The new album, titled Five Easy Hot Dogs, offers a loose map of his route across the US and Canada. Each song is named for where it was recorded and ordered chronologically. “I would just pull up,” he said. “I wanted to surprise people.” He started out in scenic Gualala then hit Crescent City, home to the infamous Pelican Bay State Prison. By the time he got to Portland, he realized he would have to put in work for social interaction. “I spent two days, maybe three, and I literally saw no one. I just ate at weird restaurants—alone—went thrifting, made a couple recordings, and left. But I like that hidden-in-plain-sight vibe.”
A challenge with traveling incognito: if you don’t tell anyone you’re coming, there’s a chance they won’t be there when you arrive. A lot of times he would pull into a new city and realize all his friends were out of town. Fortunately DeMarco has a good sense of where to find his fans. He hung around coffee shops and record stores and strolled around the hipper neighborhoods of whatever city was in, hoping to be recognized. If someone did, they’d chat, maybe hang out for an afternoon.
After swinging through his home country of Canada and making some new friends, he headed from Edmonton to Chicago. On that leg of the trip, he slept in his truck. “I ended up doing that in the middle of nowhere in North Dakota when it was minus 40. And it was pretty fucked!” He was prepared, though. “I had gotten some kind of Arctic sleeping bag from REI, and I thought it was time to put it to the test. The bag worked good, but I was incredibly cold in the morning. If I hadn’t had the right supplies, I probably could have…” He pauses, as if a thought has just occurred to him. “You know, it’s easy to die in cold weather like that.”
From Chicago he went to New York, where he stayed with his friend Lindsey Jordan of Snail Mail and listened to Coney Island Baby a lot (“you gotta listen to Lou Reed in New York”). In a neat turn, DeMarco recorded the final track for Five Easy Hot Dogs in the Rockaways, the chilled-out beach neighborhood in Queens where he used to live (he famously shared his address with listeners on his fourth album Another One). He didn’t plan to stop recording in New York, but the city has a way of distracting people. For the first time since he started driving, he got in a studio with other people. “I did some work with Lil Yachty for his album while I was there, and I was recording with Danger Mouse for a while in Connecticut. I did some stuff with Akiko Yano, one of my hero musicians from Japan. It was great to do all these things, but it started pushing me further away from the hot dogs.”
To get back to the hot dogs, DeMarco had to get back on the road. “I was like, I need to get out of here and go to a smaller town where there’s nothing exciting happening so I can actually work,” he said. “The craziest thing to me, though, was that I decided to quit smoking as I was driving from New York City to Salt Lake City. That’s a pretty long fucking drive. And I was very addicted to nicotine.”