Mackenzie Scott (aka Torres) is being goaded into imitating an English accent. It’s a couple of hours before her first ever UK show at The Lexington, and the Georgia-born, Nashville-educated 22-year old has just revealed that she has a talent for impersonations. We’re testing her. “Oh gosh,” she groans. “Now you’re going to put me on the spot.”
With the release of her striking debut album earlier this year, Torres is getting used to putting herself on show. Recorded live on tape over a period of five days, listening to the record feels like stumbling across something incredibly private, with the skeletal chords of the standout ‘Honey’ (below) played on a Gibson 335 her family collectively bought her for Christmas. Her moniker is the surname of her late grandfather. Like her knack for impressions (she does a mean Kristen Wiig), Torres deftly coalesces cathartic lyrics in her stories that radiate actuality and form potent and eloquent images of longing, jealousy and loss.
DD: The other night you were trying to procure some absinthe in an attempt to ‘hallucinate Baz Luhrmann’. How did that work out for you?
Torres: I haven’t done that yet! We just got to the UK yesterday so I’m holding out for a good night when I can maybe get a shot from somewhere.
DD: Just stick with one shot perhaps... Can you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Torres: Let’s see. It wasn’t really bad, but it was kind of bad. I think it was called ‘You Miss Me’ and it was about my ex-boyfriend. I was so convinced he missed me and I wrote a pretty awful song about it. I don’t think anyone ever heard it except for my family.
DD: What’s your earliest music memory?
Torres: I grew up playing the piano. I listened to a whole lot of pop music growing up. I’m a child of the 90s.
DD: Did you choreograph dance routines in your bedroom?
Torres: Oh yeah. I tried, I mean I can’t dance to save my life, but I definitely tried to do the whole Britney Spears act. I didn’t get into the music I like now until late high school and early college. It took me a really long time to come around and discover the likes of Nirvana and Johnny Cash.
DD: You majored in songwriting at Belmont University. What’s the difference between being judged academically and by critics for your music?
Torres: It’s way different. The college professors were pretty cruel, I’m not gonna lie. The curriculum was very much aligned with the Music Row ideology: very commercial, very pop country, very straightforward. There wasn’t much room for experimentation or the type of music that I write. I got a lot of negative feedback just because I would write something a little bit abstract or obscure. I definitely cried a couple of times in class in front of classmates. College thickened up my skin a little.
DD: How have you found the experience of self-releasing your own music?
Torres: I don’t have many complaints. I feel like I'm working for everything. Everything that a label would do my manager and I have done ourselves, from hand packaging individual vinyls and shipping them out, to stuffing download codes into the records and paying for everything out of pocket. It’s not easy, but they’re experiences that I'm grateful for because I'm learning so much about the industry first hand. I feel like I'm definitely a part of something here rather than being handled.
DD: Claire Boucher recently wrote an open letter that addressed the double standards for female artists who often have to deal with men who think they can’t cope by themselves in the music industry. Have you ever experienced anything like that?
Torres: What I have experienced is a lot of people asking me questions like, “What are the disadvantages of being a female artist?” I have definitely encountered those sorts of attitudes. I experienced a lot of that early on, trying to get gigs and being dismissed because of the type of music I play. It’s one of the reasons why I picked up the electric guitar, because I was tired of being that girl with the acoustic guitar in a coffee shop. It’s a tricky question; it’s one of the things I think about a lot. At this point in the game I'm not experiencing much of that. Mostly I think it’s a matter of presence and making sure people think you’re the boss.
DD: Can you remember the first album that made you cry?
Torres: This was later in life, but probably Brandi Carlile’s Give Up the Ghost. It’s crazy to say I don’t think I ever cried to a record until college, but I got that album my freshman year. It was a really hard time. (laughs) In the truest sense of the word, her record saved my life over and over again. All of her records did.
DD: You’re a big Sylvia Plath fan. What about her writing resonates with you?
Torres: It’s a very twenty-something year-old woman thing to say, but (puts on pseudo-wistful voice) I just feel like she gets me. I identify with her longing for the dichotomy of having the family, the stability and the routine, and also wanting everything else: the travelling, the seeing the world, the writing and the adventures. That inability to have both really resonates with me. I don’t believe there’s a way to have both, so that’s something I'm burning about. I’ve started touring regularly and leaving my friends and family at home to travel for weeks, even months at a time. It’s hard and I’m leaving my world behind, but at the same time, it’s everything I want.
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