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Step Right Up: Torres

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Interview with Mackenzie Scott.

“I fall in love with people instantly. That particular song is about one such instance. It’s my most fervent attempt at a heartsick love song, and its subject will never know it’s about them.”

—Mackenzie Scott

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Torres is the moniker for Mackenzie Scott, the Georgia-native whose singular voice represents one of the most poignant and unique voices in song-writing today. Still only in her early twenties, Scott’s songbook comes from the heart of darkness, where a flood of feelings – sorrow, longing, pain, hope, survival – diffuses through the artist’s works. The self-titled debut album’s ten utterly shape-shifting creations seeps into each and every pore of one’s heart and mind, as the deeply touching songs remain with you long after the journey reaches its end. The likes of ‘Tramp’ by Sharon Van Etten and Cat Power’s ‘Moon Pix’ albums can be reference points to the trajectory of Torres’s captivating music.

Armed with her beloved Gibson guitar – whom Scott’s family pooled together to buy – the songs are diverse, ranging from raw, sparse folk ballads (Come To Terms’), achingly beautiful love songs (‘November Baby’, ‘Don’t Run Away, Emilie’), cathartic indie-rock gems (‘When Winter’s Over’, ‘Honey’) and one of the most saddest songs in the world (‘Moon & Back’). The debut record – the culmination of a life’s work – is a stunning achievement from a young artist who will undoubtedly create many masterpieces in the coming years. Upon listening to Torres, I am reminded of first hearing New York-based singer-songwriter Nina Nastasia’s debut record ‘Dogs’ many years ago. The dark production and striking vocals share parallels to the sprawling canvas of Torres’s similarly affecting music and tower of song.

The record was recorded live to tape over the course of five days with a resulting immediacy apparent throughout. ‘Honey’ builds into a sprawling rock opus where the refrain of “Heavy are you on my mind” is delivered upon a frenzy of guitars and drums. Reverb drenched guitar notes penetrate the atmosphere of ‘Jealousy and I’. The vocals of Scott are nothing short of breathtaking, particularly on the song’s rise where Scott sings “I’ll never let her go”. ‘November Baby’ – the longest cut on the album – contains dream-like guitar whose clean tones wavers delicately beneath Scott’s heartfelt words of longing. The opening lyric sets the tone for this tender ballad: “This skin hangs on me like a lampshade / Keeping all my light at bay.” I feel the magical presence of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ close by as Scott’s lyrics are sheer poetry, conveying moments of decadence: “But Summer takes you far from me / So just for now I’ll place an angel / Atop an early Christmas tree.” ‘November Baby’ could be a distant relative to Tom Waits’ ‘Coney Island Baby’ – both steeped in fragile beauty – as Waits sings “All the stars make their wishes on her eyes.”

The achingly beautiful lament ‘Don’t Run Away, Emilie’ is one of the many heart-warming and empowering moments of the debut record. The openness and directness of Scott’s song-writing is something to behold as she sings softly “I’ll be the truest one you know if you’ll stay awhile” on the song’s close. A gorgeous delicacy breathes from the softly spoken voice of Scott – that feels almost a whisper – which touches you profoundly; whose words of longing elicits vivid emotion: “Don’t run away Emilie / Please don’t try and get out now / Dream of angels Emile / I need you cause you see me somehow”. The instrumentation is immaculate. A violin melody rises and falls magnificently beneath the deeply powerful chorus refrain. Moments later, warm percussion, clean guitar tones, hypnotic bassline and infectious keys provides the ideal backdrop to the dream-like ballad. I think immediately of Bob Dylan’s ‘I Was Young When I Left Home’ as Scott sings “this place felt like home” on a later verse; the sound of something familiar, warm and vital all at once.

‘Moon & Back’ is a sparse lament that graces the second half of Torres’s soul journey. A beautiful pop symphony is in full-bloom here as a river of tears and sadness flows from the poignant and ever-pristine song-writing of Scott: “I’m writing to you from 1991 / The year I gave you to / A momma with a girl and son.” Kindred spirits such as Elliott Smith, Nina Nastasia and Angel Olsen grace the song’s sphere as a sense of painful hurt is released. The dynamic range inherent in ‘Moon & Back’ creates a beguiling atmosphere, as the chorus forms an empowering climax, of anthemic proportions (think PJ Harvey) where soaring strings, rampant drums and raging guitars fills the surrounding void. Rarely does a song possess the power to melt a heart in one fleeting moment as when the final verse arrives: “Your new family knows I did this all for you / Maybe one day you’ll believe it too.”

‘Come To Terms’ is a sparse lament containing softly strummed acoustic guitar and soothing percussion. The intimacy created conjures up the sound – and subsequent feeling – of witnessing Angel Olsen’s live performance. A sensation that remains with you now and forever-more. The closing lyrics resonate powerfully as Scott sings “I’ll never know if looking out the window is what brings me to my knees / Or if it’s what’s inside that’s killing me.” Album closer ‘Waterfall’ centres on the meditation of ending one’s life and the contemplation of possibilities. The hard-hitting themes may be the subject matter yet the song becomes a source of hope and survival from the depths of despair. Scott sings “Do you ever make it halfway down and think God / I never meant to jump at all”. The sonic backdrop shines forth light that embodies the will for survival. ‘Waterfall’ – and the record as a whole – is a stunning achievement in conjuring up the darkest of places that in turn, becomes a portrait of the human condition. Scott’s voice leaves “like the setting sun” but like the imminent sunrise, will return once again, and illuminate us with her formidable presence.

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Interview with Mackenzie Scott.

Firstly, congratulations on your stunning debut album. I’ve been living inside the world of these songs for the past few months. It’s rare to find an album of such deeply affecting music and songs of such raw emotion to truly captivate your heart. I feel the spirit of songwriters such as Sharon Van Etten, Cat Power and Nina Nastasia grace the album’s stratosphere. I would love to gain an insight into the space and time in which this collection of beguiling songs were created?

I wrote all of these songs in Nashville when I was attending college at Belmont University. In total, the album took about 3.5 years to write. Some of the songs were class assignments that I ended up writing in the stairwells of the dormitories at 4 AM. I think I shaved about twenty years off of my life just by staying up all night writing songs for almost the entirely of my college career. HA.

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The intimacy of the songs immediately struck me when listening to songs such as ‘Moon & Back’ and ‘November Baby’. I was very interested to read that the album was recorded live to tape over the course of five days. I love how that special spark of creativity and a sense of wonder is captured in these recordings. Can you please recount those five days of recording and how the journey felt for you during those days?

Those five days were low-key and relaxed. There was lots of sitting around in the house where we recorded and just discussing beforehand what I wanted each song to sound like. For example, before we recorded “When Winter’s Over”, I played Ryan Adams’ “It’s Starting to Hurt” over the speakers and told Ryan McFadden (my producer) and the band, “this song gives me the same feeling I want people to get when they listen to my song.” And we’d go from there. There was lots of coffee and whiskey involved. It’s an experience I’d gladly have all over again, if the opportunity were to come my way.

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The lyrics and subject matter on the album encompass the spectrum of human emotion; pain, longing, loss, love, innocence, despair, hope are etched on the canvas of sound. Can you please discuss the songwriters who have made the biggest impact on you and who, in turn has shaped your music?

Brandi Carlile is my hero. I’m obsessed with Johnny Cash and Kurt Cobain. I’m a few decades behind on the Talking Heads train, but I love David Byrne. Sufjan Stevens, Matthew Berninger (The National), Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields), and Tori Amos are all geniuses in my book. And St. Vincent. Ugh, she gets me. She’s so good.

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My current favourite is the dream-like ballad ‘November Baby’. The song is achingly beautiful evoking the power of ‘River’ by Joni Mitchell, particularly with the Christmas setting reference. Your vocal is fragile that seeps beautifully into your consciousness. Can you discuss this song for me?

I fall in love with people instantly. That particular song is about one such instance. It’s my most fervent attempt at a heartsick love song, and its subject will never know it’s about them.

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Your family pooled together to buy your beloved Gibson guitar. Describe your love for this particular instrument. The guitar sound brings me back to albums such as ‘Moon Pix’ by Cat Power or more recently, ‘Half Way Home’ by Angel Olsen. I love how the guitar is central to each and every song.

I’ve never listened to Cat Power, but I love that Angel Olsen record. People like Joan Jett, Lindsey Buckingham, and Annie Clark (St. Vincent) made me want to play the electric guitar. They play with a hunger that I find to be violent and sexy. It’s an instrument I fall for more and more every day.

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Music must have always been important for you, especially as you are a native of Nashville. This place must have been a constant source of inspiration for you growing up?

I’m not actually from Nashville. I lived there for four years when I was going to college, but I’m originally from Macon, Georgia. I was always involved in some realm of musicality growing up, but it was always musicals and church choirs and piano lessons. I was never involved in what you’d call the secular world of music; I wasn’t raised on the “classics”. I listened to audio books instead.

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What path do you think you will venture down on the next record, Mackenzie? Are there new songs already formed for this follow-up record?

I’m currently in the process of writing the new record. I’ve really been in the process since before the last record was released, actually. Writing an entire body of work is a sporadic, spaced out thing for me. I haven’t done enough writing to have a clear idea of what this next album will sound like, but I imagine it’ll be a darker one than the first.

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What are the albums you are currently listening to?

I’ve been on what seems like a music hiatus for a few months. I’ve had to keep myself almost entirely removed from it since the beginning of the year. I am listening to a couple of things, namely the new Diarrhea Planet record, “I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams”, as well as Anna Calvi’s self-titled record.

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What books are you currently reading? Any favourite authors?

I’m reading JD Salinger’s Nine Stories currently. I just finished The Stranger by Albert Camus and Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem. I really love Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, and Joan Didion.

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Torres’ self-released debut album ‘Torres’ is out now.

http://torrestorrestorres.com
http://torrestorrestorres.bandcamp.com

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Written by admin

October 21, 2013 at 10:44 am

Ten Mile Stereo

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Glenn Jones “My Garden State” (Thrill Jockey)
One of the hidden gems of the year so far came courtesy of the forever dependable Thrill Jockey Label; Glenn Jones’s “My Garden State”, an album of understated and fragile beauty. The album was written in Jones’s family home in Northern Jersey prior to the sale of the house due to his mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. A strong spirit of memory and nostalgia are evoked throughout. Glenn Jones’s guitar playing prowess is (as ever) on full display where a deep sense of warm intimacy and a myriad of feelings are captured effortlessly. The album features sisters Laura and Meg Baird on accompaniment and was recorded in the home studio of Les and Laura Baird in New Jersey, keeping with the album’s Garden State theme.

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John Murry “Miss Magdalena” (Forthcoming LP)
“The Graceless Age”, John Murry’s debut solo LP, was a deeply moving and a life-affirming experience. Written after Murry had overdosed on heroin and was left clinically dead, “The Graceless Age” is an album of pain and suffering, while – ultimately – one that exudes a moving spirit of redemption and hope while Murry’s soul is laid bare. “Miss Magdalena” would see the light of day while Murry – and band – toured extensively this spring and summer in both Europe and the US. The song will be released on forthcoming LP and follow-up to the internationally-acclaimed “The Graceless Age”. John is currently recording the follow-up and has appealed for funding on his kickstarter initiative (ONLY 36 HOURS TO GO!) with many special prizes on offer: All details on Kickstarter here.

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Daniel Bachman “Seven Pines” (Tompkins Square)
My first time discovering Virginia-born Daniel Bachman came courtesy of an intimate performance at Cork’s Gulpd Cafe courtesy of Plugd Records where Bachman showcased material from his current Tompkins Square LP “Seven Pines”. Bachman’s guitar playing is astonishing to witness and all the more astonishing to behold in a live setting. The album was written over a 12 month period while living in Philadelphia and shares the same spirit of William Tyler’s “Behold The Spirit” as well as such guitar luminaries as Roy Harper and John Fahey. At only 22 years of age, Daniel Bachman has the world at his feet.

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Torres “Torres” (Self-Released)
Released at the beginning of the year, Mackenzie Scott’s Torres’ self titled album is one of the year’s outstanding achievements. Mackenzie hails from Nashville, Tennessee and – like Bachman – is only 22 years of age. The album’s ten songs are direct and stark and continue to linger long after repeated listens. The album recalls Sharon Van Etten’s personal and affecting songs – where folk, indie and rock traditions merge wonderfully with Mackenzie’s stunning voice.

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Charles Bradley “Victim Of Love” (Dunham Records)
Few albums have garnered such wide cross-over appeal as soul maverick Bradley’s stunning “Victim Of Love” LP. Released on Dunham – a label belonging to the legendary Daptone Records label – “Victim Of Love” is a modern-day soul masterpiece. Bradley’s amazing “success” story (and, indeed, remarkable backstory) has kindled a spark in many a music fan’s heart over the last year or two (similar in some respects to last year’s celebration of the legendary Sixto Rodriguez) and has captured the imaginations of people across musical genres – and generations. As Bradley writes in the album’s inlay: “To all of you with God’s love. Thank you. I love you always. Charles Bradley. P.S. See you soon.”

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KÖLSCH “1977” (Kompakt)
I only recently came across the incredible talents of Copenhagen’s KÖLSCH (via the wonderful musical institution that is Galway-based An Taobh Tuathail) and “1977” has provided a constant source of headphone listening for the small hours ever since. KÖLSCH is Rune Reilly Kölsch, a renowned producer who has been responsible for a whole host of records under various monikers over the last fifteen years, most notably the internationally successful dancefloor hit “Calabria” from 2003. Kölsch ran his own monthly Club Smile parties at VEGA Natklub in Copenhagen, while also running bimonthly parties at legendary Culture box.

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Tree “Sunday School II: When Church Lets Out” (Creative Control)
My first introduction to the incredible “Sunday School II: When Church Lets Out” LP came courtesy of Pitchfork’s Overlooked Records list for 2013. Tree is the alias for Chicago rapper/producer Tremaine “Tree” Johnson. The album is a hip hop tour-de-force featuring a myriad of inspired samples including Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Fallin In Love” (as Johnson says on the intro to “The King”, “I had to go get The King for this one”). The sheer range of sounds serves to recall those wonderful “mixtape” vibes from DJ Shadow’s seminal “The Private Press” LP. Lyrically, the album is as powerful as they can come, featuring tracks of raw power delivered straight from the soul of Johnson.

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Karen Gwyer “Needs Continuum” (No Pain In Pop)
From the incredible drum/bass/synth opening of “Sugar Tots”, the nine tracks on “Needs Continuum” showcases the wonderful talents and breathtaking sounds of London-based Karen Gwyer. Released this year on the wonderfully eclectic and ever-reliable “polystylistic” independent label No Pain In Pop, also based in London. My current favourite is “Lentil” which begins with softly textured vocal layers before gradually building to a stunning, ethereal and multi-layered climax. Also available is a remix EP of Gwyer’s “Needs Continuum” featuring Toronto’s Doom Squad, Not Not Fun’s Samantha Glass and Australian Neon Pulse.

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Sorcha Richardson “Sleep Will Set Me Free” (Self-Released)
I first crossed paths with Sorcha Richardson courtesy of the Irish Times’ “The Ticket”. Delving into Richardson’s stunning songbook has proved an unforgettable experience. The Dublin-born composer – now based in New York – has recorded a number of E.P’s to date (including the mesmerizing “Sleep Will Set Me Free” EP), containing fragile folk treasures recalling such spirits as Karen Dalton, David Pajo, Vashti Bunyan and Lisa Germano. Whether featuring arrangements of guitar or piano, it is Richardson’s poetic and truly captivating lyrics and breathtaking vocal delivery that casts such a deeply affecting spell on the listener, one which will never be broken.

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Minutemen “Double Nickels On The Dime” (SST)
An album that proved a key catalyst for Calexico’s Joey Burns on his musical journey (the band often cover both “Corona” and “Jesus and Tequila” live), Minutemen’s “Double Nickels On The Dime” album was released on the legendary Californian independent label SST in 1984 and continues to inspire new generations of musicians. The double album, containing a stunning 45 songs, was the third studio LP released by the band who consisted of D. Boon, Mike Watt and George Hurley. Tragically, in December of 1985, Boon was killed in a van accident. However, Boon’s legacy and Minutemen’s songbook will live on forever.

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