For Mac DeMarco, forging his own style has been one of natural progression. From his early garage rock angst and right up to his more relaxed form of “jizz jazz”, the Canadian musician has allowed his creative vision to flow at its own, gentle pace.
DeMarco, who has always prefered to experiment with his songwriting and production, took his career into his own hands by taking the bold decision to launch his own record label — a sign that this once lacklustre and relaxed musician – who has pushed the boundaries of his heavy workload – has a business plan at hand.
While it feels as though DeMarco has been around forever, indie music’s favourite goofy singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is still only 32. Having released six full-length studio albums to date, of which he has predominantly handled the producing duties alone, DeMarco prefers to be holed up in his own DIY studio like a crazed indie-pop scientist, crafting bizarre sounds amid a blur of Viceroy-induced smoke. While his reel-to-reel production style has drawn lots of admirers, DeMarco has always been keen to point out the likes of John Maus, Ariel Pink, Isao Tomita and more as influences in that department.
In fact, DeMarco has never been shy to discuss certain figures who have helped shape his sound, famously citing the likes of Connan Mockasin, Billy Joel, The Modern Lovers, Harry Nilsson, The Beatles and more. Despite the fact that it feels as though DeMarco is still learning his craft to some degree, self-reflection of his own work has already started to influence certain interviews. Given the fact that he has developed his own sub-genre of indie pop, many people have attempted to discover what mix-match of musicians has contributed to DeMarco’s direction.
In a past interview with The Guardian, DeMarco ran through numerous different categories in order to break down his transition in music. When asked about the first album he enjoyed as a child, DeMarco named 1960s Manchester beat rock band Herman’s Hermit as a pivotal moment and one that remains the first record that he ever truly loved: “I didn’t care much about music as a young kid, partly because my mom used to listen to pop-country all the time and it really bummed me out,” he said. “But then, when I was six or seven, she got this Herman’s Hermits CD and I was like, ‘Yeah, this Henry VIII song is pretty chill’.”
Given DeMarco’s love for the obscure side of alternative music, the Canadian cited ‘Mother’ by John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band as the one moment he was given a taste for unusual music. “I went through a phase of liking all the classic rock stuff – the Beatles, the Kinks, Harry Nilsson,” DeMarco commented when considering the artists that gave him a taste ‘weird music’. “Then I got the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album and I was like, whoa! I remember listening to this song in my room in the basement at home and thinking, holy crow, this is the raw shit! At that point – aged 15 or 16 – I was starting to play in bands a bit and meeting other kids who played instruments,” he added. “They were really committed to music and I was like, sweet, I’m going to do this too”.
Given the lighthearted, free and easy aesthetic of DeMarco’s own sound, it should come as little surprise that the jangly sounds of Johnny Marr’s guitar playing in The Smiths have had a lasting impact on the Canadian musician. Reflecting on his formative years at school and the music that soundtracked them, DeMarco cited the Manchester band’s 1987 track ‘Ask’ as a key moment: “At high school, people generally liked the same music I did, but when I started getting into the Smiths everybody was like: ‘Dude, why are you listening to this crap?’ I was like: ‘Fuck you guys!’ I remember playing this song in a car with some jock girls who liked hanging out with me for some reason – probably because they didn’t feel intimidated – and they just didn’t give a shit. Which is too bad, because it’s a really catchy, beautiful song”.
As DeMarco recounts his life journey, from the first record he loved and the bands that soundtracked his school years, the musician notes the juncture of leaving home as one that launched him into the great unknown. Attempting to pair that with a band – and more specifically a song – we move into the more obscure territory. Wipers, a punk rock outfit formed in the late 1970s and believed to be the first Pacific Northwest group working within the genre, released ‘Romeo’, their second official single. “After high school, I moved to Vancouver,” DeMarco explained. “I had no real reason for moving there – I wasn’t going to university, I didn’t have a job, I knew nobody, no girls, nothing. I was just a lonely guy riding around on my bike and working at a Starbucks in some weird Vietnamese suburb”.
Speaking more specifically about the music, he adds: “This song, which goes: ‘Romeo walks the city at night/ The tall dark buildings cast a ghostly shadow in his burning eyes’, reminds me of riding my bike around Vancouver, not knowing anybody, having nothing to do, but being genuinely excited to be in a new spot. I had that feeling again when I moved to Montreal and later New York, but never like that first time in Vancouver”.
The 7 artists that inspired Mac DeMarco:
- Herman’s Hermits
- John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
- The Smiths
- Arthur Russell
- Steely Dan
- Neil Young
Of course, this being Mac DeMarco, it would almost feel remiss not to mention the influence of Steely Dan. While the sounds of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen might not have been prevalent in his youth, they most certainly shape the type of artist DeMarco is today. “This is the kind of music I listen to now, more or less,” he said. “It’s very different to the sad teenager music I used to listen to – a shift into full-blown session-musician dad rock. Now that I think about it, my own music is pulled between both sides. I’m not afraid to play some stupid guitar solo, but at the same time, I’ll make a cutesy love song or whatever. I like Steely Dan’s funny, jerky, intellectual New York lyrics. I’d heard them in the past but ‘Peg’ was the song that drew me in. A friend gave me the album Aja and I was like, all right! Weird shit!”
When discussing the impact of the great Neil Young, a fellow Canadian countryman, DeMarco cited his now-iconic album Harvest as a moment that changed his life. “I’m an obsessive listener,” DeMarco said. “This record I used to listen to several times a day for months and months. It was around the time I recorded 2 and I wanted to make my album sound exactly like this: really dry, really crisp ’70s style”.
DeMarco continued: “I was living in Montreal, broke as fuck, with not much music on my computer and no internet, so I’d go to the dollar bin in the thrift store and dig through all these weird old French Quebecois singers. If I did find a cool record – like Harvest – it got played to death in my house because I had nothing else to listen to. I’ve listened to that album so many times but I never get tired of it”.