When it was time to make a new record, Mac DiMarco was away from the studio.
Instead, he traveled solo from California to Canada to Chicago to Queens, New York. Along the way, he gave up nicotine and stopped at a huge cabin in Utah, where he was “probably the only person for 50 miles.” It was “terrible,” he says, and he left after one night.
During this spontaneous adventure, DeMarco meets friends, fans and family and returns home with “Five Easy Hot Dogs,” a collection of 14 instruments named after the cities where they were recorded.
Ahead of the release, spoke to the “Prince of Indie Rock”. diversity About the joys and horrors of travel, the problems with TikTok, and why he’s right as a “legacy act.”
For this record, you went on a road trip and said you weren’t coming home until you had an album. What was the process like in each city in terms of finding inspiration and then going out and recording the tracks?
The only thing I really thought about was what I needed to go out and do it for a long time. So I had gear and other life crap with me. I didn’t really have a plan. We played San Francisco and just started driving. I told a lot of my friends and they were like, [mocking voice] “Alright, man…alright!” I have a lot of history there, especially in the Pacific Northwest and the Canadian West. So I’ll just drive until I feel tired and I’ll stop somewhere. It was quite spur-of-the-moment. I didn’t even think about how it would sound, I just hit the record.
You were effectively going on tour without playing shows.
Yes, I have never been on vacation at any point in my life, not even with my family as a child. Maybe once or twice. But any time I’m on tour, I have some way to record with me, even if I don’t use it. I can’t take a day off. I can’t take a vacation. So this is an extension of that.
You mentioned in the press release for “Five Easy Hot Dogs” that you had a terrible experience in isolated Utah in this huge cabin. What happened?
I was in New York for about a month, and I got very much into the routine of being in New York. New York is very good at tricking you into thinking you’ve done a lot in one day because you walk around and spend money — you actually can. It was really fun, but I was like, “I haven’t done any recording. I’ve got to get out of here and go to Utah.” When I left New York, I was like, “I’m going to quit nicotine.” Which… I smoked. a lot. This leads to two or three weeks of dizziness, withdrawal of sweat. I was driving alone across the country, straight up lost. I wound up in Monroe, Utah. I booked a cabin at this place called Panguitch, which is probably pretty nice in the summer. But I was in the middle of nowhere, and I was probably the only person for like 50 miles. You could sleep 20 people in this house… there were taxidermy animals. It was like “The Shining”. terrible Not fun. So I spent less than a night there and packed my stuff and headed straight to Coachella.
You are known to release demos and B-sides. Are you planning to do this with “Five Easy Hot Dogs”?
Really, there isn’t any. The reason I record demos is because throughout many of my records, I’ve fallen in love with demos. They call it demo-itis. It’s hard to re-record something and make it feel the way it originally did. So I’m trying to streamline the way to capture everything. I don’t want to re-record anything, I just want it to be. Even with this record, my friend Rory was there [McCarthy] Mix it, and he sent it back and I was like, “I need the mixes to be the mixes I’ve done on the road because they’re what I’m used to. It feels the most organic.”
What did you hear while driving? Music, audiobooks?
I listened to a few audiobooks. It’s funny that the place in Utah felt like “The Shining” because I watched “The Shining” while falling asleep like every night of this trip, which is a weird thing. I really enjoy old video game music from when I was a kid, like “Final Fantasy.” The soundtracks are still melodious and musically very catchy. While moving to Utah, I found this song called “How to Fall in Love” by the Moody Blues. Great song. I’ve heard it probably 600 times. Sometimes I listen to a little Frank Sinatra. I will listen to the recordings made along the way. I’ll record something in a city so it feels like that city, but listening to it on the street, the highway also kind of bleeds into the memory of that song.
Besides Utah, have you had any significantly uncomfortable experiences?
I was trying to get to Chicago but there was a real winter storm and I got stuck in Fargo for a while. I’ve driven through a lot of really terrible whiteouts, but this was one of the worst. It was just me in the middle of nowhere in a really sketchy blizzard. Semi-trucks overturned on the side of the road everywhere. It was horrible. I always complain that California has no seasons, and then it’s like, “Well, it’s winter here. Enjoy.”
You said in the press release that sometimes you would walk around a town until someone recognized you and left. What does that usually lead to?
There were a few instances of meeting kids and being like, “Yeah, sure, let’s go.” I met this kid Wayne on the street. This kid Connor showed me around. I’m lucky because the kind of people I want to spend an afternoon with make themselves clear. People who just want to have a snapchat with you, or a… what’s a front and back one called?
BeReal. Yes, they will take a BeReal and then pee.
Many of your recent works have been collaborations with other artists. Do you get a certain thrill from co-writing that you don’t get from performing solo?
I’m still looking for that thrill from collaborating with people. I’m going to tell you the truth, I don’t really enjoy doing it. I have had some bad experiences doing this. There are many metrics because of the way the internet works. And I have pretty good metrics. Sometimes it comes into play more than the music part, which usually comes later. It’s a bit disappointing. I really don’t like doing situations like this when it feels like a play date. There have been instances with friends where it was great. I never think past “come to my studio and record.” I never thought it would come out because there are so many things that don’t. But as much as I do that stuff, I have four or five times as much of my own stuff sitting on the hard drive.
Given the current state of music and music discovery, are you glad you came before the age of TikTok, where labels are pushing artists for social media-friendly hooks and short, replayable songs?
It is very disappointing. I think the problem is that artists go into roles like, “Well, I need these things.” You don’t… but if you want to make money I guess you do. I’ve always been about making whatever you want, and if the money comes in later, that’s a bonus. A lot of my songs actually do pretty well on TikTok, but I never had to think, [mocking voice] “Okay, that should sound pretty good speeded up!” At the same time… what do people say? Get that bag, or whatever? Live your life if you want to live your life, I don’t give a fuck. But kids don’t like going on tours anymore. Traveling was the greatest gift of my life. You get a van with your friends and drive around, party every night, share your music, explore weird parts of each city and meet other weird people. It’s like, “Do you want to turn your life into an adventure? Here you go.” And now people are like, “I’m so tired…” I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old uncle, but it’s weird!
So it felt very natural to me to make this record. It has its own quirky little musical identity and it doesn’t “slap”, it doesn’t have a “banger”. It is exactly what it is. I love music. I love to record music. I love listening to music. And I don’t need extra baggage to come with it. It’s a very simple joy to be alive. Maybe I’m being a bit too poetic…
It’s been almost a decade since “2” and “Salad Days” were released. Looking back, do you ever consider your legacy and influence on the sound of indie music?
I don’t know… I guess. It’s really cool that people still listen to those records and some of the songs still do quite well on the internet It’s funny, like when kids treat me like Don Corleone or something. It’s weird. What about all these contemporaries who were around me whom I was trying to be like? [People credit me for popularizing] Red vans and cuffing your jeans. I didn’t invent doing these things. Are you out of your fucking mind?
I am now comfortable in my life and I have money and my health is good. I’m not really trying to climb any stairs. I am in a position where I can help my family if they need it. I can take care of things. It just lets me make the art that I want to make, and if the art does this or that, that’s great. But if not, then whatever – at least I enjoyed making it.
Does it feel weird to already be considered “nostalgic” music for that era?
Someone needs to cool the engine on the nostalgia machine. Isn’t that enough time for people to be nostalgic? We never stopped touring and playing music on “Salad Day”. But it’s okay. If I’m a legacy act like the old reunion tour rockers, that’s fine by me.
Are you looking at any tours or festivals this coming season?
We don’t have anything on the books, but I’d like to do some shows for “Five Easy Hot Dogs”. It doesn’t make sense to take it on tour, but maybe a few shows. Looking at the nature of travel, I don’t really want to do it the way we were doing it before COVID, which was “keep moving, keep pumping.” I was still drinking and smoking, and I was starting to fall apart. It was not good. I told myself when the pandemic happened that when we come back, it needs to be different. But then I said yes to a lot of things that would make it a lot more uniform than before, and I pulled the plug on some shows. But I love playing shows and meeting people. As we’ve talked about, the Internet and social media have changed music and fandom and a lot of other things, but it doesn’t matter how big the show is — to stand outside and go to some kid saying, “That was great!” … it’s just amazing.
What else is going on in Mack DeMarco’s world?
In the last six to eight months I have become quite fascinated with motorcycles. We did the last tour in August with these coastal towns, but I did it all on this BMW sportbike. “Five Easy Hot Dogs” is kind of a proof of concept, so now I think I’ll make the recording rig a bit smaller so it fits on a bike. It won’t be North America next time, but keep your eyes peeled. Maybe you’ll see me in a BMW GS someone from all over the world.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Kids, brush your teeth.
This interview has been edited and condensed.