Mac DeMarco on the Stratocaster and Breaking Creative Roadblocks
The laid-back indie rocker also laments breaking two beloved guitars.
By Mike Duffy
Mac DeMarco studied music as a kid, but that didn’t much hold his interest.
“I became kind of bored with it, so I was like, ‘Okay, playing in a band doesn't seem that boring. I'm going to do that instead,” he said. “I understand keys and I can build a chord, but I'm not playing like some crazy arpeggios over something like crazy jazz triads. I can't do that.”
DeMarco’s easygoing approach to playing guitar is evident in his music, as highlighted on acclaimed albums like Salad Days or the recently released This Old Dog, which are chock full of lo-fi guitars and touches of spacey synths.
That breezy and laid-back attitude seems to come naturally to the Edmonton native. Eminently approachable and affable, DeMarco it just as chatty with his fans on stage as he is when encountering them in the real world.
DeMarco offered a taste of his unique personality to Fender when he sat down to talk about his musical beginnings, his love of the Fender Stratocaster and what he does when he gets stuck in a creative rut.
”Nowadays, a Stratocaster is all I really play.”
“My guitarist used to play a 12-string Danelectro guitar or whatever, and I was kind of like, ‘We need to get you a Strat or a Mustang or something.’ 'Cause it's all about the whammy for me now. It’s like that line, ‘It’s not really there if you're not using the thingamajig.’ I tried to reel back a little but because I put out a record a couple years ago and people were like, ‘Let go of the whammy, man!’”
“The guitar is the only instrument that I’m even close to being acceptable at playing, I think.”
“I play the drums, the bass. I play everything that's on this track. But as far as getting together with other human beings or playing in a band, maybe I could pull off playing some pretty scrappy drums, but other than that … So it's a love/hate thing because I'm most comfortable but also I wish that I could branch out and play this piano or do this pretty shuffle or something. [The guitar is] just the easiest way for me to get what I'm thinking out. It's just what I do, you know? It works.”
“My grandmother gave me this little Fender Champ. I think she was an opera singer so she had it in her studio for years.”
“She had a little SM58 microphone and would teach her students microphone technique through the amp to see how it sounds. I kept it for years, and there’s something about that Champ. I mean, I've played bass through it on my records, I've run keyboards through it on my records, I play guitar through it on my records. I love the way that it sounds. A little bit sharp, but buttery, and kind of saturates the sound in a nice way”
”I sometimes get stuck in these patterns, play the same chords or try the same progressions over and over.”
“You hit those kind of roadblocks. There's the chord progression, there's the change I always use, like here's the riff. Like, ‘Ah, crap.’ You know, you get a little bit bored. So one way that I made [the guitar] feel like an instrument I didn't understang was tuning it down. Then you have no idea where the chord shapes are. You have no idea where to grab anything. I wanted something fresh, and I wanted to be confused.”
”One day, I decided if I want a good Strat, it's gotta be a really old one. So I got this 1970 Strat and destroyed it … split the body right in half.”
"It was on stage, and I loved that guitar, I really did. I was like, 'Man, that's too bad,' but I didn't learn my lesson. Went and got a Eric Clapton 'Blackie' Strat. Beautiful guitar. What do I do? First day, we played the Greek Theatre, and I broke the body on that one, too. That, that is sacreligious. That is not OK."
”I need something that's ready to rip, all good to go.”
"Playing old guitars, using old gear and stuff like that, a lot of the time I think, 'Well it's not going to sound good if it's brand new.' But then it's like, 'Ah yes it sounds like a Strat!' And probably a lot better than with new pickups and everything like that."
For more from Mac DeMarco, check out his official Facebook page.