“I get approached more on the street now, but I’m not Leonardo DiCaprio or anything,” says Mac DeMarco. “I’m just some jackass from Canada.”
He’s not exactly wrong. With his gap-toothed grin, bum-chic aesthetic, toilet humour, and propensity for getting naked on stage, the 26-year-old is indie rock’s reigning court jester. But his career is no gag; lately, he’s become a bona fide international star, boasting sell-out tours and a level of Internet fame even he’s confused by. “Backer,” an absurd YouTube sketch wherein DeMarco plays a loser who helps people reverse park for a living, has garnered around 500,000 views. “Salad Days,” the title track from his 2014 breakout album, has over 26 million Spotify plays, surpassing Rick Ross and Kanye West’s “Sanctified,” released the same year.
To understand this schlubby kid’s outsize success, see the other festival-ready indie rock outfits he’s competing with; amid a horde of brooding, over-serious artists, DeMarco stands out as a silly, relatable every-dude. “It’s not like I [set out] to act like a goofy fuck,’” he says. “Many people nowadays are privy to my Internet presence but haven’t necessarily heard my music, which is very strange.”
Within Mac there’s a contradiction more gaping than his diastema: despite his puerile persona, his songwriting is disarmingly mature. He deals in woozy, delicate, charmingly honest songs rooted in ’70s soft rock, crooning melodies so sweetly heartfelt they dribble. This Old Dog, his acoustic-and-synth-tinged third LP, is his most grown up, personal effort yet. The lead single, “My Old Man,” sees him grapple with his fear of turning into his father. “I attribute a lot of things about my dad with things I’m not super pleased with in my life,” he admits. “I don’t know him very well. It’s a complicated relationship. A lot of this record was me trying to understand that relationship. Maybe I do better now, or maybe I do even less.”
DeMarco was born Vernor Winfield McBriare Smith IV (no really) in Duncan, British Columbia, and raised in Edmonton. Though his parents never married, when he was five, his mother Agnes asked his dad, Mac III, to pay child support. He never did, so she legally changed her son’s name to the slightly less clunky McBriare Samuel Lanyon DeMarco (her maiden name). In a Pitchfork profile, Agnes once asked: “What do you say to a father who you know chose alcohol and drugs over you?”
At 16, Mac began recording songs alone in his room — the way he still records all his music. In 2012, he signed to Brooklyn label Captured Tracks and released his first full-length album, 2. Its biggest hit, “Ode to Viceroy,” a tribute to the cheap brand of Canadian cigarettes, would win over the blogosphere and dad-hat wearing hipsters everywhere. Between the hazy music, outré stage antics, and fart joke-heavy interviews, his character was set: an unflappable, chain-smoking, indie-slacker king.
Perhaps that “chill” image comes off as a gimmick, or even a safety mechanism. Listening to This Old Dog, however, you realize it’s more complex than that. DeMarco’s free and easy demeanour comes from a place of sincerity; in song, he channels those uninhibited moments you might share with a friend, five beers deep by a campfire as the sun rises, when you can say anything, be it ridiculous, sappy, or serious. It’s that candour that fans connect with the most. “I’ve always tried to keep it relatively real,” he says. “You lose yourself every here and there. But this year, I feel like I’m back.” And chances are, he’s here to stay — so get used to seeing his pasty derriere.