Somewhat surprisingly, Mac DeMarco is going to perform at New York institution Radio City Music Hall on September 22, and tickets will be available on Friday. It’s the kind of venue that many artists dream about one day playing, and DeMarco, despite his immense popularity, is a somewhat unexpected booking. So how’d he get here?
As a songwriter, DeMarco is about as low-key as it gets. His songs tackle universal subjects — love, aging, being addicted to smoking — from a half-distant vantage point, like this is all stuff he’s thought about, and might even be sort of concerned with, but is also pretty amused by.
Diminishing existential crises through good-natured humor is an appealing way of approaching life, and it’s garnered DeMarco a much more massive audience than he ever expected. On his latest, most accomplished album, This Old Dog, DeMarco sounds laconic, but not worn out. He’s grappling with what life is supposed to mean, and in doing so, he’s cultivated a fervent fan base that tracks his every move. Maybe they’re looking for wisdom, or maybe they just see someone who understands. Vulture spoke to DeMarco about his milestone Radio City show and making sense of his growing fame.
When you started out, people really felt like they could relate to you. As you’ve gotten more popular, is that still the case?
I think that the difference now is that we don’t really hang out as much. We stay in hotels now; we can’t just ask people if we can stay at their house anymore. But I feel the same. I think mostly it’s internet that does it. It’s kind of like … the idea of what we are, it keeps compounding and becomes stranger and stranger. The only real marker of where it’s going for me is playing the shows and seeing how many people or what age of people are coming. I just kind of let it happen. I just don’t understand it anymore.
There must have been a point where playing live really clicked for you. A moment where you realized you didn’t just have to look down at your guitar and could actually engage with the audience.
[That never was] my thing. I think that goofiness — or whatever you want to call it — it’s part of being personable and being entertaining. I just try to be something for people. For me, it’s more of a conversation than the art-gallery-type stuff.
No disrespect to, you know, say shoegaze, for example — or some of the other bands that are very insular, looking at their shoes the whole time — people do what they’ve got to do, and if it works, it works. For me, it just doesn’t work that way.
Radio City is one of those big-deal venues. It’s a milestone for a lot of people to play there. Does that kind of thing matter to you?
I don’t know. I mean, on the musical résumé, it looks good on there, and maybe it sounds good in there … I’ve never been to a show at Radio City, so I have no idea really, but it’ll be cool, for sure. I think that for my label and booking agents and stuff, it’s like, “Ahhh, Radio City!”
In your interview with the New York Times, you had this quote that’s really stuck with me: “I have retracted a little bit from just giving everything away.” I was surprised to read that because it never felt to me like you offered too much of yourself to the world.
I think it’s maybe more in my interactions, I suppose. I don’t know. I mean, I gave my address out — that kind of stuff. You know, I really like to have people come to listen to my music, and I appreciate them — I love them, or whatever — but, you know … Sometimes you need a little bit of space. I’m not saying I’m slowly shutting myself off or anything.
It actually does seem like you’re giving more away on This Old Dog. You’re singing about your father, about getting older. Does aging freak you out?
Of course! I mean, I think the whole “being alive” thing is very strange, generally. And I think that when you’re a younger person you assume that you’ll start understanding things a little bit better and that things will start making more sense, but especially in the last couple of years, for me personally, it just doesn’t, doesn’t, doesn’t turn out that way. You just get more and more confused. So, I don’t know. I’m not saying I’m depressed, or scared, but it is strange. It is interesting to think about. And I hadn’t ever really had an opportunity to think about it since we started touring — to kinda sit back and think about my life. Instead, I was too preoccupied with, you know, drinking beer and, like, playing Metallica covers and shit.
This interview has been edited and condensed.