Meet Torres: The True Confessions of Mackenzie Scott - Rolling Stone
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Meet Torres: The True Confessions of Mackenzie Scott

Georgia singer-songwriter on how Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain and Enya inform her songs

WHO: Twenty-four-year-old Mackenzie Scott, who records and performs as Torres, writes music that is sometimes quiet and coiled and other times loud and ragged, but is always shooting off raw emotional sparks. Throughout her recent second album, Sprinter, she reveals deeply personal, occasionally devastating biographical details — the despair of an adoptive child; a betrayal at the hands of a pastor; crippling fears of death and desertion — and sets it to music that runs the gamut from spare, voice-and-acoustic-guitar confessionals (“The Exchange”) and noir-ish Americana (“Ferris Wheel”) to burbling electro-pop (“Cowboy Guilt”) and howling, Nirvana-like aggro-rock (“Strange Hellos”). Of that last song, Scott says with a slight laugh, “That was definitely my ‘Scentless Apprentice’ [from Nirvana’s In Utero] on this record. Especially in the drum sound. There’s really no getting around that.”

SPIRITUAL HEALING: Scott grew up in Macon, Georgia, initially playing flute and piano before finding her voice — literally — through a love for the stage. “I went through a huge musical theater phase after seeing Phantom of the Opera,” she says. “I started performing in school plays, and for a while I thought I was going to be on Broadway, like, ‘This is my calling!'” She also sang in a children’s choir at her Baptist church — “like a song-and-dance kind of deal” — before finally picking up an acoustic guitar and teaching herself to play. Her first “gigs” came in high school, when she would perform at a local nursing home. “I would bring my acoustic guitar and my microphone and a little PA, and I would play hymns for the residents,” Scott recalls. “It was cool because it seemed like most of the patients there had been raised on that music, so it was familiar to them. Even the ones with bad memories were recalling the lyrics to these hymns from their childhood. It was very fulfilling to me. That was the first place that I played guitar publicly for anyone.”

MASSIVE ATTACK: Scott cut her 2013 debut, Torres, at the Nashville home studio of “swamp rock” legend Tony Joe White (at the time, she was a student at the nearby Belmont University School of Music), recording 10 songs in five days, almost all of them first-take performances. “I wanted people to feel like they were in the room with me,” Scott says of the quick, no-frills sessions. “I wanted them to feel the errors within the songs and the recordings, because to me it was, I guess, more emotionally relatable.” For Sprinter, however, she took a different approach, recording in England with producer Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey, Anna Calvi) — who, along with experimentally inclined compatriots like Portishead’s Adrian Utley, helped Scott realize a more textured and evocative framework for her singing and guitar playing. “I knew I wanted a bigger record on all fronts,” she says of Sprinter. “Something that would feel massive and heavy.”

THE BIG REVEAL: Despite the presence of some beautifully atmospheric ear candy on Sprinter, the album’s most arresting track, the closing “The Exchange,” is also its starkest. Accompanied by just the slightest acoustic guitar figure, Scott lays bare her own uncertainties and anxieties, pleading, “Mother, father, I’m underwater/And I don’t think you can pull me out of this.” Says Scott of recording the song, “I was self-conscious about cutting it in the studio, so Rob gave me this little Zoom recorder and said, ‘Whenever you feel like it, just do a take on here.’ And on one of our last days together, I took it outside under some trees and just did the whole thing.” As for whether she finds it difficult to sing such personal lyrics? “I think it’s more difficult for me to write them. Once they’re out, I don’t have anything to hide at that point. It’s like, ‘I’ve been revealed.'” That said, Scott adds, “I don’t play ‘The Exchange’ live. I don’t know if I could do it — at least not yet. But maybe I will … someday.”

WWJD: When it comes to her lyrics, Scott cites everyone from Kurt Cobain to singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek to author Ray Bradbury as influences. It’s a diverse spectrum — much like her musical inspirations, which range from Brandi Carlile (“she will always have idol status”) and Kate Bush to St. Vincent (“I think I mention her at least once every interview”) and, again, Cobain. “But then my roots are in there as well,” Scott says. “Like, I’m constantly thinking, ‘What would Johnny [Cash] do?’ So there’s a lot of Johnny, but also … Enya.” She laughs. “I guess ultimately what I’m trying to do is take these really bizarre influences and create something brand new out of them, so that the influence itself cannot necessarily be pinpointed. I just want the music to be one big, new thing.”

In This Article: Torres


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