Banner Photo by Roo Lewis
Welcome to the first edition of UNDER THE INFLUENCE, which is surprisingly not about any illicit activities (I promise, FCC!). Instead, it’s a column about contemporary musicians and how they are influenced by the work that past musicians have done, specifically by pairing up one song from each era and discussing their similar and differing elements. I thought I’d start it off with someone we all know and love, Mac DeMarco, coupled with a band from the ’70s, The Doobie Brothers.
Mac DeMarco actually talks about the Doobie Brothers—specifically the song I’m choosing, too—in a “What’s in My Bag?” video by Amoeba Records. (Amoeba is a famous record store in Los Angeles, CA, and they film this great series that follows musicians around a store, asking them about the records they select. I’m addicted to watching them.) In typical, charming DeMarco fashion, he tells the audience, “Screw the rest of the album,” Minute by Minute, which he found mistakenly placed in the country clearance section, because the song “What a Fool Believes” is in itself worth the $1 price tag.
The Doobie Brothers, other than having a pretty killer name, were active from 1970 until 1982 when they disbanded, and then started up again in 1987. They’ve been putting out albums every couple of years, with their most recent being released in 2014. Their musical career has been described as broken up into three parts: pre-Michael McDonald, during-Michael McDonald, and post-Michael McDonald. The singer and keyboardist joined the group in 1975, when they became much more successful and popular. “What a Fool Believes” is easily one of the most recognized tunes, featuring McDonald heavily for his quintessential smooth baritone melodies and boppy, funky synth sounds.
If that sounds at all like Mac DeMarco to you, you’re right; in fact, he specifically and fondly points out McDonald’s face on the album cover in the Amoeba video. The song that I’ve selected for this comparison is “Passing Out Pieces,” off of DeMarco’s second, highly-anticipated and well-received album, Salad Days. The track begins unhesitatingly with a slow, loud, and layered synth beat that has all the foundations of the Doobie Brothers tune. DeMarco’s voice is equal to, if not quieter than, this prominent synth sound, as he drawls along in his sweet, lazy way.
Lyrically, both share a feeling of low-key resentment, but also take on the role of the good-natured fool. The Brothers’ song describes the plight of a “sentimental fool” trying to tell his “nostalgic tale” to a woman who ultimately leaves him.
“But what a fool believes he sees,” croons McDonald over and over in the song’s catchy chorus line.
“Passing Out Pieces” starts with DeMarco’s commentary on the state of his own life. “Watching my life, passing right in front of my eyes / Hell of a story; oh, is it boring?”
Mac DeMarco’s persona has always disregarded the importance of listening to the mainstream opinion, instead displaying a continuously open-minded, communal attitude. He continues,
“Can’t claim to care, never been reluctant to share / Passing out pieces of me, don’t you know nothing comes free?”
As far as differences, the Mac DeMarco track is notably slower, and slightly less upbeat, holding out chords of dissonance for longer. The drumming drags a bit, underlining the slow dreaminess of his music, in a kind of dazed effect. His voice, too, is scratchier than McDonald’s, a characteristic that he utilizes and emphasizes in most of his music. While the man on stage is always smiling and making butt jokes, his music generally tends to partake this subtle, mellow darkness of both sound and lyrical story. It’s an interesting dichotomy that can be a little depressing if you really listen, but it adds a layer of interest that I’ve always thought really makes a Mac DeMarco song.
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