“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” says Mackenzie Scott, the musician behind Torres.
Speaking over the phone, she isn’t talking about writing her forthcoming fourth record, Silver Tongue. Nor producing on her own for the first time. Nor even the label drama that happened between 2017’s Three Futures and this latest effort. No, Scott is talking about having to take a bartending job after sustaining herself with her music career ever since releasing her self-titled debut seven years ago.
A number of factors forced her back into the grind in order to “pay rent.” Sure, losing her label after just one record was discouraging, but so were the slowing ticket sales to her concerts and the general hardships of earning a living as a musician in the Streaming Era. There was a time when it was enough to make her consider, at least for a short while, leaving music permanently. It’s something many — even most — artists surely confront at some point. Thankfully, for Scott, it passed “really quickly.”
“I realized I just can’t really do anything else as well,” she explains. Still, the struggle remains real. “I don’t really know that it’s sustainable at this point to make a living playing music and just that. I’ve got to have more hands in more cookie jars. Ideally that would be within the umbrella that we consider music or entertainment and writing, performing. Music doesn’t really pay so much right now.”
Regardless of your opinion on the scene in general or Torres’ music in particular, that sort of grit is commendable. Knowing that things could go belly up at any moment only to go ahead as an artist anyway takes rare determination. Or as Scott herself puts it, perhaps it’s just being “dense and unrealistic.” Still, there’s nothing wrong with a little self-motivating naivete, and her faith in Torres is what has kept her producing such captivating art from the very start.
“I had a psychiatrist when I was 18 or 19 years old tell me I suffered from delusions of grandeur,” she recalls. “I just laughed. I couldn’t believe that she called that suffering. That’s still just who I am. I have a really mighty will and I guess I just believe that if I keep doing my thing, I’m going to land on my feet. I just look at my heroes and I see that they all had missteps and times when they had considered giving up and then didn’t and then succeeded. I dunno, I’ve just seen it happen too many times to think that that couldn’t happen for me.”
It takes more than sheer force of will to keep a career like this going, though it certainly doesn’t help when the industry seems to keep hitting the reset button on your trajectory. Scott has an equable conviction in her own work, and even a first listen to Silver Tongue will assure it’s not a meritless belief. She calls the LP “the most Torres-sounding record” she’s made yet, confident enough in the results that she quit her service job just a few weeks ago. Should she one day have to head back behind the bar, at least she’ll be comfortable in the knowledge that she’s delivered the finest collection of songs in her career. That in and of itself is significant and a validation of her unrelenting trust in her art.
“This isn’t haughtiness. It’s just honestly. If I didn’t think that what I was doing mattered, then I wouldn’t do it. But I do.”
See what else matters to Torres by reading our full interview ahead.
On Making Her “Most Torres-Sounding Record” Ever
This was the first time that I went into the recording studio knowing I had a really firm grasp on what it was that I wanted the record to sound like. I did consider working with producers. I had a lot of conversations with potential producers for quite a while, and then when it actually came time to record, it didn’t make sense because the truth was that no one could know what I was hearing as well as I knew. I didn’t want anything to interfere with that, so I just made a decision, not really knowing if it was necessarily the right one. But I did it.
It just felt like a crucial moment. It felt like, well, if I have this chance to make another record — which was not a guarantee for a period of time — then I’ve let her make sure that it’s really the one that I want to make, and I’d better make sure that it the best one and the one that I love the most. Of course, I want other people to love it, but I I don’t necessarily need other people to understand that this one is the one that’s closest to my heart. It’s really the most me one yet. My feeling is this is the most Torres-sounding record that there’s been, and I’m really proud of it.
On Simultaneously Writing a Breakup Record and a Romance Record
This is a record that I’ve written about two separate relationships: The one that I’ve got and the one that came before. When I wrote some of the songs, I was just recently processing then loss of a lover, and then I was writing myself through a new relationship that I was pursuing that I was really desperate to hold on to. I kind of wrote about love from every angle. I just kind of find it interesting that I made this album about desire and being in love, because if you actually think about it, this is actually my first record that’s a romance record. It might not seem like it, but if you actually think about the last three records I’ve made, they’re not really romance records. I guess it’s because this is the first time I’ve been in love; that was the most interesting thing for me to realize. I kind of thought I wasn’t somebody who wrote songs about being in love. I never had the inclination. I was only ever sort of writing about something kind of love adjacent. That was the most fun aspect of it for me, just realizing how susceptible I was. Even when I thought I was in love in the past, I don’t know that I actually was.
On Her Album Leaking Early
I’m not mad. It’s fine. If people actually bought enough records for that sort of a thing to make a dent, I would feel a lot. The truth is that someone is going to stream it — some people will buy it, and I appreciate that. But the record industry model is not the same as it once was. Someone leaking an album is not going to impact my sales very much, if at all. It’s really annoying someone decided to do that. It’s like the most disrespectful thing that someone could do, but you know, I don’t care.
It’s flattering, like, oh someone wants to put my album out before I can even put it out. I appreciate that very much. That means it’s a good album.
On How “Good Grief” Is Not About Charlie Brown
That’s so funny. It was honestly just a nod to where I come from. You know, one of the most classic Southern idioms is, “Good grief! Oh, good grief!” It’s just so funny. I did that a few times on the record where I threw in a little Southernism, and it’s just so funny because it’s like how often do we actually unpack these little things that we just say? We just toss them into our sentences every day, you know? “Oh, good grief!” It’s like, okay, grief is not good. I don’t like grief. It’s not good. I was trying to be funny, but I didn’t even remember that that was a Charlie Brown reference. So kudos to you. What’s that Brian Eno quote? “Sometimes the poem that the reader will read is better than the poem the poet wrote.”
On Using Masculine Sexual Imagery to Describe Lesbian Relationships
Well, I’m writing from my perspective, and my perspective, to be perfectly honest, is one of somebody who feels extremely gender fluid. Take this for what it is, but I’m someone who, in terms of my sexual energy, I do feel pretty masculine. I might not present as masculine in all of the ways — I certainly know I don’t look that way. But the way that I feel in terms of sexual energy is, “No, I don’t have a penis, but I do get hard.” You don’t have to have a dick to get hard. I both feel that way very naturally, and I also acknowledge that it’s very funny to push people’s buttons. You know, I think that it kind of gets a rise out of — not all guys, but a lot of guys, they get really puffed up about that. “You can’t…” Well, yes, I can, and I do. It’s my way of saying I get everything a man could get.
I’m kind of cautious in general to use these sort of identifying terms just because I have personally never felt like they were necessary for myself. I’m not trans, I’m not worried about pronouns and all that — and I definitely respect people who do, obviously. I’m just not somebody who has a preference about the way that people perceive my gender or lack thereof, or the fluidity — whatever they see. In general, I’m just someone who tends to steer clear of identifiers. Ultimately, I’m someone who, ideally, at the end of my life, I won’t have an identity at all. That’s the idea: Complete ego-death, complete identity-death. That’s what I’m after. I like to be sort of just openminded and open-ended.
Someone reading something about my perceived gender or something I’ve said about my own gender is the very least of my worries. I’m worried about the war with Iran and the koalas and the kangaroos. I’m worried about everything else; I’m not worried about that.
On All Those UFOs in Her Artwork
I love science fiction, but UFOs should be referenced in more than just sci-fi — and in fact, they are. Perform a quick Google search, it will yield a ton of paintings actually throughout history and other historical references, really old ones, to what appear to be UFOs sprinkled throughout history.
I think a UFO might be kind of a spiritual thing, actually. I’m not sure. I just think sci-fi, to me, makes something seem like it’s really out of reach or like it’s something that we won’t actually encounter in reality. Sci-fi is fantasy. I think we think that we need to probably start shifting our ideas of what fantasy is. The reality is there’s no such thing as a song. The reality is that there are probably UFOs in the atmosphere at all times. The reality is that there is probably a parallel dimension where you’re doing something completely opposite of what you’re doing now. I like the idea of helping people to raise their vibrational frequencies and expand their understanding of what reality actually is.
On Having a Comedian Open Her Shows
I think right now there’s a really exciting wave of comics that are not only doing stand-up, but they’re making really hilarious content on the Internet. I’ve just spent a lot of time laughing, getting a really good belly laugh in the middle of all this shit that’s happening in the world right now. It always makes me feel good. I kind of think, wouldn’t it be an interesting experiment to make people feel really good in that way, to give them a really hardy belly laugh right before I get on stage and sing a bunch of heartbreaking love songs? A really interesting experiment to get people to trust a bit and to open themselves emotionally — and then I’m going to get on stage and obliterate then.
On Being the Subject of Her Partner’s Intimate Paintings
This is a first for me, having any sort of art made about me. I mean for one, I love [my girlfriend] Jenna [Gribbon’s] work. I think the lens through which she is painting is one that hasn’t been seen through before popularly, on such a large scale. It’s really flattering to be a subject that she actually believes is worthy of painting. Beyond that, you could probably guess I’m a bit of an exhibitionist because that’s what I do for a living. I get off on, you know, being watched, and I get off on performing. So being painted and getting to be seen in this way is really hot for me. I don’t just mean sexually, romantically, I just mean in general. That’s very exciting to me, to get to see myself through her eyes and then it sort of feeds into the work I’m making. It feels like a very sustainable fire, which is exciting for me. It’s very fulfilling for me both as a lover and as an artist.