Singer/songwriter Mackenzie Scott, better known as Torres, made quite the impression with her first self-titled album in 2013 — though her second effort, ‘Sprinter’, is where she truly displays her prowess as a mature songwriter, transcending her 25 years. I caught up with Mackenzie ahead of her first date supporting Tegan and Sara on their tour.
Torres‘ Mackenzie Scott speaks softly, but with an intensity that makes you pay attention — and she’s got a lot to say. Below, we discuss her upcoming tour (which will take her everywhere from Michigan to New York, where she resides), her latest album, growing up in Georgia, and why she might secretly want to be a Broadway star.
Are you excited to tour with Tegan and Sara?
I can’t wait. I’m so excited. I’ve been looking forward to this for months. I try not to go into touring with any sort of expectations other than to have fun and connect with the fans. I have heard that Tegan and Sara fans are especially kind and super receptive, which is encouraging.
How is your second and latest album, Sprinter, influenced by your childhood?
Sprinter is an exploration of my upbringing in retrospect, which is something that I’d never tried to write about. I felt like I’d finally had enough distance from it, having been out of Georgia for several years and having lived in Tennessee and New York after that. I felt like I had enough distance from my upbringing to see it at least partially for what it was.
The song “Sprinter” is partly about you running track in high school, but has a wider theme that everyone relates to.
That is part of the motif. I like to have many layers — there’s never one intended meaning. I like for people to pick from it what they will. Every time they listen, hopefully they hear something new.
I love the line, “I choose the sun.” It feels very optimistic.
That was partially for listeners and partly for myself. Sometimes you need to speak things into existence in order to bring them about.
You’ve said you had more fun this time around. Why is that?
Partially because it was a second record, as opposed to the first. There are new fans, and fans that have been around since the first record. It’s always nice having shows feel like they’re growing in number and people are singing the lyrics. That’s part of the fun.
Another part is that it was a heavier record sonically speaking, more rhythm, more guitar. That’s really fun for me. My favorite thing in the world is playing the guitar. I love it. I got to have more fun with the guitar on tour this time around. I got a little bit indulgent.
When did you learn to play?
I’m self-taught primarily. I started playing acoustic guitar in high school, and was just playing for myself and finger-picking and started writing my own songs. I was seventeen or so. Then I took a year of classical lessons.
Were you performing then?
I was not. I was way too nervous for that sort of thing! The extent of my performing is that I would go to my local nursing home in my hometown on Saturdays and play hymns and sing for the residents, which was super nerve-wracking to me. I was sweating.
They have the potential to be the harshest critics and are also not afraid of telling you what they think of you and your music and all that. But I really didn’t perform until I moved to Tennessee.
You’ve said you had evolving feelings about the Baptist Church you grew up in. Did you struggle with your faith at all?
It wasn’t my faith so much that I struggled with, as the people who raised me into the faith. I never had an issue with God. I felt like God was the only constant for me, ever. The thing that I had a problem with was the church, and the people who sort of determined the way that people are perceived in the church, and the way that people feel.
Did moving help?
It did. It took a long time, there are several stages of that sort of recognition. There’s a stage of bewilderment, then complete disconnection, then anger. There’s a whole slew of emotions that rises in retrospect to that.
Eventually, after the anger you have clarity, then there’s forgveness and peace and deeper understanding. I’m not done yet. I’m not done processing and dissecting but ultimately I’m a lot more at peace than I was even when I was writing Sprinter. It was a total healing process for me, to write and think and talk about it.
You’ve said you’re influenced by Broadway and show tunes — how does that translate for you now?
It’s very seductive, the art of performance and musical theater. It’s a really rich world that I miss, actually, and I try to incorporate as much of that…the connection is that ability…I did theater in high school and loved that I got to be anybody, I could embody anyone on that stage.
It felt like a possession of sorts; it felt like I was being possessed by this character that wasn’t me. Physically, I could do whatever I wanted. I could alter my voice, I could alter my personality. I could do anything I wanted.
The more I play music in front of people and the more I connect with audiences in that way, I find it’s way more fun to be theatrical about it. It allows me the freedom to do whatever I want.
You could pull a Green Day and score a show one day.
I would love to score a musical! I would love that.
Have there been any surreal moments in your career?
I’ve talked about it so much, but I’m never going to shut up about it. I got to go on tour with Brandi Carlile, my ultimate hero. We met in a green room in Milwaukee and I’m sure I was shaking. I was in total awe. I was like, did that just happen?! I’m giddy just thinking about it. That was a surreal moment for sure.
There have been sobering moments. I opened for Sleater Kinney at one of their shows and that was awesome. But I ended up breaking a string onstage, which I’ve never done in my life. It was right before the last song of that set. It was mortifying and I learned a lesson, which was to bring a backup guitar! I tried to be very smooth about it. They’re character-building moments.
I think we all have those. So what’s next for you?
I hope to have a record out next year. Fingers crossed. Hopefully new music to share next year.
Starting in Grand Rapids, MI on Oct. 19, you can catch Torres live here.