KIRSTEN SPRUCH: In "Righteous Woman" you sing, "And when I go to spread, it's just to take up all the space I can." I read that that line was inspired by literal man-spreading on trains in New York and that you want women to start doing it too. Have you put that into action yourself yet?
Today, Mackenzie Scott of Torres
is out with her highly anticipated third album, Three Futures.
On the record, she explores what it's like to have a body - whatever that may mean to the listener. Sonically, this is the furthest she's pushed herself. Her sophomore record Sprinter
gained massive amounts of praise for its ability to convey such emotion with the simplicity of a guitar and a voice, but this time around she wrote songs differently. She even played her guitar differently, "When the songwriting processes change, and when the beats are different, when the rhythm is different, and when the melodies are different, the guitar playing by nature is different as well."
Along with playing the guitar differently, Torres also made big lifestyle changes and incorporated self-care into her routine. "My body was shutting down. I was getting really sick, especially on tour. It culminated in a way that led me to believe I just might not make it," Scott said. And in her song "Righteous Woman," she calls out men on New York City trains for man-spreading. She doesn't necessarily ask them to apologize, but she wants to see women do it too.
Between a man-spreading epidemic, incorporating self-care routines into daily life, and writing music differently, the album feels like something bigger than just ten tracks of indie rock boppers. It feels like a way of living. We sat down with Scott to have a conversation about that, plus we took the time to talk about, well, pretty much everything else.
MACKENZIE SCOTT: For sure [laughing]. You would be amazed at the looks that I get. It's funny. A lot of times I get no reaction, which is ideal, because that's how it should be. There should be no double standard. But it's funny, a lot of times I'll get these looks like "Wow, how dare she!" It's pretty satisfying.
KS: Has New York inspired you in any other way?
MS: Oh god, it inspires me every day. I think it's the best city in the world. Particularly in regards to the themes on this record, I just see people celebrating life in their own ways every day and I just think it's really special. You live here, yeah?
MS: Yeah, so you know, it's not an easy place to live. It's not suburban living, it's not front porch and sweet tea vibes… You really kind of have to work to keep your place here. And I really love observing all the different kinds of people that live here and the ways in which they're fighting for their right to take up space here. Honestly that's what I've discovered is that just actively working to get through a day and doing your duties, whatever they are, can be a form of celebration of life. And it doesn't have to be as grand as maybe I thought celebrating life would look like. It's just getting through the day and doing your best.
KS: Have you read the book Meet Me in the Bathroom?
MS: That's interesting! You're the second person to ask me that in an interview. I should read it, huh? I'm writing it down right now in my notebook. You have my word.
KS: So you have a lot to say on this album - about the human body specifically. How long were these ideas on your mind before you actually started writing about them?
MS: A pretty good while actually. By nature these things are more abstract than stuff I've written about before. In the past I've written about things that are easier to talk about because they're more… Relatable, perhaps? It took me a really long time to extract the actual meaning from what I was feeling for a long time without using the body as a machine. There's a Ray Bradbury book called The Machineries of Joy.
I love that title. Using the body as a mechanism of joy - whatever that looks like to each individual person. But yeah, it did take me a while to understand myself - it took me two years to write this album. Straight up. Two solid years.
KS: And kind of relating the body to self-care, is self-care something you've always practiced? Or did you just start before you made this album and if so, has it made a difference?
MS: Kids are naturally always active and moving and eating three square meals a day. Not all kids, but in my experience I was. But then it kind of changes around the college age. From that point until maybe a couple years ago, I was living with that romanticized-but-completely wrong mentality that the body, especially the young body, is totally fine to subject it to abuse. Because you know, you're young! Live fast, die young! Our culture really romanticizes that idea. Self-care gets to be a four letter word in a way. You have that selective reaction to people who talk about self-care. That eye roll. And admittedly, I always have too.
I started incorporating healthier, more balanced lifestyle changes. Especially because I was getting really sick on tour. It kind of culminated in a way that led me to think, "either I'm gonna die because of these physical ailments or I'm gonna kill myself." It's terrible but it's true. I felt so mentally deranged. That's a combination of not eating the right way and not getting enough exercise. Drinking too much alcohol. Not doing the things that make me feel best all around. So I had to incorporate changes. And I mostly did it because I wanted to keep my career.
KS: Lyrically, the album is pretty sensual but also kind of scary... You're constantly walking the line of the two. Was that your intention?
MS: [Laughs] Thanks. Those elements are totally a by-product of the way that I write. I never want to make a record that's all one feeling. I really love extremes. And a lot of my favorite records and book and films and paintings are ones that give me a mixed bag of feelings. I love something when you can't really figure out if it shocks you or if it turns you on or if it makes you laugh or all of the above. So yeah, I love that it feels that way. I love that it translates that way to you. I don't think that people should just get a singular feeling after listening to the album. That would be boring.
KS: You've said that the fear of death used to paralyze you. But in "Three Futures" you sing, "You didn't know I saw three futures, one alone and one with you and one with the lover I knew I'd choose." That lyric shows in a way that you're not paralyzed and have hope for the future. You're seeing not just one but three different things.
MS: That is pretty astute. You're right. I'm not paralyzed by it any more. I'm still absolutely horrified. It's hilarious actually. My fear of the future used to cripple me in a way that kept me from living fully and now, I have tried to take the exact opposite approach. Which is to really go for it. I just want it all. I just try to go for everything I want and then I see what sticks. I try not to get too attached to one version of my idealized future because there's always gonna be another door that opens when one closes. So that's my new perspective. I'm still terrified, though.
KS: Each song on the album was supposed to be a different room in a household. Can you explain that a little?
MS: I was kind of viewing the album as a manifestation of my subconscious, and that each room in that proverbial house was kind of meant to represent a different layer. I wanted to set some parameters for myself sonically. I actually drew out a blueprint of the house and divided it into ten rooms, each representing a song on the album. I gave each room a color scheme that consisted of two colors and two to three different smells. And then I gave each one kind of a name that wasn't necessarily the song title. I obviously can't infuse those actual smells into the song. My hope was, in giving each room that sort of lucid, really hazy association when I was writing the song, was that it will hopefully translate in some subconscious level to people listening.
KS: Which room or song are you most proud of off the album?
MS: It's hard to say. Right now I think maybe the song "Concrete Ganesha." I believe the blueprint name for that room was "the sun room." I think that I was really able to achieve what I was going for with that one. I tried to accomplish the same with each of the songs. But I do love that one.
KS: This album is sonically so much more different than your last two. Did you get off tour from Sprinter and consciously decide to make the next album different? And if so, where did you start?
MS: I did know that I wanted to do something different, but it wasn't necessarily so straightforward. One thing that I did absolutely know from the start, was that I wanted to make a record that might inspire people to dance, and also something that I could dance to, as a performer. So I would draw out an instrumental section to leave room for more guitar playing and more movement. I actually play way more guitar on this record than I've ever played. Kind of mathematical kind of riffing guitar playing, which I really enjoy. And I wanted to leave myself more space in the song so that I could actually move more on stage. I have a lot of fun interacting with the crowd in that way.
KS: Did you have to sort of teach yourself how to play guitar differently?
MS: I did. I feel like I'm always a student when it comes to the guitar. I'm not technically good. I'm never gonna be the person who can get in a room and read sheet music or jam with a band. The guitar's actually incredibly dynamic in that way. When the songwriting processes change, the guitar playing by nature is different as well. There wasn't really that need or that desire for power chords any more. What it needed was nuance. I essentially had to treat the guitar this time around like a synthesizer, which I loved. I'm really proud of it. It's scary and fun!
KS: You've voiced your frustration with being stuck in your own body. If you could take over someone else's body, who would it be?
MS: Oh man. How would you know I would want to be in someone else's body? Just being in a body is kind of a frustrating thing. For the most part. What I wanted to get out with this album is the joy of being a body. But it's frustrating that I'm never going to be able to be as objective when it comes to observing myself as I can be when I'm observing other people.
KS: You just want an overall view of everything.
MS: Exactly! The frustration is not being omniscient and not being omnipresent. It sounds like I'm saying that it's frustrating that I'm not God. Maybe that is what I'm saying.
KS: [Laughing] That's a fantastic quote. "It's frustrating that I'm not God."
MS: [Laughs] Yeah! I hate the fact that we're always going to be biased when it comes to ourselves; when it comes to wanting to get what we want. As objective or as pure as I can try to convince myself that my intentions are when it comes to any given scenario, I think we're still biased because of our own desires and because of our inner world. And as a person and as a writer, that's a pretty frustrating thing to be constrained by one's own desires.
KS: I completely understand that. And now you're gearing up for your tour. What can people expect to see at a show?
MS: Oh man! Nudity.
MS: [Laughing] No. I don't think I can get away with that. No, I'm hoping it will be a bit more encompassing than the previous ones in terms of emotional dynamics. I don't necessarily want people to walk away from shows on this tour feeling like they've just become drained. Which, you know, I have felt in the past that my live show had that aura about it. That draining, cathartic but very sad sort of a feeling. I want people to walk away from these shows feeling very hopeful. And hopefully like they just got a workout. Maybe people will actually dance!