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(Credit: Brian Hamill / Mac DeMarco)

The John Lennon song that got Mac DeMarco into 'weird' music

Mac DeMarco is the king of slackers and weirdos worldwide, self-proclaiming his style of music as “jizz jazz”. Part of the early teenies Captured Tracks wave, since his debut album in 2012, DeMarco has released six studio records and has influenced countless others.

Throughout his career, DeMarco has developed his style whilst staying true to himself as an artist. A staple of his sound is the use of flat drums, in which he uses minimal reverb or compression. He has his signature guitar tone, which is often imitated but never recreated. This involves the use of chorus and vibrato effects, adding to his hazy sound. The laid back atmosphere of his music is reminiscent of the soft rock records of the 1970s and ’80s, including Steely Dan et al., many of which probably belies that he is always looking to create new sounds and sonic shapes.

Given that DeMarco’s music is such an eclectic mix of styles, it is only fitting that he cites a wide variety of artists as influences. In the past, the Vancouver native has mentioned Shuggie Otis, Black Sabbath, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Weezer and Jonathan Richman as keystones in his musical knowledge.

In 2017, he revealed his love for the influential Japanese group Yellow Magic Orchestra and their leader Haruomi Hosono, and his “amazing” and “weird” solo back catalogue. DeMarco has also become famous for his reel-to-reel production style. Artists such as Ariel Pink, Brian Eno and Isao Tomita have been key influencers in this element of his work.

All this leaves us with the gaping question; where did it all start for DeMarco? Who got him into the “weird” areas of music, culminating in his massive success as the Loki of off-kilter pop?

In 2015, DeMarco told The Guardian what the most significant records in his life were. The first song that led him into the forest of weird music was John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band track ‘Mother’. One of the most melancholy songs the former Beatle ever devised, it grabs the abandonment issues he developed as a child and confronts them head-on.

All this sonic emotional confrontation was inspired by Lennon’s primal scream therapy with Arthur Janov in 1970. Initially, the sessions took place at his home in Tittenhurst Park and then at the famed Primal Insitute in California, where he stayed for four months. Lennon would describe the therapy as “something more important to me than The Beatles”.

Although Lennon would eventually ridicule Janov, the treatment helped the former Beatles frontman come to terms with his mother’s tragic death in 1958. Only 17 when his mother Julia was killed in a car crash, this seismic event clearly impacted Lennon and had been eating him up for twelve years. ‘Mother’ is the moment Lennon lay down to the trauma, finally letting it wash over him.

DeMarco told The Guardian: “I went through a phase of liking all the classic rock stuff – the Beatles, the Kinks, Harry Nilsson. 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. They were really committed to music, and I was like, sweet, I’m going to do this too.”

There is something deeply ironic about the fact, ‘Mother’, one of the most emotional songs ever put to vinyl, had a significant influence on developing Mac Demarco. The songwriter is well known for his jovial persona, but it seemed he needed a “raw” Lennon song to confirm he was into “weird” music. It is also a testament to Lennon’s enduring legacy that his influence remains pervasive to this day.

Watch Mac Demarco cover the Beatles live, below. 

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