Listening to Mac DeMarco’s music is like walking head-first into a strong wind; everything is slowed down just a touch, the music always moving through an invisible force.

After disbanding old band Makeout Videotape last year DeMarco has gone solo with the Rock and Roll Night Club EP. Even more so than most lo fi artists it seems to come from another time and place, dug up damaged and pieced together again. Oddly enough, the ominous songs contrast the artist’s fairly upbeat and good-natured personality, as we learned in this interview preceding DeMarco’s appearance at this year’s NXNE. We phoned him at the office of his label, Captured Tracks, in New York.

Do New York audiences have high standards?

Yeah ... I used to feel that way when no one knew who I was. People would act like I was privileged to play there. I feel like more people have heard my stuff now and they might be excited. Less of “Who are you, and why should I care?”

I guess you’re at that point in your career, more people coming to the shows knowing what to expect and anticipating it.

In the States, more or less. In Canada my older band had built a following in most major cities. People can get really well-known in Canada with nothing happening in the States, still. We’re doing okay down here, which is nice.

What should people expect from a Mac DeMarco show?

It depends. Some people are expecting me to roll up onstage shirtless with a bunch of makeup on. That’s definitely not gonna happen. But if we all get really hammered the show will be strange. Makeout Videotape never practiced, we’d just get really drunk. Some of the recent shows have been a little bit too funky, I might end up crowd-surfing with my pants around my ankles.

Why did you choose the androgynous imagery for the album cover and press photos?

It was a bit accidental. The front cover photo I took before the label had even heard of it. Thought it was funny, the songs are kind of funny, so it fit. Later a friend of mine sent the label a bunch of photos, all were all from Halloween with makeup and weird hair. That became how people on the internet see me. I have no problem with it. Just funny.

Your music sounds ominous but the lyrics, and your demeanor in interviews, reveal a great sense of humour. Are people surprised to find you don’t take yourself as seriously as the songs might suggest?

I think so. People assume I’m a crooner with a very low voice. It’s funny when people have those preconceptions. I’ve gotten feedback from people who enjoy the humor in the songs.

Are you a fan of Jonathan Richman?

I love John, good guy. Not that I know him, but I love [his music.]

He’s better than anyone at making songs funny without it becoming a novelty.

He makes songs that seem childish to some people but it’s all very sincere. That’s just the way he is. The songs are fun and great, and he’s got a good attitude.

MAC DEMARCO - EUROPEAN VEGAS from Angus Borsos on Vimeo.

How did you achieve the “crooner” effect on record?

I sang pretty low [in the first place] but slowed it down a bit. The instruments are really slowed down.

The effect is almost like Southern hip-hop ...

Like chopped and screwed, yeah. Everyone in Montreal was like “You made a rap-rock album.” I guess so? A lot of people don’t realize I screwed with the sound so much, but to me it seems really apparent.

Have you tried the opposite effect, speeding up the sound?

On the record I did that a little bit. It doesn’t change the way my voice sounds as much. On “She’s Really All I Need” I did that. It gives it a weird quality.

As a solo artist is it important for you to keep a rotating lineup? Or if you found a backing band as committed to the music as you were, would you keep it solid? 

My current band is pretty into it, I’ll keep them around as long as they’d like to. As long as I’ve been playing music I’ve been used to recording at home. I’ll do the songs, and if I can find people who want to play them, that’s great.

You’re playing a NXNE show on a boat, correct?

Yeah, the Booze Cruise. I did it last year, so pretty excited to do it again. It’s great. I was completely hungover and it was sweltering hot but it was fun! We’re playing like seven shows at the festival this year. Under an hour sets.

Do you have future releases planned?

I should have a new album done by the end of the month. Done about 3/4 of it. It won’t come out til autumn but I’ll be done it. It won’t sound like Rock and Roll Night Club. I don’t think the low-singing effect will be on it again. But who knows? I’m thinking probably not.

Click here to check out DeMarco's NXNE performance dates. Stay tuned for more festival coverage from TORO this week!

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