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Q&A: Mac DeMarco on Staying Friends With Fans and Wearing Bondage Masks

We catch up with the singer-songwriter while he's between projects, fresh off recording a pair of covers

At one of the first shows on Mac DeMarco’s current tour, a couch is set up onstage at Webster Hall to accommodate his friends (including a man in a bondage mask), and DeMarco pours out several glasses of champagne. “The person who catches the cork gets anything they want at the merch table,” the singer-songwriter says. Throughout the night, multiple members of the audience crowd-surf until they reach the stage, some lingering to stay for a song, or give DeMarco’s girlfriend a quick kiss.

Before the end of the show, DeMarco turns solemn and tells the crowd, “We just started touring, but the person who made me want to do this in the first place is Prince.” When the 26-year-old finally leaps off the stage himself, someone tosses him a bright orange life jacket. He reaches out and quickly throws it on, as if he might drown without it, and while his band plays the night’s final song, floats comfortably above a sea of people as he finishes a beer.

A week earlier, DeMarco talks with me over the phone from his home in Far Rockaway, his voice calm and reassuring. It’s clear that DeMarco doesn’t take himself too seriously, but cares deeply about the work he puts out. Label him a “slacker” if you’d like, but that would do a disservice to the albums of tender, off-kilter tunes that he’s assembled, including 2012’s 2 and 2014’s Salad Days. In 2015, DeMarco released a mini-LP, Another One, and since then, has teamed up with his keyboardist Jon Lent to cover James Taylor’s “I Was a Fool to Care,” and Prince’s “It’s Gonna Be Lonely.”

During his downtime, DeMarco spoke with SPIN about those covers, what he’s currently working on, and what it’s been like having fans over his house for coffee.

What made you want to cover James Taylor’s “I Was a Fool to Care”?
I never really got into James Taylor until very recently, so I think a lot of people are kinda like, “What’s wrong with you?” But my keyboard player that joined the band last summer, Jon, he’s always been a James Taylor guy. I never really knew about it. I think I was going through a Paul Simon thing, and somehow from that I went to James. But I was dabbling with “Sweet Baby James,” “Fire and Rain,” that kinda stuff. Then Jon was like, “No, no, no, no, no, my friend.” He showed me Gorilla, which is an album from 1975, and that’s where that song is from. But Jon was in town and we decided, “Might as well cover a little James, we have nothing better to do.”

You’ve also covered Prince’s “It’s Gonna Be Lonely,” and in both videos there’s that same man in the bondage mask. Is there a story behind the mask?
That’s just my friend. He says that he likes it, too, which is interesting, because I feel really weird when I put that s**t on. He says, “I like it, it’s really comfortable.” So it may be opening doors for him, which is cool.

Even after the video, he just keeps it on?
Yeah, he likes to wear it. It’s weird. It’s not even real leather, and pretty gross. But he seems to enjoy it.

There have also been photos of you recording with MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden, Will you two be putting something out soon?
He lives in the same neighborhood as me, so we’re homies. I don’t know, maybe I should leave it as a mystery. I’m not recording on any MGMT albums, just my own record, but who knows?

What inspires you most when you’re working on a new song?
You know, I’ve thought about that a lot. When I write new songs, now, I think, “What was I thinking about when I wrote that other song I liked?” And I can never figure it out. And I could never figure out where it comes from. Not that they’re incredible songs or anything, but I think it’s kinda that situation where they sort of float by, and you just gotta pull them out of the air at the right time. A lot of the time, it doesn’t work, but there are some times when they are just floating by. So there you go.

They just pop up, and end up being about my life, or my friends, or my experiences, because that’s what I know. And it’s weird because you always have these experiences, and only certain times are you able to manifest these thoughts into a piece of something. So, I don’t understand it. But that’s the beauty of it, though.

What have you been up to since your last tour?
Working on a record. I haven’t finished it, not sure if I will, but I’ll put it on the shelf for now. It’s funny, I’ve had a bit of time off, maybe three months, but I haven’t had that much time off in maybe four years, because we tour a lot. And I kinda had to rediscover what I used to do. I don’t really remember what I used to do with my time. But my circumstances kind of changed. I live pretty far away from town now. And I have a bit of a situation where I have a lot of downtime, so I’ve kind of just been rotting away in my house. But it’s been okay. It’s just weird. It’s a learning experience.

Do you like being far away from the city?
No! That’s another thing I’ve discovered. It’s not for me. [Laughs.] Big mistake.

After Another One was released, when you gave out your address on that final track, didn’t a lot of fans come to your house? Do you still keep in touch with any of those fans?
Some kids come back. And a lot of people come every day, but not really from Brooklyn or Manhattan. It’s more people from Long Island or Staten Island, because I live in a weird neighborhood. But I’ve made a couple friends. There’s this one girl, who ended up being pretty good friends with my girlfriend, and we see her around a lot. I live near the airport, too, so a lot of the time, people get off the plane and come right over here. They’ll be like, “Yo, man, I came to New York so I could come to your house.” And I’m like, “That is such bulls**t. But that’s cute that you said that.” I remember most of the people that come to my house. Sometimes they just come in and out, sometimes they stay for a couple hours, and I’ll never see them again.

Mac DeMarco tour dates:

May 19 – Los Angeles, CA @ Greek Theatre
May 21 – San Francisco, CA @ Warfield
May 22 – Santa Cruz, CA @ Rio Theater
May 24 – Portland OR @ Rosalind Theater
May 25 – Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater
May 27-30 – George, WA @ Sasquatch
June 2-5 – Nelsonville, OH @ Nelsonville Music Festival
June 4-5 – Houston, TX @ Free Press Summer Festival
July 23-24 – Detroit MI @ MoPop Festival
August 5-7 – Happy Valley OR @ Pickathon Festival
August 30 – Denver, CO @ Gothic Theatre
August 31 – Morrison, Colorado @ Red Rocks Amphitheater
September 1 – Boulder, CO @ Fox Theatre
September 2 – Las Vegas, NV @ Pool Stage (Outdoor) at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino

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