’Long as my heart’s beating in my chest / This old dog ain’t about to forget...

“Fucked up, that was a gnarly surf.” Mac DeMarco is reflecting on his sold-out show at Brixton Academy the previous night, where he crowd-surfed the length of the near-5,000-capacity venue. He yanks up his T-shirt to show the bruises proving just how wild it was. “It was cool though, that place is fucking big,” he says. “Maybe a little too big for my blood - it was weird. And we do it all over again tonight…it’s gonna be wacky.”

Despite displaying the antics of someone in their teens, Mac recently turned 27. To celebrate, he threw a BBQ fundraiser in downtown LA for a local food bank, doling out hot dogs in return for donations. “There’s always gonna be people that need something to eat, and I don’t like birthdays so I took the pressure off - do some other shit instead,” he says. “People were bringing like, chicken and shit, on ice? That was a little sketchy,” Mac laughs. “And a lot of dairy - tons of eggs. We had like, four thousand fucking eggs or something. It was crazy.”

And the whole ‘27’ thing?

“It just feels the same, although apparently I’m meant to pass away this year, so…but it’ll be fine,” he says.

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It felt like it had to happen so - it happened.

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It’s easy - maybe a little lazy - to see his latest LP, ‘This Old Dog’, as being (in part) about ageing: “This old dog ain’t about to forget / All we’ve had / And all that’s next / ’Long as my heart’s beating in my chest / This old dog ain’t about to forget,” goes the title track’s chorus, while the word “old” is repeated throughout the album. But Mac disagrees - it’s more complicated than that.

“I don’t think I was thinking about ageing, more just life in general,” he says of the writing process. “I mean, the age thing doesn’t really matter that much, more a fear of becoming complacent or bored. I was just thinking about life.”

Sharing his life through music is nothing new to Mac, who often sings about his long-term girlfriend, and even gave out his New York address on a 2015 mini album, leading to thousands of fans showing up at his door. “People keep saying, ‘Oh, it’s so much more personal’,” he says. “But I think it’s because I forgot to keep the lyrics as vague as I usually do. Usually people don’t pick up on it. But I’m happy with what I did, it felt like it had to happen so - it happened.”

The album can also be seen as being rooted in family and, more specifically, Mac’s gravely ill father, from whom he was pretty much estranged until recently. Maybe it’s no surprise that the lyrics became more specific and less vague: the writing process sounds like something very personal, for him and him alone. “I had some stuff going on with my family, and I think I was writing them just to write them,” Mac recalls. “I wasn’t thinking: ‘I’m going to put this on a record’. But then I had them, and I liked them, so I did end up putting them on a record. At the time they were born though, they were just for me. Now they’re everybody’s.”

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‘My Old Man’ is one of those stories that now belong to everybody. The title implies a father figure, but dig a little deeper - “Look in the mirror / Who do you see? / Someone familiar / But surely not me” - and is it actually about Mac himself? “Yeah, totally. That one’s interesting to me, because people take it lots of different ways,” he says. “For me though, it’s about things I’d rather not be seeing in myself but are becoming apparent as time goes on.”

The shadow of his father - or maybe it’s the shadow of a relationship they never managed to have - looms large. During ‘Watching Him Fade Away’, Mac sings: “And even though we barely know each other / It still hurts watching him fade away, watching him fade away / Watching him fade away, watching him fade away” - an unflinching look at the strange and sad experience of watching a family member suffer, without having a deep connection to them.

“The whole thing about sharing stuff about my father is weird - I’m not trying to vilify him or crucify him,” Mac explains. “It’s just things that were on my mind. Also, I don’t know how to feel about it, so writing it down or singing about it is one way to sort through. But I’m still not totally sure how I feel. I guess I’m still working through the process. And maybe he’ll be pissed, I’m not sure yet.”

Mac talks about how throughout his life he’s always looked for leadership figures - maybe due to the absence of his father - but that he feels more resilient, more independent, now. “Finally at this point in my life, while there are people I look up to and respect, as far as filling the void…not any more,” he reflects. “Through my whole life I’ve always had a friend or somebody that I look up to and follow, but not now. I was always a sidekick or something, but now I’m just doing me.”

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Writing it down or singing about it is one way to sort through.

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‘Sister’ is another personal track, just 1:18 minutes in the middle of the album, a lilting, melancholy little song, ending with: “Any time you're hearing this / Sister, know my heart goes out to you.”

“She had some stuff going on and I was thinking of her,” Mac says, of his sister. “That one too - and the last track [‘Watching Him Fade Away’] were songs that I didn’t really know would go on the record. But it’s a little treat for my sis, Holly, just to let her know that I’m thinking of her. She’s not doing too well, but she’s great really. And that’s just a little titbit for her.”

Not everything on ‘This Old Dog’ is literal, though. There’s also the central, recurring symbol of the dog - as well as one starring in the video for the LP’s title track. Mac says he enjoys using this trope for its linguistic, folklore-ish qualities, rather than having a real love of man’s best friend. “I think I like the pop culture terminology, or the Urban Dictionary version of dogs,” he laughs. “Like, ‘not every dog has his day,’ [in what sounds like a broad Brooklyn accent] that’s a nice term. ‘You dirty old dawg,’ is another one. So I think that’s where it’s coming from - it’s not necessarily about dogs, it’s more about human beings. In ‘This Old Dog’ people seem to think I’m saying I’m old - I’m not, I’m 27. But I see the dog like a kind of spiritual jackass or something… loveable, but maybe not so loveable.”

As well as being part metaphorical and part literal, the album also crosses two cities: New York and Los Angeles. Mac started writing it in NYC at the beginning of 2016, and by the time he picked it back up again he had moved across the country. He’s among a wave of artists to decamp west recently, he says, with Mild High Club, Drugdealer, Connan Mockasin and Wise Blood among them. “New York’s really expensive, and you can pimp out LA as much as you want, but it can still be really cheap. And it’s a real nice family,” he smiles.

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I see the dog like a kind of spiritual jackass or something… loveable, but maybe not so loveable.

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When asked what - if any - impact the move had on the record, he’s ambivalent: “I think the main difference is that I open the blinds and see palm trees. People say, ‘This is your LA record,’ but it’s not like that.” In fact, about half the tracks were written and/or recorded in NYC, and half in LA, he says. The impact on his day-to-day life is more apparent: “The main difference is that I used to live in the middle of nowhere in New York, as far out from the city as you could really go - Far Rockaway by the beach, Jamaica Bay - so I never saw anybody,” Mac says. “That’s partly why I put the address on the other album - I really didn’t think anyone would come.”

“And now I live in a pretty central neighbourhood; we can walk places, friends drop by. It’s great, I haven’t had that for years, I forgot what it was like, and now it’s back to that kind of vibe.” He says the wall-to-wall sunshine is something that took some getting used to, though. “That kind of tripped me out at first,” Mac laughs. “It’s weird being a Canadian kid used to carved-in-stone seasons, and then going somewhere where it’s pretty much the same all year. It was bizarre to me at first, pretty strange. But you can’t complain about sunshine.”

And that kind of sums up Mac DeMarco’s latest album: while he doesn’t turn away from sadness and pain, that familiar, sunny disposition shines through. The dog days of summer aren’t over yet… as if we had any doubts.

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Catch Mac DeMarco at London's Coronet on November 17th, 19th, 20th.

Words: Emma Finamore
Photography: Tung Walsh
Fashion: Vincent Levy

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