Brooklyn-based indie rocker TORRES talks to us about her recent release ‘Thirstier’, queer romance, and the joy of performing.
In the music video for “Don’t Go Puttin’ Wishes in My Head,” TORRES, aka Mackenzie Scott, goes about her day in the apartment she shares with her fiance Jenna Gribbon. They cook, brush their teeth, and make out in bed. She plays the guitar while Gribbon, a painter, reads a book about art. The video harks back to French singer-songwriter Soko’s home-video-style visual for “We Might Be Dead By Tomorrow,” not least for its similarly unbridled on-screen depiction of queer domestic love. But a shared interest in romantic bliss is not the videos’ only point of connection. In both households, a most ordinary yet startling fact of life hangs in the air: loss.
For Soko, it’s the idea that we could die at any moment, even as soon as tomorrow. For TORRES, it’s the threat of losing someone more generally. “Don’t spend your mornings and your evenings in my bed/If you don’t want me believing that you’re never gonna leave me, darling/Don’t go puttin’ wishes in my head,” Scott sings during the chorus, and in the video’s final moments, we see a lone toothbrush by the bathroom sink. The next frame, two toothbrushes. The next, back to one. And the frame after? Two again.
“With a great relationship, for me, always comes the fear of losing it,” Scott tells me. She’s calling from her hotel room in Columbus, Ohio in mid-September, having recently begun touring again. “It’s a huge part of loving somebody. It’s knowing whether it’s—I mean, I hate to say it—but whether it’s to a break-up or to death.” That uncertainty looms around the corner in “Don’t Go Puttin’ Wishes in My Head,” and fear of loss comes to the fore on “Big Leap,” a track about her father “nearly dying” in a harrowing accident. “I don’t want to give the impression that my life is just domestic bliss all the way. The highs are high and the lows are really low.”
On Thirstier, released July 30 via Merge Records, the highs involve some of the most joyous songs that Scott’s released to date. From “Constant Tomorrowland,” a future-facing track that envisions a idyllic, larger-than-life dreamland to “Hug From a Dinosaur,” a synth-infused tune about bringing Gribbon lunch while she’s busy painting, Scott keeps her eyes on the positive. And it’s not an attitude that came to her easily. “In the past, I would be really inclined to point out the negative, or point out the thing that I’m afraid of happening,” Scott explains. “[Jenna] is the one that was like, ‘You know, you have to see things more positively if you want the returns to be positive. You can’t just go through the world being negative and then expect good things to happen.”
“Learning how to do that personally, it sort of became a lens on the album while I was writing it. Just really trying to zero in on the spectacular, magical parts of life and blowing them up for other people to feel on a large scale,” she says.
My baby ran up blazing
Forty laps around the sun
She is hungry, she is thirsty
But she don’t wanna stop for lunch
— “Hug From a Dinosaur,” Torres
Beyond being a euphoric experience, Thirstier is perhaps the most explicit and unrestrained record that TORRES has released yet.
Since her debut in 2013, Scott has gradually abandoned abstract imagery in favor of increasingly tangible language. On Thirstier, her words are especially concrete and carnal. If decoding TORRES lyrics used to be an exercise of thought, Thirstier is an album that asks you to feel.
In part, that openness has to do with the identity of her subjects, particularly ones in her love songs. “I honestly did not think that I could be publicly queer and have the career that I wanted, and that was just 10 years ago,” Scott, now 30, recalls. Looking back at her first album, she says that, “When I was just starting to make albums, I was very thinly veiled. Sort of annoying,” she laughs. “I find it annoying that I was so reticent to be fully transparent about who I am and who the songs are about.” Now, Scott loves writing queer romance. She loves being in love.
“The interesting thing about being in love is that it is only a little feeling when other people are looking at you and seeing that you’re in love. They’re like, ‘Oh, alright, she seems happy.’ But I want to take that inner joy and make it seem like the best thing in the world, because it is to me. It is the best thing in the world.”
I promise your mind is intact
I know that it’s hard keeping track
If you’re seeing things, I’m seeing them too
I’m gonna chase the answers with you
I’m gonna chase the answers with you
– “Are You Sleepwalking?,” TORRES
When I catch up with Scott before her set at Boise’s Treefort Music Festival, she is wearing a set of matching yellow sports top and leggings, a signature stage outfit of hers at this point (she also owns it in red and orange). A pre-show whiskey shot in, she is far from shy in front of a camera as my colleague and I photograph her. Near Scott’s right shoulder is a stick-and-poke that Gribbon gave her. It reads “Jenna and Silas,” the names of her fiancée and stepdaughter. On her left arm is a stick-and-poke that reads “happy birthday,” which she gave herself.
Scott tells me that she “particularly [enjoys] playing outside and being able to turn [her] guitar amp to eight or nine.” The venue she is performing in during Treefort is indoors, but when TORRES starts playing in the center of a raised platform, slinging around her yellow electric, you imagine that she can be heard down the block.
Read below for our conversation with TORRES.
Stream: ‘Thirstier’ – TORRES
A CONVERSATION WITH TORRES
Atwood Magazine: How does it feel to be back on tour?
TORRES: Really good. I really missed it. It feels good to have the opportunity to get a lot of the energy out that I’ve been holding onto for the last year and a half. There’s a lot of uncertainty still, and everything about COVID has made this a weird experience, so it’s a mixed bag. But mostly I’m really happy to be doing it at all.
It’s been a very different tour. Audiences are definitely more sparse. People are rightfully still making the call whether they even want to go see a show at this point. I totally get that. But also I can tell that people are really invested and glad. I can tell that they’re really into it, if they are there. And I can tell that a lot of people missed going to shows just like me.
And with Thirstier, I’d imagine that the live aspect of it has been really nice to explore.
TORRES: Being able to play these songs live is a very energetic, totally joyful performance. I get to project all of my energy onto the people that are there, and hopefully they leave feeling like that—like I just infused them with some life and joy.
How has your relationship informed the record?
TORRES: I’m in a really good-for-me relationship, which is a brand new feeling. I’ve never felt so balanced and generally well. Not like, all-American wellness. I’m talking about spiritually well. My relationship is responsible for a great deal of that feeling. The pandemic has been challenging in many ways, of course, but it was very fruitful for me personally. I decided that I wanted to make a record about that, but really zoom in on that feeling, and just kind of blow that up, amplify it so that it seems huge. So that that little feeling became—well, it’s not a little feeling. The interesting thing about being in love is that it is only a little feeling when other people are looking at you and seeing that you’re in love. They’re like, “Oh, alright, she seems happy.” But I want to take that inner joy and make it seem like the best thing in the world, because it is to me. It is the best thing in the world. And I wanted to make people feel energized and good at a time when people are obviously having a hard time.
Has the pandemic also magnified the intensity of that relationship?
TORRES: Definitely. There were no real distractions. I got to grow with my partner and do the work, started going to couples therapy and worked through a lot of really difficult things. And yeah, it made it better. Now, we do it over Zoom. It’s amazing. You can do it from anywhere. I will be totally open about all of that. You’ve got to do the work if you want to build something amazing. You have to. Not having touring to focus on or any social hangs put the relationship front and center for me, and then I got to make a whole album about it.
I love the music video for “Don’t Go Puttin’ Wishes in My Head,” which displays that domestic love really beautifully. When I first listened to it, it’s so joyful. But there’s also this bit of uncertainty to it. I was wondering if you could speak a little on that aspect.
TORRES: With a great relationship, for me, always comes the fear of losing it. Or with anything great. It’s always met with simultaneously the fear and uncertainty of waiting for something to end.
Like waiting for the other shoe to drop.
TORRES: Yeah, exactly, hoping that it never does. It’s a huge part of loving somebody. It’s knowing whether it’s—I mean, I hate to say it—but whether it’s to a break-up or to death. You’re going to lose them. I thought it would make a great country-esque song. It’s funny, I sort of think of that as a country song. That anxiety should be acknowledged, you know?
Another track that stood out for me is “Big Leap,” which is a song that veers off into a different path and subject matter. What was the process of writing the song like, and what made you decide to include it in the record?
TORRES: Of all the songs on the record, that one took me the longest to write. I even feel like I started trying to write that song before I started trying to write the rest of the songs. When things are seriously emotionally distressing for me, a lot of times they take the longest to write, to put into song. That’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s the total opposite; it takes me two minutes. But that one took me a while. For one, it rounds out the album. I don’t want to give the impression that my life is just domestic bliss all the way. The highs are high and the lows are really low. That’s not something that should be glossed over. And speaking of fear of loss, that song is about my dad’s accident, falling off of a roof and nearly dying. It plays into that same fear of losing someone that you love and existing in the uncertainty of it. Also just for my sake, I needed to get that one out of the way so that I didn’t have to address it again. Sometimes I feel that way about certain subjects. I just want to write one song about it and then be done with it.
As a whole, Thirstier is such a big, exuberant album. The cover, which is painted by your partner, especially sets the mood. How has the record been influenced by her energy?
TORRES: Jenna changed everything about me, in a way. One thing that she’s done for me that really made its way onto this album is she helped me to change the way I see things. In the past, I would be really inclined to point out the negative, or point out the thing that I’m afraid of happening. I would preemptively spin something negatively. That was because of my own fear of being disappointed. And she is the one that was like, “You know, you have to see things more positively if you want the returns to be positive. You can’t just go through the world being negative and then expect good things to happen.” I know it sounds so simple when I say it out loud, but in practice, that was really difficult for me for most of my life. Learning how to do that personally, it sort of became a lens on the album while I was writing it. Just really trying to zero in on the spectacular, magical parts of life and blowing them up for other people to feel on a large scale. I feel like it’s a domino effect.
Right, and in turn, you’re helping your listeners to see the world in a different way.
TORRES: Yeah, that’s my hope.
Lastly, who are some of the artists that you’re listening to right now? Who have you been following?
TORRES: All time faves are Kate Bush, and basically my number one is Tori Amos. Stevie Nicks is my girl. Julien Baker, Angel Olsen. But right now, it’s St. Vincent. Always St. Vincent. I’ve been a fan for a very long time. I’m gonna try and figure out how to see one of those Daddy’s Home shows. We’re touring at the same time, so I’ll have to do some maneuvering. But I’ve got to figure it out.
I’m also a huge pop fan. I really love Dua Lipa, Lana Del Rey, and Cardi B. My girlfriend is obsessed with Cardi B, so I basically know all the lyrics now. A lot of Lizzo and Cardi B in our house.
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📸 © Shervin Lainez
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