks are cleaner, shinier, and more collected, but still don’t sound too serious. One standout track of the album, “Ode to Viceroy,” is not a feudal homage, but rather a ballad to Mac’s favorite brand of cigarette. DeMarco has this strange ability to make you feel romantic thoughts about a stick of tobacco, whether you smoke or not, due to his washed out, jangling guitar and silky baritone. When Mac feels like 2 is getting a bit too serious, he backs off, shredding an off-pitch solo or dropping an off-color lyric. The tone of 2 makes Mac’s music very accessible – he’s not a pretentious indie kid, but rather a dude who’s content with singing about his favorite pair of blue jeans, in a manner that makes you want to listen.
I recently saw Mac play a small gig in a frat house at the University of Pennsylvania. There were around 150 people there, and maybe 25 knew who Mac was. The show started with a pretty unenthusiastic crowd, but Mac and his band, consisting of Pierce McGarry on bass, Peter Sagar on guitar, and Joe McMurray on drums, warmed them up quickly. Mac and company’s onstage demeanor makes the recorded persona seem tame – in between swigs of their WaWa coffee cups filled with light beer, they yelled obscenities, gave us winks, cracked jokes at the crowd, and kindly asked the front row to carry Mac to crowd surf. Before a solo, Mac would yell out a bandmate’s name in a sultry accent or simply make a poetic invocation like “balls” before belting out a fiery string attack that contained no recognizable notes. By the end of his unorthodox set, the crowd demanded an encore. Mac hesitated, but eventually obliged by busting out the opening lick of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” which quickly transformed into Nirvana’s “Come As You Are,” which then transitioned into Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff.”
DeMarco, signed to an indie tastemaker label, seems to have no taste. However, upon watching his band play the most effortless, tight, and enjoyable set a group could ever hope to muster, I’m not convinced he’s the slacker freak show he can be portrayed as. Mac and the band hung out with the crowd after the show. After we shared a bottle of Jim Beam, they grabbed my camera, taking selfies (one of which contains a tasteful nut shot of Mr. DeMarco) and portraits of the fans. Peter Sagar, the band’s guitarist, talked with me about his cat (a decision he’s stressing about on the tour), the state of the indie music industry, and 90s hip-hop for a couple of hours. Mac and his crew are a group of musicians who have no pretenses, but possess a deceiving amount of talent. The morning after their show, they headed to New York to play a live stream at Pitchfork headquarters, and after that session, played Webster Hall with Ty Segal. Manhattan might have seen DeMarco and crew in a sold out concert hall, but that was the same Mac that played a drunken frat house the night before. Mac DeMarco might confuse you, and perhaps even scare you, but he will probably win you over. Give him a listen.