Mac DeMarco's persona precedes him. He's a bedroom auteur in the great tradition of R. Stevie Moore and Ariel Pink, and he's managed to cut some of the most fan-beloved records of the 2010s. Budgets? Shoestring. Mic closet? Not enviable. Collaborators? Once a guy named Garfield helped him break a TEAC machine. How does he do it? How many full-length albums did he cut before he turned 25 years old? Enough to call him one of the hardest working guys in indie rock. With his newest full-length release, This Old Dog, Mac outgrows a tape fetish and lunges into the adult world of boutique digital recording rigs.
These days, with computers and all, a lot of people have recording equipment sitting around before they start making music. Was that the case with you?
As soon as I turned 16, I was playing instruments, and then my mom brought home one of those white MacBooks with GarageBand. I played around with that, but I never really did anything on it. Eventually my friend, Jeremy, got me this little Fostex VF-80 sketchy 8-track recorder with built-in effects and a funny mastering section. It had a 16 GB drive on it. That's what I learned on, in a way. It was plugging into the weird little preamps and seeing what I could do, but it worked. A lot of the Makeout Videotape music [Mac's old band] was done on that. I brought it to Vancouver. I brought it to Montreal. Eventually, the guy who used to play bass guitar in my band, Pierce [McGarry], was like, "Nah, dude. Tape, tape." So I got a 4-track; a Tascam 244. Even when I was 17, and cheap, I was into John Maus, Ariel Pink, Tomita [Isao], and R. Stevie Moore. They were all doing it at home. It sounded sketchy, but I was like, "Ah, I want that sound." You buy a little 4-track off Craigslist for $200 – well, the songs are different, but the sound is definitely there. Luckily I had a bunch of gear. It came to me from being in high school and playing with other bands. I had mics, and my little brother took drum lessons so I had a set, a couple amps, and my guitar equipment. Then I threw [in] mics wherever I could, and saw what I could get.
What mics were you using?
I had a bunch of [Shure SM]57s. For some reason I had a couple of the [Shure] BETA 58As and BETA 57s. I had no idea. I was like, "Mics; cool!" My friend gave me what I think was a Roland DR-80C, some really entry-level condenser mic that I don't think they even make anymore. But I used it on everything. Acoustic guitar, vocals, drums – even on a lot of the Mac DeMarco records. I had a RØDE NT2A that my other friend gave me, but I ended up trading that for a little open-faced 8-track reel-to-reel machine. It sounded too crispy to me. I thought, "Nah, I don't know about this one."
Were these tape machines staying in good repair?
The belt would get fucked up, so I'd need to take one out of another tape deck. Or I would have to call Tascam and say, "Yo, do you guys have one of these somewhere?" The funny thing is I've had that since like 2008, and I've never cleaned the heads on it once. It's funny to me because some of the older recordings I did on it were so blown-out and hissy, but I've had other recordings without changing the machine at all that sound clear and crisp. Now it's in really bad shape, but I can still turn it on and mess around every once in a while. With larger tapes, like 1/4-inch, 8-track, I started to get track dropouts and weird shit happening. Then I learned about isopropyl alcohol. I bought a tape demagnetizer off eBay. The only time I had anyone else come in was when I bought this big, nasty TEAC [deck]. I got it for $400 in Saint-Lazare [near Montreal]. It was a drive, and we had to take it down these stairs. It was a 16-track, 1-inch machine made for home use. But even when it came out, people were like, "This sucks." I had no idea. It was working a little bit, but I ended up destroying the bias oscillator. This guy Garfield [Lamb] works out of that studio Hotel2Tango [Tape Op #47], in Montreal; he'd come over, but it was beyond repair. All that I ended up getting out of the machine was a bunch of marks from leaving a soldering iron on my linoleum.
So were you releasing music as Makeout Videotape, at that point?
The Makeout Videotape music was with the Fostex. Then there was a little...