TORRES on “Silver Tongue” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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TORRES on “Silver Tongue”


Feb 13, 2020 TORRES Bookmark and Share

In April of 2018, Mackenzie Scott, aka TORRES, was unceremoniously dropped from her record label, 4AD. Evidently, her third album, the experimental, gender-bending tour de force, Three Futures, did not sell to expectation. But as is said, when one door closes, another one opens. And so is the case for Scott, who after a brief time questioning her future path and choice of profession, rebounded, signing with artist-friendly Merge Records and releasing her stunning new album, Silver Tongue.

“For the most part, I’ve been advised not to talk about what happened [with 4AD], just for PR sake, but I will say that a huge part of the upset for me was a pride thing,” says Scott, who, incidentally, says she could not be happier with her new record label. “My pride was hurt. But I quickly realized that there’s a lot more power to being free than one realizes.”

Silver Tongue is one of the most revealing albums of TORRES’ career. Gone are the more abstract and avant garde tendencies of her past work in favor of ruminations on love that find Scott emotionally exposed and baring her soul.

Scott sat down with Under the Radar in a delightfully homey breakfast/lunch spot in Brooklyn to discuss Silver Tongue and her glorious return.

Frank Valish (Under the Radar): You took a break from writing music for a little while. Did you write all these songs after that, once you started writing again?

Mackenzie Scott: I had a lot of ideas rolling around, pretty shortly after I released Three Futures, but that was kind of all it was, just journals full of ideas. I don’t think that I was really consciously thinking of songwriting at that point. And then I did take a bit of a break. Once I started back, I was pretty focused until the record was written.

Did the songs come fairly quickly, because they revolve around a certain theme?

They do. Yeah, the ideas were kind of collected over the last three years or so. They are all about my experiences of the last three years. This is the first time where I’m not actually writing at all about my past, or I’m writing about the recent past and my present. But I can’t say that it came quickly. It was still a solid two years of writing that went into it. It was just more of a concentrated effort in the last year or so to really consciously write my best album.

The press materials said that you were processing your emotions as you were writing the songs, so I wondered if things came perhaps more spontaneously than in the past.

I think in a way, yes. I think there was more emotional readiness. Sort of the emotional aspect of what I’m writing about was brimming the entire time. I was a little more immediately emotionally connected to what I was writing about than I have been with some of my writing in the past.

It seems like the writing is maybe less abstract than it has been in the past. Was that a function of the subject matter that you wanted to cover?

It’s funny because I’ve never intentionally been abstract [laughs], which is maybe what was my Achilles heel of the past. I never was trying to be as veiled as people have told me that I was.

So it wasn’t a different way of writing for you?

Not consciously, but I obviously can see, listening back to what I’ve made, that it’s a different kind of record. I think this is the first time, and I think this is why it came out less abstract in nature, where I’ve written an album that was only love songs. I’ve never written a whole album of just love songs until now. And love, any way you slice it, there’s more meat to it than some of the other subjects I was tackling.

What made you want to write a whole album about love?

Well, I fell in love. I fell in love twice in the span of time that I wrote this album. One didn’t work out, and one did. And that’s the one that I’m in now. I think it was just the first time that I understood maybe what real love was, or what it is. I’ve always been more of an observer, an observer of others and even an observer of myself, as someone who was in relationships in the past. I was always able to be a bit removed in a way and see it all kind of from up in the corner of the room. And this time was really the first time I really felt myself out of control in love, really at the mercy of love, in a way that I quickly became aware that I was not able to extricate myself from in any clear or controlled way. It had me, not the other way around. And it’s really the first time that I’ve not only felt that but actually submitted myself to that reality. I just let it happen, and I tried to write about it in the process, what it felt like.

Listening to the album, it feels like it’s easier to get a view of you in the songs than it was in the past. I’m thinking back to the basement shows you did last winter where you explained what the songs were about. Some of the songs were about things that you were reticent to describe previously, and it was just such a wonderful window. It made them more full, whereas before I felt like I was kind of grasping.

I heard a few people say something very similar about those shows, that the explanations were actually very helpful. You’re right, I was reticent to discuss some of those topics, but it wasn’t so much for fear of exposing myself or anything like that. It was more that I guess I was under the false impression that if I were to be so explicit, to give people the full story, that somehow the songs would not mean as much to them, or it might reveal a meaning that people were less excited about or something. I’ve always really wanted to leave that space for listeners to put themselves in the song. But what I actually ended up finding out is that it seems like most people really appreciated those explanations and they were able to, like you said, get a better grasp of what they were really about.

You can connect with them in a different way, as a listener, because you have a fuller understanding.

I’m learning that. I think I used to do a lot of things that were just sort of because I believed certain things in theory, but I’ve found out and I’m still finding out that there’s still a lot of surprises. And one of them is that people seem to connect to the songs more when I explain them

Was that a difficult leap to take?

I guess it was, because it took me seven years to do it. I think it took a long time for me to get to the place where I can say, “This makes it better,” whereas in the past I felt like I was making it too easy for people or something.

What made you decide to do basement shows? You didn’t exactly grow up with basement shows, did you?

No, I didn’t grow up doing them.

Or going to them?

No, I never went to them. I didn’t even know what a house show was until I was in college. They’re so fun and when I went to collegeI went to college in Nashvillehouse shows, especially basement shows and any sort of garage show or underground show, those became the majority of the shows I ended up attending. And I did play a few of those but I hadn’t done it since becoming TORRES, touring professionally and making records. There was a gap there where I didn’t have a booking agent and I wanted to tour. I wanted to give some of the new songs a spin. I wanted to connect with people. I think it was mostly desperation to connect with people that led me to do those small shows. I wanted to see if my fans would show up. I wanted to see if I still had the ability to reach out, on Instagram or on Twitter, and just ask people directly if not only they would come see me play a show like that but if they would host a show like that.

You also produced Silver Tongue yourself, the first time you had done that. What did you learn from that process?

Mostly I just learned that I could do it. I learned that I can trust myself. That my instincts in fact were correct.

Did you know you wanted to self-produce?

I did to an extent. My last records were co-produced, so I have played the producer role before. It’s just that I had that other person to bounce ideas off of. I had that other person to translate to the engineer and to the other musicians what was going on. That partnership and that time was really valuable, and it taught me a lot about how that recording process actually works. And then it just felt like a natural next step for me to take to self-produce fully this new album.

And you knew what you wanted.

I did. This was the first record of all the ones that I made, the first one where I went into the studio knowing exactly how it was going to sound, before it was made.

You call this your country record.

Yeah. [Laughs]


I know, it’s hilarious. I wanted to put the twang in there, and I wanted the funny country references, so there’s a little twang and there’s some lyrical bits that are very country. If you grew up listening to country radio like I did, then you know what I’m talking about. A lot of people are probably not going to hear that at all. It’s not overt by any means. But there’s always something funny in a country song. There’s always an “a-ha” moment in a country song. By the third verse, you’re like, “Oh, I see what you did there.” So there are these lyrical tricks that are both endearing and funny. I subtly put some of those in. And there’s the instrumentation itself. There’s a pedal steel on the record.

It’s not overt.

It’s not overt. I’m fully aware. I know. Every time I describe my music in a certain way, I’m fully aware that people don’t hear what I’m talking about [laughs], but we never see our own project the way other people see it.

There’s classic country and then there’s radio country, and radio country when you were growing up was like Shania Twain, right?

Yeah, it was ‘90s pop country. Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, The Dixie Chicks.

So it wasn’t exactly George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” where you get to the end of the song and go, “Oh I get it?”

No, it’s not that country.

But I guess there’s still a twist in it, the clever. There’s always the clever. Even if it’s cringe-inducing. But yours is not cringe inducing.

Yeah, it’s so cringey. But that’s what I love about it. It’s so bold.

Can you talk a little bit about “Gracious Day?” I love how succinct it is. And your songs haven’t always been that way. Was there a lot of agonizing over it or did it come quickly?

It’s funny, because I tried, I really messed with those lyrics, for a good year, year and a half, before finishing the song. I did a lot of rearranging and adding and subtracting. I think it was going to be more of an involved thing. And then I had this experience, where my now girlfriend, there’s no other way to say it, I’m being very revealing here, she tried to leave me. It was a complicated situation. But I was not being the best version of myself that I could be at the time. When faced with that loss, the song just became what it was meant to be. It just poured out. I had all these lyrics that I had been working with, but I didn’t have a melody, and there was a lot more to it than you hear now. And it simply flowed out of me like water in that moment. What I really thought about in that moment, when I made that original demo that I ended up releasing, I think it was on Bandcamp, but what it reminded me of was, have you seen the movie Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash movie? There’s this moment where Joaquin Phoenix, who’s playing Johnny Cash, he’s trying to get his record cut and he’s playing it to this label executive. He finishes his song, and the guy is like, “You’re telling me that if you were dying in the gutter right now and you had one song left to play, that’s the one you’d play?” And then Johnny looks at him and is like, “Well I got something I wrote in prison.” And then he plays “Folsom Prison Blues.” It kinda reminded me of that moment. Where it’s like, “Okay you have one song left to play and then you’re gone, what is it?” And that was “Gracious Day.”

And then in the end everything worked out.

Well it’s a little more complicated than simply winning the girl back with a song. [Laughs]

No that’s not what I’m saying. But things worked out.

Yes. She is with me today. And yes, I’m a much happier person than I was then.

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