Mac DeMarco on Covering Haruomi Hosono and Starting a Record Label

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Mac DeMarco is bringing his blend of R&B and lo-fi jangle pop to Red Rocks.
Canadian musician Mac DeMarco is best known for his weird, soulful brand of lo-fi indie-pop tunes, easygoing demeanor and sense of humor.

Ahead of his show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, DeMarco spoke with Westword about covering Japanese artist Haruomi Hosono, singing in different languages, starting a record label, and the joys of playing old hits for fans.

Westword: Did you learn Japanese in preparation for covering Haruomi Hosono's "Honey Moon"?

Mac DeMarco: I had a couple of my Japanese friends help me. One of my friends was here and helped me with the pronunciation, and one of my friends, Yuki, lives in Japan, and I’d get him on FaceTime and he’d translate. I would send him versions of it and ask, “How was the pronunciation?” and he’d be like, “You did this wrong; you did that wrong.”

It was funny, though: Even with the translation, Japanese lyrics don’t often switch over to English and make perfect sense right after that. But, yeah, it was interesting. I had never done that before. I’ve always wanted to try. It was cool. And in the end, Yuki said it wasn’t so bad; it sounded like Japanese.

Is that common for artists to dabble in new languages for touring?

I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t know. If I did speak a second language, like, fluently, then maybe I’d try it more often. But French is really the only thing I kind of have, and I’m not great at that, either. I’m not sure.

With this, I guess I could have chosen an English song to cover, but I don’t know. I just try to do...I like Haruomi Hosono's music, and almost part of the experience for me is not knowing what the lyrics are about. It felt right to me.

As far as artists doing that, there’s this one story about Michael Jackson doing it. I don’t remember which...something off Bad, maybe. He did a Spanish version of a song, and South America just went nuts. They loved it.

But, yeah, he did a really legit job; I think he had language coaches and stuff.

That sounds like a very Michael Jackson sort of thing to do.

Yeah. He’s the king.

What was the idea behind starting your own record label?

It’s mostly just like a glorified way of saying that I’m self-releasing. It’s through a distribution company. Yeah, we’re trying it out, see how it goes. It’s through Caroline Distribution Company.

As soon as we announced it, a lot of people were sending me demos and asking, “Can I get a job?”, and I was like, "Uh, I’m not really going to be thinking about anything like that." I put my own mixtape out on it, so, yeah, for now, cool. Exciting.

Is it a move to give you more autonomy with the way you release music?

I guess so. It’s not like it was ever really that strict or anything with Captured Tracks, but, yeah. Just a move to try it out, see what happens. Captured Tracks is still working all my old records, so it’s like we’re still family. We’ll see what’s up.

Why did it seem like now was the right time to do this?

My contract was finished with them, so an opportunity arose, and that’s that.

Does scheduling your first solo tour mean anything to you?

I think for me, it’s mostly a way to switch things up a little bit. I think that we’ve been doing this for a long time, and touring the same way. Things can feel...not routine, but you know, it’s nice to do it a different way.

And I play solo shows a lot, but it’s not as…I don’t know, advertised or written about as the band shows. But I do always really enjoy the solo shows. They’re a different flavor for me, different vibes. It should be cool.

It’s also an opportunity to go play in cities that maybe we wouldn’t usually or necessarily hit up with the band, just because of scheduling. Everybody’s got their own lives and stuff, so it’ll be a nice little trip. Me and my girlfriend, cruising across the country, meeting new people, playing some songs.

What are other ways you’ve attempted to stay fresh creatively?

Mmm. I don’t know. I think I’m still trying to figure it out. I don’t know. I think mainly with the experimenting with new instruments, sounds, genres, and playing with different people. Listening to new music that people wouldn’t necessarily think, “Oh, Mac would like this.” Stuff that’s kind of out of my bracket.

I think nowadays, it’s quite funny — we had quite a break, or a couple months of break, we’re ramping up to go on tour soon — but it’s interesting, getting on stage the last couple shows. We did a festival a little while ago and shows in L.A. last week, but it’s funny to get back up there and do this rock-and-roll set when it’s not really the music I’ve been focusing on or paying attention to the last little while. But, you know, I still love it.

So when you’re playing live and it comes to playing the old hits, does it ever feel not quite genuine?

No, not really. I think especially with the older songs, the way the band’s set up right now — I have my friend John and my friend Alex playing in the band, and they’re heavy-duty musicians, so we’ve been trying new arrangements and things in different ways, bringing back songs from a long time ago.

It clears ways to keep it fresh on stage, but I appreciate people coming to shows and wanting to hear certain songs, and I’ll do it for them. I love doing it. It’s not really a worry for me.

Do you feel responsible at all for any changes that the Toronto Raptors have made since your band Met Gala released the song "Fuck the Toronto Raptors" a couple months ago?

[Laughs.] I’m not the one responsible. I don’t follow basketball. I don’t have any idea about anything with sports in general. That was Peter, who used to play in my band. He’s got his own band, Homeshake, that’s doing pretty well right now.

But Pete — Pete decided that. Yeah. Maybe he just has a problem with a couple of the Raptors. I was just in there having a jam, you know [laughs].

It’s funny — putting that song out, I got a lot of people sending me messages like, “Yeah, fuck the Toronto Raptors!” and I was like “What? I don’t know.” But there you go.

I think everyone on the Internet is just ready to say "Fuck you" to someone.

It’s true.

What has you most excited that you’re working on right now?

I don’t know. I’m working on new music, nothing really together as a whole project or anything. I’m excited to go play more shows, too. We’re heading out this weekend to go play some stuff on the East Coast. I haven’t been there for a while. I’ll get to see some old friends, play some songs for everybody.

I’ve been recording a lot with other musicians, having more people come over. I have a more conducive space for that now; it’s not like inviting somebody to my closet bedroom anymore. That’s been really cool. It’s a kind of different satisfaction, where the feeling of getting a good song recorded where you’re satisfied is one thing, but I think also just helping somebody out and then being like, “Wow, it sounds pretty good!” — that’s a different kind of pleasure, as well.

Just trying to make music. Trying to make as much music as possible, whether that’s my own or someone else’s, or something that will never come out. Just enjoying myself.

Mac DeMarco, with Noname, Free Nationals, and DJ Jonathan Toubin, September 10, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison.