Sydney’s Paul Mac (real name Paul McDermott) is among the godfathers of Australia’s EDM scene. But the DJ/producer’s career has been anything but linear. McDermott became famous as half of the ’90s rave outfit Itch-E & Scratch-E with Andy Rantzen – he cheekily thanked local ecstasy dealers upon winning an ARIA. McDermott has also forged a solo profile, debuting with 2001’s credible 3000 Feet High – home to his signature Just The Thing (featuring Peta Morris).
Along the way, McDermott teamed with Silverchair’s Daniel Johns to form The Dissociatives. He now has a DJ/production vehicle with Jonny Seymour called Stereogamous – they promote Newtown’s queer night Voguey Bear. Then there’s his work behind the scenes, composing for film and theatre, where he’s utilised his conservatorium background. Even in the late ’90s McDermott hit the studio with Baz Luhrmann, contributing to his eccentric compilation Something For Everybody – arguably the birthplace of the ironic mash-up.
Today McDermott is promoting Holiday From Me, his first album in a decade and with a sound akin to euphoric emo electronica. The warehouse disco lead single State Of War is a collaboration with seasoned Sydney DJ Goodwill and singer Kira Puru. And, while Yeezy has made Paul McCartney hip again, McDermott reached out to Dave Mason, frontman of the New Wave band The Reels, for Not Even Jesus, after admiring The Reels’ haunting Quasimodo’s Dream. Other guest vocalists include Megan Washington, Dappled Cities’ Tim Derricourt, and Hercules And Love Affair’s Shaun J Wright.
Holiday… thematises escape and transcendence, yet McDermott’s desire was for it to have depth. “So many songs on the radio are written for 16-year-old girls, essentially,” McDermott says, “and often I think the emotional side of the lyric is really simple. Generally, it’s like a tantrum of, ‘You’re fucked and I’m amazing.’ It’s really one-sided.”
The bassy Someone Else, which Australian Idol rebel Ngaiire sings, is McDermott’s gracious response to getting “dumped” by a boyfriend. “The lyrics come from a much more mature space of what life is and what love is and what’s important and what isn’t important.”
McDermott will launch Holiday… with a “bizarre listening party”: he’s hired an old train to depart Central Station for a “mystery location”. “It is so crazy and I’m going to lose money on it and everything – but I don’t give a fuck. I just think this is the funniest idea I’ve had in ages. So it’ll be like a magical mystery tour listening party in our own private train!”
Watch: Paul Mac – State of War feat. Kira Puru & Goodwill
Music Feeds: It’s 10 years between solo albums for you. That’s a long time in the music biz.
Paul Mac: I know, I know – everything has changed. It’s a completely different world out there… There’s good bits and there’s bad bits. I love this access to a world of music. I love things like Beatport and Traxsource and stuff where you can buy a fucking amazing piece of techno for $2, instead of having to line up at a shop and hopefully get that piece of vinyl for $20 – that was 10 years ago.
MF: There is that push and pull between nostalgia and futurism – or innovation – in electronic music now. This album really fits well into that.
PM: I hope so! It’s weird. I try to make my music completely without any kind of fashion choices. It literally reflects where I’m at at the time, and not even what I’m listening to or what I’m DJing. What I DJ is completely different to what I make.
When I sit down to write a song, it’s because I’ve just found this beautiful new chord progression or this brand new sound that I wanna explore or a different sort of rhythm, and suddenly you’ve got a song, and then 10 years later you’ve got an album. It’s like, “Fuck, I don’t know – is anyone gonna play it? Does it fit into any format?” All of that is unconscious. Sometimes it falls in fashion, and sometimes it doesn’t, but the important thing is just being true to your soul and making the music that you actually wanna make.
MF: Your pal Daniel Johns has got a very bold new project out in his ‘R&B’ Aerial Love EP. He doesn’t like looking backwards because there’s “too many ghosts”. Are you nostalgic?
PM: I think the reason why I got into electronic music in the first place, and dance music in particular, was because it was forever looking forward. From Kraftwerk on, it was moving forward and “What’s the new sound”? And then acid house happened and then Italo house happened and then drum ‘n’ bass happened, and then it just kept on going and going and going into the future, which is what still excites me about electronic music in general.
Often you’ll get asked in interviews, “What’s your favourite album?” or “What’s your favourite song?” And it’s like, “The one that I haven’t heard yet that’s gonna blow me away.” So I’ve never liked ‘retro’. I’ve never liked looking backwards. I hate it when bands revive a style or go back to the ’80s, and even in the ’80s when people went back to the ’60s. I just find that annoying and pointless. Like, “That’s done, let’s find something new.” It’s always a mash-up of your influences, you can’t escape that, but I’m always trying to make it forward-looking, for sure.
MF: Talking of ‘new generation’, you tweeted about working with Troye Sivan.
PM: When he got signed to EMI Records, essentially on his [YouTube] followers – he’s got that many followers, somebody’s gonna buy it! (laughs) – they just sent him around to write with a load of people to see what sort of directions could happen. So we got together in the studio one day.
I called Megan Washington in, so we’d have a three-way writing session, and [we] wrote a song that’s a contender for his album. He’s also been to LA and probably written 500 more songs since then. We just had a day together in the studio, and it was really beautiful. We came up with this really beautiful song. But I don’t know if it’s going to make it to the album.
Listen: Paul Mac – My Friend feat. Shaun J Wright & Stereogamus (Extended Mix)
MF: You and Stereogamous produced some music with George Michael. What’s the story?
PM: Yeah! Well, George – oh, it’s a long and twisted story of how we met… [But] George really liked what Stereogamous was doing and asked if we’d collaborate with him. He was doing this album, and it was gonna be his big gay album kinda thing and a lot more dancey and a lot more whatever. So I set two months aside and we had lots of sessions. But George is incredibly slow to work with. White Light came out, which we did a mix of – and then there were about three or four more [songs]. Then George disappeared in a puff of smoke (laughs).
I’m not sure what he’s doing at the moment. I think there’s stuff going on in his life. I’m sure the album will come, but I don’t know where it’s at. But I’ve got a million hilarious stories to tell about staying at his house and stuff!
MF: You scored the Kath & Kimderella movie!
PM: Oh, yeah! I make a brief cameo at the end of it, if you look closely. I’m playing this grand piano at this big party scene at the end.
MF: What is the status of Itch-E & Scratch-E?
PM: Itch-E & Scratch-E did that album, Hooray For Everything!!!, in 2010. That was fun. But doing an album is a lot of work for Itch-E & Scratch-E ’cause [Andy has] got a day job and a daughter and we probably get one night a week, if we were to work – and that probably takes about a year-and-a-half to get an album sort of thing. I love the idea of one-offs. So we’d always be open to Itch-E & Scratch-E remixes or, yeah, doing one-off things for a project, but I don’t think there’ll be an album in hurry.
Plus I’m really enjoying moving into the future… I really enjoy working with Stereogamous because it’s like a clean slate and it’s much more relentlessly dance music-based. When I work on my own, I tend to write songs, ’cause I enjoy writing songs, but I love getting away from that and doing more abstract dance music and abstract film music. I look for those sort of jobs of applying everything I’ve learnt over these many years to fun new projects in different ways and not just repeating myself, which is why I don’t do that many Paul Mac albums – and there won’t be another one for a long time, either, if there is another one.
MF: What are your tour plans behind this album? Will you do some DJ dates maybe, appearing with live vocalists, as you did at the Mardi Gras Party?
PM: Maybe. I don’t have any huge desire to tour as much as I used to. I don’t know if there’ll be a full-on tour but, if the offers come from festivals or clubs to do that sort of thing, I’m totally up for it, so I’m just waiting and seeing on what happens with the album, to be honest. Apart from the DJ presentation of it, what I’d really love to do is a run of a small acoustic version of all of my songs from the three albums, and even with different singers, just to explore the songs. That’s something I’ve been talking about. Like, an ‘Evening with Paul Mac and Friends’ kinda vibe. So I’m thinking seriously about that.
I haven’t done anything about it yet, but that’s something I definitely wanna do, just to cast new light on the songs, because I think a good song’s a good song. You can do Just The Thing as a ballad, it still would work. There’s plenty of ways you could reimagine them. I think that’d be a really fun project to do, so keep an eye out. But that’d take me another fucking three years to organise, so don’t hold your breath!
‘Holiday From Me’ is out Friday, 10th April. The Holiday From Me Express departs Sydney Wednesday, 8th April – details below.
Paul Mac Holiday From Me Album Launch
Wednesday, 8th April
Central Station, Country section, Platform 1 at 7pm sharp
Tickets: Resident Advisor
Leaving from Central Station, Country section, Platform 1 at 7pm sharp, the party train will transport guest to the mystery destination for some top level food and drinks, spontaneous performances, and some partying with the party people. Return transport to Central will be provided.