TORRES is Mackenzie Scott, the singer-songwriter from Macon, GA. Her debut album, TORRES was released in early 2013, and it quickly established her as a songwriter whose gift for melody was matched only by her lyricist’s pen. We loved her album (it wound up on our Best of 2013 list!), and we were lucky enough to get a word with her recently. We talked to Ms. Scott about her creative process, how she made her debut album, the music of St. Vincent, and who the best male lead of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit really is.
Explain yourself! Who are you?
MS: My name is Mackenzie Scott.
Musicians use monikers for different reasons, so I thought I’d ask: what separates TORRES from Mackenzie Scott?
MS: TORRES is the creative persona of Mackenzie Scott. Using a moniker for my musical self gives me a little bit of creative freedom. At least, that’s the idea. I like having that distinction between what I do professionally and what I do as a mundane human. Even if it’s just for myself, it gives me the push that I need to put myself into my performin’ skin. TORRES is very much me, it’s just that it’s one facet of me that’s distinct from the rest. It’s amplified and dynamic. I thought that part of myself deserved its own name.
So what would a Mackenzie Scott song sound like compared to a TORRES song? Is there a distinction?
MS: Sometimes one wouldn’t notice a distinction between the two at all. But usually a Mackenzie Scott song is a little quieter, restricted, and less daring than a TORRES song. When I’m writing a song and I’m somewhere in the middle of the process, and I finally feel that hot pulse of creativity starting to beat under my skin, I know the song is about to become something better. That’s the TORRES on its way. That’s the beauty of the self-imposed illusion of an alter-ego.
You studied songwriting at Belmont University in Nashville — how much did your experiences there inform the way you write songs now?
MS: More than I know, I’m sure. I was constantly writing when I was in school. Constant output equates to perpetual honing and growth.
As a songwriter that deals with painful truths and raw emotion, was it strange going into an environment like a classroom where things can be cold and clinical?
MS: It was strange but unsurprising. I think it was important for me to see that side of the industry—it certainly informed me of that out of which I did not wish to make a career.
So about your songwriting: what comes first? Does it start with the lyrics? A melody? A chord progression?
MS: The process is different every time. Usually I’ll have a lyrical idea that I want to expand on, and a lot of times I’ll start with what could be considered “the hook”. Like I said, though, it’s always different. The last song I wrote actually was “hookless” until the bitter end. I wrote tirelessly with no idea where the song was headed, and then when it was time for the message to be realized, it came to me. It’s the last thing that went into the song.
How autobiographical is the nature of your lyrics? (we’ve had debates over who “Moon & Back” is about)
MS: I don’t write things that don’t mean something to me personally, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I, Mackenzie Scott, am always the song’s subject.
We’ve had debates over who “Moon & Back” is about…
In the case of “Moon & Back”, I am the song’s subject, but not the song’s narrator. I was adopted at birth and I wrote that song from what I perceived to be my birthmother’s perspective.
Does it ever hurt to return to that material live? Or is there a sense that you’ve conquered those things by putting them into a song?
MS: Certain songs are less fun than others to sing live for that reason, but overall, it’s extremely healing to return to these songs night after night. If I’m reopening the wound on stage every night, it’s just so I can put more proverbial medicine on it.
The songs on TORRES were written by you alone – what kinds of expectations did you have once you got into the studio?
MS: I had a pretty solid idea about what some of the songs would sound like with a band. I’d played shows around Nashville and had different friends play with me from time to time. But some of those songs had never been played live; I hadn’t showed them to anyone until we went into the studio. It was a challenge to make every song sound cohesive, to make the newer ones feel like they belonged in the same body of work as the ones that I’d been playing live for years.
And you were able to self-release TORRES. Would you consider self-releasing another album?
MS: I’m thrilled that I was able to successfully self-release my first album. I learned more about the industry in the last year than I ever could have learned had I put it out with a label. That being said, I never want to do it again. There are just resources to which I do not have access at this point, and if I ever want my music to reach the audience that I have always intended for it to reach, I’m going to need a label’s help to do so.
Where you able to achieve any kind of creative advantages by circumventing the usual record label theatrics?
I certainly maintained 100 % of the creative control by self-releasing TORRES, but my hope is that I’ll find a label to release my next album that will allow me that same creative control. I won’t sign to a label if that isn’t the case.
You recently toured with Anna Ternheim and Lady Lamb, and the three of you seem like kindred spirits musically! Any chance your paths may cross again in the future?
MS: I hope so! I love those women. They are two of the most genuine, hilarious, talented people with which I’ve had the honor of sharing a stage. We all live in New York, and it’s a small world. I’m sure we’ll have a reunion at some point.
You’ve mentioned in the past that your music has gotten grittier live. Do you think that your songs always had that kind of soul stirring in them, or do you think that touring has turned you into a different performer? Or both?
MS: I think it’s definitely a bit of both. From the time I started writing songs, I yearned to be a daring, dynamic musician. My roots are in musical theatre, for crying out loud! The confidence just wasn’t there yet. Even when I was recording this album, I held myself back because I was afraid of letting myself go nuts and allowing people to see me unhinged. I was embarrassed. Being on the road this year has completely dissolved that self-imposed ball-and-chain. I feel possessed when I perform; I just completely lose control of my body.
Will that have any impact on what your next album may sound like?
MS: Yes. I’m excited to bring that newfound confidence and energy into the studio this next time around. In fact, I’m crawling out of my skin just thinking about it. I’m ready now.
Now that you’re taking a break from life on the road, what’s the one thing that you missed the most about home?
MS: My cat, Little Bat. She’s my best buddy.
St. Vincent just released a song a few days ago – are you excited? Can you talk about your relationship with her music?
MS: I’m SO excited. I’ve already pre-ordered the record, and I’ve secured a ticket to see her play in New York in February. I very well may be her biggest fan, and I’m starting to think I may have to tone it down for fear of coming across as creepy. Her music saw me through a significant stint of time in my life when I was really suffering. Music is like that. It’s healing. Annie’s music puts me in another world when I hear it. When she released that new song last week, “Birth in Reverse”, I actually said aloud to myself as I was making my morning espresso, “Music is a reason to stay alive.” I’ll never be able to thank her enough.
Onto a slightly more somber topic: Detective Elliot Stabler or Nick Amaro? Choose carefully!
MS: There is no competition. Elliot Stabler.
What can fans expect from TORRES in the coming year? A Twin Peaks fan club? New music? More tour dates?
MS: If everything goes as planned, all of the above!