When the quietly devastating track "Honey" by Nashville singer/songwriter Torres (real name Mackenzie Scott) emerged from the Internet ether a few weeks back, it was readily apparent that Scott's talent contradicted any notions of contemporary American folk music being boring. Throughout the course of the song, Scott's voice transforms from a broken whisper to a defiant howl and back again, her electric guitar slowly devouring any silence with stormy crescendos and snarling distortion and her lyrics painting vivid pictures of crippling isolation and the resignation that emerges in the wake of lost love. It's a slow-motion train wreck of a song, flaming out in dissolving memories and overwhelming remorse. At one point, Scott knows the song is fleeting and about to escape her grasp when she warns "What ghost crawled inside my guitar? / Don't move, just stay right where you are."
Undoubtedly, "Honey" marks the emergence of a new voice to watch (or listen to) in the Nashville scene. With a self-titled debut album released yesterday, the 22-year old -- and recent college graduate -- showcases her hair-raising voice, forest-leveling guitar work and emotionally obliterating lyrics on her first LP. We caught up with Scott as she was beginning to prepare her band for a national tour in support of her first album.
Did you grow up in Nashville and has the city been a big influence on your music?
I'm originally from Macon, Georgia, which is about an hourish south of Atlanta. I came to Nashville in 2009 for college and I've been here ever since. Nashville itself helped me hone in on the sound I wanted, and the community here has certainly been the best thing for me. There are people here I have been able to befriend and look up to in the industry but as far as my "sound" goes, my influence has come from a lot of different places and people.
Do you think Nashville is a good incubator for aspiring musicians?
I would say so. There's a pretty good mix. You can find just about any kind of music you want in Nashville. Obviously you've got the music row / country scene, which is kind of what Nashville is known for, but then you have the lesser-known music scenes like the acoustic folk scene and a really good punk scene and a really good rock scene that's more underground.
What scene do you think you fit into?
I've hopped around since being here. I started playing in the acoustic scene, folk music, Americana, so I was playing more coffee shop-type places early in my career, which was good for me. My sound has evolved since being in Nashville -- its more electric guitar-based, and I'm playing with a full band now. I still tend to hop around so I don't really consider myself a part of one of the music scenes in particular. But, you know, I definitely enjoy going to house shows and seeing some crazy punk band that I've never heard of.
When did you first start writing and performing music?
I taught myself how to play the guitar when I was in high school, when I was 16 or 17. Up until that point, I had written -- I'm a writer, I like to write short stories and poetry -- but when I started playing the guitar, that's when I started writing songs and I had my instrument to be the base for that stuff. But I didn't start performing until I came to Nashville in '09. It took a little while because it's really hard when you first come to Nashville. There's so much music and it's so hard to get people to pay attention. It took me a long time. There's still a lot of venues in Nashville that I still haven't gotten to play and I am by no means "in" yet. It's a tough town to break. I've been performing for about three years now.
What music made you want to be a musician?
I would say first and foremost Brandi Carlisle. I got into her records my first year of college. She's probably my hero of sorts. I tend to get stuck on a musician and don't really branch out a lot. I get really obsessive about my music and I will listen to one artist for a year or two, and then I'll have a new one. Brandi was the person that I listened to forever and more recently I've been on a giant St. Vincent kick.
Listen to "Honey"
Your family ended up getting you a Gibson 355 electric guitar last Christmas and you said things really came into focus for you when you started playing your music on an electric guitar. What changed for you?
Well, I think that when I was playing more with an acoustic guitar, the thing that was missing was the "teeth" -- the electric guitar seems a little more dynamic to me. You have a range of things you can do with it. You can be really subdued with it and then it can get loud, and it can be a monster. There's more of a choice there. One of the grievances about being a singer-songwriter is that people talk during your shows, and sometimes you have people talking over you, and it can be frustrating to have that happen. When you plug in an electric guitar, people tend to quiet down and listen a little more. I appreciate being able to get really loud with it, and messy if I want to. It gives me more freedom with what I am able to do with my vocals. Especially when I'm playing a dirtier guitar, with pedals and distortion and everything, it allows me to scream a little more if I want to, which I love doing.
"Come to Terms" is the only song on the album with an acoustic guitar. Why did you pick that song to play acoustic?
That's a good question -- I debated over that. I was worried at first that it might seem a little bit inconsistent, if I did that one song on the acoustic and nothing else. I thought it was a good break and I love the way that the riff on "Come to Terms" sounds on the acoustic. I think it's a lot warmer song. Playing it live, I bounce back-and-forth between playing it on the acoustic and playing it on the electric. More than anything, it was a choice that I made in the moment, and it just happened to be that choice.
Your performance of "Honey" is very emotional and intense. Would you mind walking me through the genesis of "Honey" and how that performance came to be on the record?
I did write that song on an acoustic guitar in my bedroom but in my head I always heard it the way it came out on the record. I knew that in the studio I wanted "Honey" to just blow up. I wanted it to explode at the end. And I wanted it to be very messy. It did evolve a little bit from its beginnings but that's what I always intended the song to sound like.
How autobiographical is your music? Are these characters you're singing about or are you writing about yourself?
It's all there -- I'm all there. I wish I were better at writing about characters [but] I tend to be really in my head when I'm writing songs. And it's catharsis for me to just get it out. It's all me...as devastating as that may be.
What are your favorite themes to visit over and over again in your music?
Isolation is a big one. I really played a lot with the idea of being left behind, in a sense. Whether that means romantically -- falling in love with someone who doesn't love you back -- or maybe not being understood by a family member. Anything that makes one feel isolated.