It has been eight years since the Canadian singer-songwriter, beloved for his sly humor and slacker-rock disinterest in the major-label machine, first stumbled into the spotlight in 2012, with his solo debut, the Rock and Roll Night Club EP, released on Captured Tracks. He has put out three full-length studio albums on the Brooklyn-based independent label since -- all reached the top 30 of the Billboard 200, and two peaked at No. 1 on the Independent Albums chart -- all the while inspiring a new wave of bedroom singer-songwriters like Clairo, Rex Orange County and Cuco (the lattermost only recently changed course and signed a seven-figure deal with Interscope).
Captured Tracks, which is run by Blank Dogs’ Mike Sniper, ultimately inspired DeMarco, now 29, to start his own imprint. His fourth album, Here Comes the Cowboy, due May 10, will be the first release on his newly formed Mac’s Record Label, a partnership with independent distributor Caroline. The label isn’t an attempt to sign indie music’s promising up-and-comers, he says, but is instead a practical step toward one key personal objective: “own everything.”
As DeMarco’s success grows, it seems increasingly at odds with his personality. He might rather tour small-town venues with a skeleton crew of friends, but he’s popular enough to play Coachella and sell out presale tickets in a handful of cities at 2,500- to 6,000-seat venues. His upcoming tour starts in Sonoma, Calif., on May 7, and he will likely travel by tour bus and bring a sound technician -- “extras” that he had never cared to splurge on.
“Now, those things are a little more important,” he says. “The venues are a lot bigger than I ever thought we’d be playing. I’m older, and I’m not old, but I’m not as interested in just getting blackout drunk onstage. I want things to sound nice.”
Despite his influence on the indie scene, DeMarco floats outside of its current incarnation; the low-key singer doesn’t crank out viral content or wrestle for brand endorsement deals. He isn’t even on social media. The distance seems to be by design. Like some of indie’s other trailblazers, DeMarco finds that he lacks a kinship with indie’s new generation, largely because of perceived philosophical differences over what DIY success should look like, where it should come from and how quickly it should arrive.
“It all comes down to your motivation,” he says. “That’s the difference I see now. I toured for four years playing to, like, four people in somebody’s basement, but I didn’t care because I got to play shows. Nowadays, young bands blow up online and their first show is at an 800-person venue. And then if they have to play a small place, they’re like, ‘What the fuck?’ ”
DeMarco was always skeptical of the fast-tracking, overpromising, 360-degree contracts peddled by major labels. Having grown up poor in Edmonton, Alberta, he says, he didn’t want to owe anyone or be forced to split revenue with strangers. “The one thing I always hear [indie artists] complaining about is not making any money, which is like...obviously we’re not making as much money as a fucking gigantic radio band, but I live very comfortably. I own a house, my girlfriend doesn’t have to work, I can take care of my mom. Maybe it’s because we’ve kept it so cheap -- I split everything equally with everybody, it’s not complicated -- but I don’t understand that complaint. I don’t know what big artists get, probably a lot, but this already is more than I need.”