Manchester Academy, Manchester.
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December 2015. Mac DeMarco is driving around the streets near his house by the water in Far Rockaway, Queens. The demos for This Old Dog are cranked on the stereo of his 1987 Volvo station wagon. The engine's rumbling as normal, but something doesn't feel right. His gut says he should abandon the songs and his deadline. He does, and then spends the better part of 2016 on tour.
The next time he touches the demos, he's inside the cramped confines of his latest home studio, in the guest bedroom of his new house on the edge of Echo Park, Los Angeles. Every record so far's been done somewhere fresh and this one's no different.
LA is the first place Mac's chilled in a while that hasn't been "really weird in some way". He bought a fixer-upper, moved in around August and spent four months surrounded by builders, clutter and a set of songs he describes as "sad and strange."
"It was weird having the record sit in my stomach for so long. I was stressed or anxious a lot of the time. There's an air of terror and uncertainty surrounding it," he says. "Confusing is the best way to put it."
Terror isn't immediately obvious from the strummed acoustic, whirring drum machine and gentle, video game synth and keyboard patterns that run through a 40-minute record rich in meditative melody and fuelled by Paul Simon, James Taylor and Mac's beloved Yellow Magic Orchestra.
But scratch at This Old Dog's two bookends - the rolling twang of My Old Man and soft outro Watching Him Fade Away - and you'll find sadness.
"Those two are kinda sad which is weird for me," Mac says. "A lot of 'em are. This record doesn't really have any love songs on it either, maybe one or two, I'd have days where I'd try to write big pop songs but I just couldn't."
For Mac, This Old Dog is realer and closer to home than his previous work, particularly Salad Days, which people pigeonholed as a 'growing up record'. And it's committing himself to that realness that made him squirm late at night among the synthesisers and doodled scraps of paper in the guest bedroom.
Listen to him sing, 'Even though we barely know each other, it still hurts watching him fade away' over two-fingered, John Lennon keyboard and you'll understand the trepidation. Death haunts Dreams From Yesterday, A Wolf Who Wears Sheeps Clothes and the seven-minute Moonlight On The River. Piano blankets One More Love Song, and Sister ends side A with a minute-long I love you message. In fact, both halves begin and end with the four most direct examples of Mac's focus on melody and message.
"I got gripped by things," he explains. "It's like the songs didn't give me a choice. In the end it feels right but the record had a weird, mind of its own vibe."
That naturalness came to define This Old Dog. These 13 songs (which make it the longest Mac album) were written on an old acoustic bought with a borrowed $10 bill off a guy in the sketchy Vancouver 'hood Mac once called home. It's the smoothest, cleanest Mac record yet. Most of what you hear are first takes, and his phrasing and personality lend it that familiar homey quality.
"There's something about melody when it's so simple, where you don't need all these fucking bells and whistles and that's enough to get by," Mac says, explaining how he got there. "I wanted to make something that will resonate with me, no baloney. I didn't want to be Baloney Jones, just a normal dude."
January 2017. Mac DeMarco is standing outside his new house with his most demanding record yet in the can, feeling considerably brighter than a year ago. This old dog is moving on.