At the top of 2022, Mac DeMarco packed some guitars and gear in his 1990s Toyota Land Cruiser and started driving north up the West Coast. The singer-songwriter, best known for tucking away heartfelt observations on love and loss behind sluicing guitar lines and a jokester persona, told few about his road-trip plans. He barely knew himself. He just kept driving. A few days in, he pulled off the highway near Fort Bragg, a small city in Northern California, to take in a beautiful triangular rock jutting up from the gleaming Pacific Ocean like a geological shark fin. Then he took a photo of the sewer outlet directly across the road.
That photo adorns the cover of Five Easy Hot Dogs, DeMarco’s new instrumental album recorded during his two-month trek that took him from NoCal all the way to his former stomping grounds in Rockaway Beach, Queens. “It just symbolizes the genesis of the whole thing,” he tells MTV News. “I was alone on the coast, and I was like, here we go. Let's see what happens."
He can’t stress enough how there simply was no plan. But the loose guideline he gave himself was to record something every day so he didn’t feel guilty about being on this trip, a journey he felt compelled to take after the death of his father and after being cooped up during the COVID pandemic. Five Easy Hot Dogs — a name he dreamed up well before the actual music — was captured in hotels, motels, at friends’ places across North America, and even in the car itself. “They say it's the engine that just never stops giving,” he says, also celebrating it as a “multimedia van” for the various recording devices he set up inside. Sometimes he slept in it.
DeMarco kept journals, took photographs, and captured plenty of footage of his travels. “Maybe someday I'll share [it] with people, but for now, it's just for me,” he says. What he has shared are these 14 cozy songs that, even without his voice, maintain a vibe capturing the “dewy and damp and fresh” feel of the Pacific Northwest, where he was born (in Edmonton, Canada). Or maybe somewhere more exotic: “I kind of feel like this record sounds like it was made in an Ewok village in Star Wars.”
When he connects with MTV News over the phone from his house in Los Angeles, he’s watching The Simpsons after a few uncharacteristically rainy days and celebrating the better part of a year without a cigarette. He spoke about making Five Easy Hot Dogs while on the road, what he might try for the next one, and the very best hot dog he’s ever eaten.
MTV News: First, congrats on quitting smoking. How long has it been?
Mac DeMarco: Since last April, I guess.
MTV News: I know that this is probably the obvious question, but does that change your relationship with “Ode to Viceroy,” which is one of your signature songs?
DeMarco: No. I still think I'm the same. I just don't smoke anymore. But even that song was kind of an anti-smoking song. It's like dark comedy, you know what I mean? Who writes a fucking love song about their cigarette brand? It's completely insane.
MTV News: It sounds like what really led this album was the feel, that these songs felt right together, more than anything else. Is that similar to how you've approached previous albums?
DeMarco: I've always tried not to [overthink things]. But at the same time, the further you get in your career, the harder that is to actually achieve and follow through with that because there's more money involved, there's more people listening, whatever. Any opportunity where I don't really have to, it feels organic. I kind of drove myself nuts with [2019’s Here Comes the Cowboy]. Having [Five Easy Hot Dogs] done and having it kind of sit on a shelf for a year and being like, "Eh, I guess I could do something with that," is an interesting thing. I don't want to make it sound like, "Oh, this is something I did. Let's put it out." But I don't feel like it sounds like anything, really. It sounds like my music, but it doesn't really sound like anything else going on right now. It's got its own little personality.
I've talked to a couple people, even my family. They're like, "Why didn't you sing on your record?" And I'm kind of like, "Listen to it." And they're like, "Oh, you can still tell that it's you, even though you're not singing." And I'm like, "Yeah, that's kind of the point."
MTV News: It must have been very liberating to go on this trip where you were trying to record a little bit every day, and then to be on the other side of that and realize, "It actually was that simple."
DeMarco: There's no pressure. I didn't tell anyone that I work with I was doing this. I just left, and it was this very personal adventure. With Here Comes the Cowboy, a part of it was this demoitis thing that I get where I'm trying to make these final recordings that feel the same as the demo versions to me, and you can never do that. Now I've got this ethos where I'm like, "Fuck demoing. I'm never demoing again. I'm just making what's going to come out."
MTV News: What was going on that made you want to just leave? What was going on when that idea popped into your head?
DeMarco: I'd never spent as much time in one place as I did [during the pandemic]. No touring, no nothing. I left L.A. a couple times but barely. I got to know L.A. pretty well. But I think partially that cooped up feeling, and also I needed to go clear up some family stuff. My father passed away. I had some stuff to do with that, and I hadn't seen my family for a long time. It was almost a manic thing, like, "I'm going to go, and it's going to be beautiful. I'm just going to figure it out, and I'll just go and make art and live the beautiful life and be free." And everyone around me was kind of like, "You sound a little insane, but also we understand and we trust you, so go do it." And I did, and it was really nice.
MTV News: Your plan was to go north, which you did. And then—
DeMarco: I think it was just to go. I don't know if you've ever been on a nice highway, the coastal highway, and there's no destination in the GPS. You're just going. You're just driving. It's great. There were points where I thought I was going to be doing it for years. It only lasted a couple months, but I thought, "Hey, when I get to New York, I'll put my car on a boat. I'll go to Europe" — this is before the conflict in Ukraine — and I was like, "I'll drive through Eastern Europe, and I'll drive through Russia, and I'll make it over to Mongolia, and then I'll be in China." I was really just like, "Fuck it."
MTV News: You recorded in hotels, motels, in the car, at friends’ places, wherever. How would you know a song was done?
DeMarco: Because I was traveling and spending money, I was like, "I need to record today or else I'm going to feel guilty about not recording today." So I would set up, record something, and try and get it as finished feeling, I guess, as I could, and then bounce it. It was all very quick, doing a mix in 30 seconds or something — "Yeah, that's fine. OK. Print it." There were a lot of instances where I couldn't use the full [setup]. Some hotels were just too sketchy to bring a drum kit into. "For percussion, I'll use the back of my acoustic guitar and a pill bottle," or whatever was there. I think having something be simple and effective is hard to do, but way better to wind up with if you can.
MTV News: In certain places where you didn't have a plan, you'd go around and occasionally people would recognize you. That feels like the inverse of everybody coming to your place in Rockaway Beach. It was you meeting them and having a cup of coffee with them.
DeMarco: It was the inverse, but without an invitation. The funniest to me is when I wandered around a place all day just being like, "Please God, somebody recognize me so I could figure out what the fuck to do here," and it just doesn't work. And then I'm like, "Well, that was a very peculiar and lonely day, but whatever. That's fine." But in other instances, some parts of Canada, for example, I met kids that were cool and nice and they were like, "What are you doing here?" And I'm like, "I don't really know." And they're like, "Do you want to hang out?" And I'm like, "Yeah, sure." And it's just a very organic situation like that.
You don't get to do a lot of things like that when you're on tour because you're on a schedule, and there's things you gotta do. Deciding to go take a nap by some lake in the middle of Oregon somewhere — yeah, why not? Take a little hike, make a weird little video, fuck it. That's beautiful.
MTV News: Do you have a favorite instrumental album or favorite instrumental songs?
DeMarco: So many. I mostly listen to instrumental music. It's tough being a singer-songwriter guy where everything that I've done, I'm known for writing these little songs, but I'm not naturally a very lyric-driven guy. On this trip, I listened to the soundtrack from Final Fantasy X. This soundtrack is the only thing I've had on my phone or iPod or MP3 player or CD player or whatever since I was a teenager. It's kind of dorky, but I love it. I listened to a lot of Japanese music like Yellow Magic Orchestra. Some kind of new age stuff or ambient stuff. But I love some good lyrics, too. Lou Reed. I'll take Lou Reed any day.
MTV News: What is the best hot dog you’ve ever eaten?
DeMarco: In either Santiago or Buenos Aires they have a kind of, like, famous hot dog. They're called the choripán. There was this day I was walking around with a couple of the Brazilian people we know down there. We walked to this beautiful river, and there was a stand that was making these choripáns. Here's my thing: I don't even really like hot dogs that much, but this place, because I had this hot dog at such a beautiful place — I'm always looking for the most famous local sandwich wherever I am in the world, and this was the one there. I'll never forget that afternoon. When you're in parts of the world that far away from where you're used to being, I get this strange, bittersweet [feeling] like, "Where the fuck am I?" It's almost like a limbo feeling but, like, limbo bliss. Was it good? It was fine, but I'll never forget that dog.