It's an act of disruption to be a woman celebrating her body for her own personal gain. On Three Futures, Torres a.k.a. Mackenzie Scott uses the idea of enjoying the physical self to inspire her latest wave of songwriting. The album is her anticipated return after the breakthrough success of 2015's Sprinter, an album that employed '90s alternative rock to soundtrack her experience growing up in southern Baptist environs. Three Futures, conversely, was inspired by books such as Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me and albums like Portishead's Third. With its experimental, boundless sonic landscapes, it pushes her away from terms such as “singer-songwriter” into something way more vanguard. Produced again by Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey, Bat For Lashes), it's obsessed with being in the now. Before Torres takes the album on the road this fall, playing a run of shows that includes a gig at Music Hall Of Williamsburg, we caught up with her about New York pressures, Britney Spears covers and dancing.
Sprinter was such a breakout album. What was your mindset going into this third LP?
I wanted to have more fun performing. I have more kinetic energy than I used to so I wanted to make a record I could move to.
The title Three Futures conjures a sliding doors idea of different courses your life could take. Are you fixated on who you're becoming now?
That's interesting. I tend to be extremely future centric. I plan as much as I can which keeps me from being impulsive. But I also think that's caused me distress. I often can't enjoy a moment for what it is. I'm constantly dreading whatever it is I think I'm gonna lose.
Funny you say that, the record seems to celebrate the body and the present. There's a unique power in that, right?
Oh for sure. That pure love of the moment has been an evolution for me. I used to think that if I followed whatever institutionalized structure then I could control my future. It hit me in the face that ultimately there's no controlling your health, other people, the climate… We're at the mercy of everything.
Talking about bodies and the celebration of them, it's an interesting time in society to do that. Our bodies are largely all the same underneath. It's the layers on top that are dividing us. Were you conscious of how unifying that is while making this record?
Well thank you for saying so. I'm constantly looking to bridge whatever riffs are coming between people with music. That's ultimately what music is meant to do regardless of the extra fun stuff that's in it for me. Ultimately the goal is to help to heal and to unify. It feels as though there are more dividers between the people of the world right now though I have seen people become unified in resistance to the current administration. But I am with you.
It seems like you've taken more pleasure in the lyrics on this record too. They seem less confined, flirtier. In the past you've said that lyric writing can be difficult. Was it different this time?
Lyrically no. There's really no shortcut to writing good songs, ha! I labor over my lyrics for years before making a new record. This time was no exception. The lyric writing process started before I was finished touring Sprinter, then I just wrote and wrote until it was time to record. I will say that it wasn't as painful as Sprinter because there was a lot about suffering on that record. It was made of pain. Three Futures is a very dark record but there was a lot more pleasure in the motifs.
The end of the music video for the title track is daring in its depiction of female sexual pleasure. It shouldn't be shocking but it's still rare to see stories told from the perspective of the female gaze. Do you see positive change there?
I absolutely see positive change but I am with you. I'm seeing this ripple effect of revelation taking place. It's like women are suddenly trendy and it's the cool thing to make a music video that any male pop star would have made decades ago. So funny.
What were some of your musical discoveries while making this record?
I've always loved pop music but this time I let it infiltrate rhythm and performance, not just melodies. Kate Bush was my primary influence. I love all of her records. I fixated on Hounds of Love. It's one of the most perfect pop records ever—I could cry just talking to you about it. Also, I'm a long-time Fleetwood Mac fan but Tango in the Night crept up on me. It teeters on totally cheesy the whole way through but it's so good. There's nothing that makes me wanna dance more.
It's funny. There's so much music right now that sounds specifically like Tango in the Night. I remember five years ago Fleetwood Mac suddenly became popular among the youth. They were the embarrassing band your parents made you listen to and then they suddenly became cool.
It's so funny! You're absolutely spot on. Something happened and I saw it happen too. But I mean… the world is better for it!
It definitely is.
So true. So there was Tango in the Night, and then the Portishead record Third. I had this period during all of the writing and recording where I was only able to listen to Kate Bush and Portishead. It's strange. I get really locked on one or two albums and then I just don't listen to anything else for two years.
The track “Concrete Ganesha” taps into the idea of a city swallowing people whole. Does it document your relationship with NYC?It's a struggle just to be a person but to be a person in the city there are added stressors. I'm constantly wondering if I'm contributing to the problem by being somebody who moved from small town Georgia then Nashville to Brooklyn. Every other day you hear people talk about that love/hate relationship with New York. I see people becoming displaced. I've been displaced against my will. But that's what comes with the city. Being displaced can feel like a cataclysmic event, like a massive train derailing, like having your house get struck down by a huge fucking machine.
A piece in the New York Times recently commented on how women are the new voices of alternative rock. Is it interesting to you that women, queer artists, artists of color are using rock as their outlet?
I saw that piece. My reaction was, “Great! But is everyone just noticing?!” When people think rock, it's rock or women in rock—two genres. There's something interesting about taking a model that's been exclusively for men by men and subverting it, using it to get what we want. When I say we I mean people who have been pushed to the margins: artists of color, queer artists, non-binary people, non-straight white men. It's super exciting. Hopefully we can start getting to the nuance of the art, getting to what these people are trying to say, instead of it having to be about gender or overarching non themes.
You covered a Britney song live recently. I'm desperate to know which one…
[Laughs] I did! I covered “Sometimes” for an NPR event at Lincoln Center. Halfway through I realized, “Oh wow I am not Britney Spears, I will never be Britney Spears, oh god what have I done?” I had a total “shit shit why why?” moment.
That sounds like you did enter Britney's headspace…
Oh man! I revere her so much. I thought maybe I could do her justice but I can't say that I did. I had that childhood dream of being Britney Spears and I had the opportunity to sing one of her pop songs so I did it.
Taylor Swift. You're a fan. Thoughts on the new music?
Oh boy. I wish we had the whole interview to talk about this. I'll always be a Taylor Swift fan. I see the backlash, I see the criticism. But you know what? She's a pop star. I understand the other side of it, too. The fan in me wants some acknowledgement because she was one of my first heroes: a young female artist doing what she wants and being a fucking boss. Someone with a big voice and power can use a pop song as a platform. The types of songs she's releasing now don't seem to matter a lot, especially considering what's happening in the world. I'm not angry. I'm not a Taylor Swift bully. But there's an element of disappointment.
Torres plays Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday, October 27 at 9pm; $15–$18.