Mac DeMarco on His New Album 'This Old Dog': 'I Wrote These Songs for Myself'
Mac DeMarco’s calming, laid-back attitude is mirrored in his 80s-esque, synth-driven slow jams. His latest LP, This Old Dog (out May 5), sees the recent 27-year-old deliver his most personal music yet with lyrics that speak to family matters -- namely his often absent father -- and growing out of his 20s; all while managing to create a body of work that, at times, feels ageless and entirely anonymous.
“A lot of the songs I wrote not thinking I was going to put them on an album, so I didn’t put up any block or barrier,” DeMarco tells Billboard. “I was just letting it flow.” The Canadian-born singer-songwriter cites the work of a fellow Canadian, Neil Young’s Harvest, as one of his most influential records and says he is always trying to make that album, but with synths. He recalls how Young “is somebody that my family has listened to since I was really young."
Looking to the past largely shaped this album, from the lyrics even to the way in which the record was pieced together. Back in early 2016, DeMarco wrote several songs that he says “were just for myself” while still living in New York. Since he didn’t plan on sharing them with the public, they ended up sitting for some time -- a new, and unintentional, tactic for the indie artist, considering in the past once he has finished a project he typically releases it “as quickly as possible” (evidenced by the five projects he has released in the past five years). Once DeMarco’s label told him if he wanted to put out a record in early in 2017 that it would have to be done around Christmas time, he decided to start by pulling from the ones he already had.
The rest of the album was finished in Los Angeles, where DeMarco recently relocated to from Queens, New York, but he says the change of coast had no lyrical or sonic influence on the album: “It’s just one bedroom to another; I was in the same headspace,” he says. “The only difference was looking out the window and being like, ‘Oh, there’s a palm tree.’”
While scene may not have had much sway on the album's outcome, it’s clear the concept of time passing by weighs heavy. DeMarco contemplates age with “My Old Man” and “This Old Dog” (he reveals he has never had a dog, though there is one who lives down the block from him named Cadence that runs to his house and scratches on the door), and waxes nostalgic on “For The First Time” and “Dreams From Yesterday” -- his favorite off the album that serves as both a check up and reminder “to make sure I count my blessings" (one of which is his upcoming tour with The Flaming Lips that came about when DeMarco met frontman Wayne Coyne at a Tame Impala show in New York).
“['Dreams From Yesterday'] is not about my career or opportunities or anything like that,” DeMarco clarifies. “It’s more about the general vibe of being alive. It’s about complacency, slowing down, growing older… becoming bored with things.” He goes on to say that when he’s alone writing, he’s able to really reflect, “And then you realize you’re getting pretty used to how fucking strange things are.”
Due to the universal relatability of “being alive,” This Old Dog tells a simple, though spellbinding, story of some of life’s guarantees: family (in all its various forms), home, love and impending death. DeMarco first touched on the lattermost subject on the title track of his 2014 sophomore album Salad Days, in which he starts the song by stating, “As I’m getting older, chip up on my shoulder. Rolling through life, to roll over and die." Now, three years later, it’s as if such thoughts have consumed him. From his new album’s shortest song (“Sister” at 1:19) to its longest (“Moonlight on the River" at 7:03, which features a lengthy psych-rock instrumental section), DeMarco has crafted what may be his most compelling, cautionary and oddly enough, comforting album yet.
While many may be quick to call out DeMarco’s ripe age of 27, considering how often the word and notion of “growing old” comes up, DeMarco is the first to admit, “I’m not old, I’m a kid.” He then pauses, before seemingly realizing for the first time: “If I feel old now, I don’t know how the hell I’m going to feel when I’m really old... That will be strange.”