Torres is a fearless singer-songwriter, but open up the doors shielding her mind and you will find a pool of nervous anxieties. The south-gone-north 23-year-old behind the moniker, Mackenzie Scott, is human, although her steadfast courage and heart-ripping words will fool you into thinking otherwise. As such, she’s got a list of fears: isolation, mortality, immortality, the process of aging. Better phrased as, you know, life.
Her new album, Sprinter, reads like she’s darting away from her fears, but get a few songs in and it’s clear that reading is backwards. “The goal is to turn around and run straight back into them,” Mackenzie Scott explains over the phone. “It doesn’t mean this year has been eliminated. It just means I’m more willing to deal with those fears now.”
She’s taking the call from Bushwick, New York — nearly 900 miles from her hometown of Macon, Georgia and later Nashville, Tennesee. With the move, she wasn’t seeking isolation. She wanted the over-simulation only New York has to offer. “I don’t want to sound disparaging because there’s nothing I have against small towns,” she says, “but having people know exactly what I’m doing all the time and having people see me and know my business and then talk bout it, gossip, is so big in those circles. Things get dramatic. I was seeking isolation from that part of living in a small-ish town, but I’m not seeking isolation from loved ones. I like being a private person. I like having that option.”
Despite the mileage distance between Scott and her family, the emotional gap narrows in the wake of Sprinter. “Before the record came out, I was a little apprehensive about having my family here because I was afraid they would be concerned for me or think that I wasn’t doing well… or that they didn’t know me at all,” she says. “I’ve been thinking about a lot of these songs in terms of conversations that I never had with my family. For me, sometimes I find it most difficult to express what I’m feeling to the people that I care most about. Conversations are so hard, and usually I’d rather just not speak ever.”
That’s where Scott has changed. Usually, she uses songwriting as her mode of communication, but the past year saw her opening up to friends and family only to discover those fears aren’t as scary as she assumed. “You have to give people the chance to be there for you, to step up to the plate for you,” she admits. “It’s about taking the risk and giving your loved ones a chance to comfort you and communicate that with you. I’m not good at that. I was never good at that. When people can relate, they’re empathetic and they’re there for you. I’ve found that I’m much less alone than I always thought.”
In putting forth the effort to communicate, Scott cleared up health issues, too. “Fears manifest in the most incredibly terrible ways,” she says, a bit shaken up. “It’s incredible what fear does to the body and what dwelling on negativity does to the body: you gain weight, you lose sleep, your digestion messes up, everything becomes terrible. Communicate and your body benefits.”
Opening up like that allows her to empathize deeper, namely through experiments with point of view. On Sprinter, Scott gives herself the vantage point of an outsider, even if it’s a self-imposed character play, to achieve freedom while still distance herself from, well, herself. “Maybe it makes the songs feel a bit less myopic,” she says. “In my daily life, I’m always seeking to try and understand the world from other people’s vantage points anyway. That’s how you understand people and how you connect. When I’m writing that way, it’s because you’re only remembering things the way that you think they happened. You’ve only seen things through your eyes. It’s about empathy.”
Exploring points of view doesn’t just take root in her songwriting; it happens everywhere she puts her pen. “I just love words,” she laughs. “I like to keep my toes dipped in all the honeypots. Poetry or short stories or song — the words are always what come first for me.”
As Torres, the music is always dictated by the words. As Mackenzie Scott, the writing is therapy for the fears. “It’s important to think in other forms,” she explains. “I constantly think in haiku or poetry stanza and I especially love writing short stories. All of those formats are slightly different ways of being able to tell a story. I don’t like limiting myself to songwriting; I read just as many books and short story collections as I do listen to records.” While her creative nonfiction short stories currently remain unread by the public eye, Scott dreams of breaking them out into the world someday soon.
Other remedies for fear are more easily packaged. “I drank whiskey to get that performance on ‘Strange Hellos’,” she says, laughing so hard that she cuts herself off. “I was super fixated on not just recording the songs, but getting a real performance with each one. If you don’t have that, then the recording falls flat.” Scott’s dedication to chiseling the cement courageousness of Torres while simultaneously patching the sleeves with her heart is one of the bravest things she’s done. She may be a mere 23 years old, but she’s as valiant as someone twice her age — and she just doesn’t need the bruised skin of a weathered adult to get there. “I ended up having to drink the whole bottle of whiskey and still managed to get the performance I wanted,” she adds, “so maybe I’m just proud of not just falling down drunk.”
TORRES W/ ANCIENT OCEAN. THURS 6.25. GREAT SCOTT, 1222 COMMONWEALTH AVE., ALLSTON. 617.779.0140. 9PM/18+/$12. GREATSCOTTBOSTON.COM.