Tomorrow: Torres will be playing our very first SXSW event, The Danger Village.
The interview you're about to read took place after the Torres show in Washington DC on February 25, 2013. It was the last of a four show tour, the first ever for Mackenzie Scott and her band. She played DC9, a small to mid-sized venue that features a lot of local acts and new touring bands. We don't expect to see Torres playing venues of this size for much longer.
I had hoped that her sound would come off well live, and I was not to be disappointed. Her touring band poured themselves into the performance, and I found her minatory voice and guitar putting me in mind of St. Vincent's haunting stage presence. Altogether, the raw sincerity that Scott's music has quickly become known for was just as potent that night as it is on record, if not more so.
After the set, there was a contagious happiness radiating from Scott and her band which filled the place as she spent about thirty minutes at the merch table chatting with fans and then another fifteen speaking to another interviewer. When it was my turn to talk to her, we initially tried to do the interview in the post-show din of the bar area, but after one question, it clearly felt like the wrong space for the conversation that was already unfolding. Despite that and the sometimes prying nature of my questions, she graciously answered them all with ernest thoughtfulness.
PMA: Are you an optimist or pessimist by nature?
Scott: I think I'm an optimist. Idealist would be the better word; I'm very idealistic.
PMA: What does that mean to you, to be idealistic?
Scott: I get really excited about the small things, and I always foresee them becoming bigger things.
[I stopped her at this point, and we agreed move away from the bar]
PMA: So we we're talking about idealism… when little things become big things.
Scott: Right. The little pleasures in life. Whenever I get a glimpse of them I anticipate them becoming something on a larger scale than what they actually are. I take a lot of joy in the small pleasures.
PMA: Can you give me an example of that?
Scott: Oh, just like being able to chill out with my cat, eat a really good meal and watch a really good movie in my warm apartment [laughs]. That's something really, really easily taken for granted, but that I enjoy more than anything. Or just getting coffee with someone that I really like spending time with—things like that. Technically those are the little things, but when you actually think about it those are the things that matter. I would say more so the people you care about and not so much the eating in front of the television, for clarification. [laughs]
PMA: What's your cat's name?
Scott: Little Bat, and she's perfect. [laughs]
PMA: When we first heard "Honey," it was a song we were immediately struck by and had to play about ten times in a row.
Scott: Thank you.
PMA: What are the origins of that song? Where did that come from?
Scott: Well… I think in short I can say that it's about really wanting something that never arrives. It's really about ache, and about pining. About never really getting your way. If that isn't too vague an explanation. I had some experiences within the last year that really taught me a lot about not getting what I want and being fine with that and learning from it.
PMA: Do your songs always come from your own experiences?
Scott: A lot of them, I guess most of them, I would say are experiences that I've had, or emotions that I've experienced that I feel like aren't just my own. When I'm writing, I really try to push that experience through a filter that I think is going to be relatable on a human level. I'm very wary of saying they're all my experiences—I mean they are but I would say more than anything they're experiences that I know most humans have, that most humans can relate to. So that was sort of my aim with this record, just making a record from start to finish that I thought people could listen and hear themselves in. Connecting, that's what all of this is about. Connecting with other humans. I don't know if that answers your question.
PMA: That definitely answers my question. [pause] The last song on your record, "Waterfall," talks on a literal level about jumping down a waterfall and then realizing that maybe you never meant to jump at all. What is that jump?
Scott: It could be taken as a lot of different things. If we're being ambiguous about it, it could just be something that you're afraid of, or something that you thought you wanted to do and then found out you didn't want after all. In the literal sense, it's a song about suicide, whether it's literal or an emotional suicide. It can represent a lot of different things, and that's kind of how I intended it. A myriad of possibilities. I left it open-ended, because I don't know… period. I don't know.
PMA: Here's a few possibly more mundane questions. Who are your biggest influences?
Scott: I've said it a lot but I'll say it again: Brandi Carlile first and foremost. And then, this isn't really a who.. maybe more of a what. I was involved in theater, especially a lot of musical theater in high school. I pretty much only listened to show tunes and was in those shows in high school, did local theater in my hometown and took acting classes. A lot of my musical influence came from things like Phantom of the Opera, Les Mis., and Wicked… Broadway shows in general.
PMA: How's the tour been? How have crowds been reacting to Torres?
Scott: It's been so fantastic. I don't want to say afraid, but I was dealing with a lot anxiety that I would get out on the road and people wouldn't be enthusiastic about coming out to see me play live. I think that's a fear that probably all artists, at least beginning their careers, deal with. This is my first tour, so, as far as I know, I have no fan base at all. I'm just really grateful for word of mouth and people who have been promoting the shows and sharing the music with their friends. I think that's really what's done it. We had turnouts for every show, and the crowds have all been so nice to me and my band. They've been quiet and really listened to the music, and that's the greatest, that's all I could have asked for. Probably the best week of my life, genuinely.
PMA: Do you think it will difficult to start working on a new record? This album just seemed so full, sincere and exhaustive. It felt like there was a lot of you there.
Scott: I think it's gonna be a really different experience. I wrote the songs for this record over the past four years, and I obviously can't take four years to write another record. I'm actually really interested to see what's going to come out of my pen. I'm going to learn a lot about myself in having to birth a brand new song that I don't really have a lot of time to create. I don't know what's going to happen, but I'll never be anything but honest. I'll never put anything out there that isn't completely, genuinely me. I'll never do that.
PMA: One more, somewhat pithy question. What does it mean to be two of a kind with jealousy? [A lyric from her song, "Jealously and I."]
Scott: I didn't think that you we're going to ask that [laughs]. Jealousy is sort of a big part of me that I've really had to come to terms with. I really hate admitting that, but that's just been a really big part of my experiences with relationships in every form. It's an emotion that I struggle with, and that song, specifically that line, was me admitting that jealousy is a part of my being that I'm gonna have to grapple with, accept and let abide in me—whatever that means. Maybe conquer it by doing so, because I know that when I try to push things away, when I try to deny certain things that I'm feeling—that's never the right way to deal with something. If it's a draining, negative sort of power, the way we're going to conquer it is by embracing it.
Check out Torres' gorgeous Daytrotter sessions here.