Mac DeMarco finds rock flair in carefree spirit

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Musician Mac DeMarco poses during the Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival on April 14, 2017 in Indio, California

For most artists playing Coachella days before a new album, the premier festival would be an obvious place to plug the upcoming release. Mac DeMarco is different.

The Canadian indie rocker, whose third album "This Old Dog" comes out on May 5, matter-of-factly told the crowd as he "debuted" new songs under the hot desert sun that he imagined some had already heard them through leaks.

"I don't care," DeMarco told AFP later, sipping a beer in his ripped jeans and casually sprinkling profanities into his speech, when asked whether he wanted anyone to buy the album.

"People want to have the picture cover or whatever -- go buy it on vinyl. If you want to download it off iTunes, whatever. Or if you want to, download it for free," he said.

"A kid actually sent me 10 bucks on this app and the memo said, like, 'I listened too early.' And I don't have the app to accept his money."

DeMarco's carefree demeanor extends to his musical style. Sometimes described as part of a subgenre of "slacker rock," he exudes nonchalance with songs whose mellow arrangements disguise undertones of melancholy.

Despite his persona, he is no musical slouch. He plays every instrument in the studio and has a quickly recognizable lo-fi sound -- honed on his last full-length album, 2014's "Salad Days" -- with a gentle reverb on his guitar enveloping the melody.

"This Old Dog" preserves DeMarco's trademarks but turns more to acoustic guitar. As he wrote the album, DeMarco said, he was listening to folk rock greats Paul Simon and James Taylor -- but also Japanese early-generation synthesizer music, which he sampled on "Salad Days," giving his sound an occasional psychedelic air.

"There's a congruency between the music that I've made before, the music people expect me to listen to, and the music that I actually do listen to," he said. "And on this album it merged a little bit more than it usually does."

- 'Visceral' stage experience -

Playing Coachella, which takes place over two weekends with identical lineups in southern California, DeMarco showed his talent for multitasking -- singing and playing the guitar while smoking a cigarette between his teeth.

Backed by his touring band, he brought the set to a climax by hitting his pedals for heavy distortion and screaming -- playfully, rather than ominously -- like a warlock.

Such goofiness feels comfortable to DeMarco.

Although he recently played a New York benefit for Planned Parenthood -- the reproductive health group under threat from President Donald Trump -- he said his activism is limited to donations and that he has no plans to write political songs.

"My heart beats just like anybody else's heart, but here's the thing -- I can't go there," he said.

"I don't want to alienate anybody," he added, explaining that Americans in particular tend to take pride in strong political positions.

The title track on "This Old Dog" is a tale of never forgetting past love, with a tongue-in-cheek video of anthropomorphic dogs strolling around Los Angeles.

DeMarco wrote the album while living in New York but completed it in Los Angeles, saying he moved west so he could afford to buy a house with his girlfriend.

Even if New York real estate is still out of reach and his fans don't always pay for his music, the 26-year-old marveled at how he pulled in live crowds.

"I like to have a visceral and real experience with people. That's what I'm in it for," he said. "People wouldn't come to the shows if they didn't know the songs."

"I'm making way more money than I ever thought I would ever in my life, and I'm able to hook up a lot of my family members and people I love," he added.

"If it's bigger, or even less, who cares? It's beautiful."