Torres, real name Mackenzie Scott, wrote her latest album, Silver Tongue, about falling in love — and she manages, in turns, to make it sound exactly like the delightful and terrifying experience that it is. But what drove her to create her fourth album were some incredibly difficult decisions and an unrelenting drive to express herself creatively.
In 2019, Torres revealed she had been dropped by her label, the indie 4AD, in an email. It was a gutting experience. Her recently released album Three Futures was critically praised, but it seemed her music wasn't commercially successful enough for them to want to continue the relationship. It also left Torres in a tough spot, saddled with credit card debt she'd accumulated to make the album and no clear path to make more music.
Ultimately, Torres persevered. She signed a deal with Merge Records for her achingly romantic, darkly realistic portrayal of love on Silver Tongue. And she did it, she tells Refinery29, because it is what she was put on this Earth to do. Ahead, Torres shares how writing about love helped her deal with her control issues, the reason she self-produced her latest album, and the one lie the music industry seriously needs to stop telling women.
Refinery29: Let's start with the new video for "Dressing America." What prompted you to tweet that it's your most wholesome video?
Torres: "I think it was so funny because it was [in response to] such a salacious headline. It was: 'Torres Goes As A Literally Nude Cowboy In New Racy Video.' I had to laugh, and I"m not being disparaging because I think it's really funny. I'm grateful for the inclusion. But if I were in a man's body, would that video have been racy? I'm not showing any private parts, in fact, I have my nipples covered, even though I didn't have to because I wanted to make it more wholesome…I just felt like I needed to give people permission to click on it…What makes it racy, that's what I want to know?"
What got you started working on this album?
"I was in love, I am in love. Writing, for me, is a means of control. That was a time when I didn't feel like I had a lot of control in many aspects of my life — my career or my personal life, really — so it started from there.
"I've never had such a real romance — I guess that's what it is [laughs]. I've either always been in control or not in control at all, but this was the first time I've felt those violent swings between the two."
Was that feeling of not having control, that extended to your professional life, part of what helped you choose to produce the album yourself?
"It played into it in a huge way. It was a control thing, but it was also an acknowledgment on my part that there is not a guarantee that I'll get to make a new record. It's never guaranteed, and it's not that I thought that before it's just that making this record, especially, felt like such a trial. I figured, if I was getting this opportunity to record a new album, it was imperative to me that it be something that was 100% mine."
Did you find you had a different relationship with the record since you produced it all on your own?
"The most interesting part of the process, for me, was the newfound freedom to move things quickly without having someone there to consult. There are two sides to that: the part that's really great, where you're like, 'I can do whatever I want!' The other side is that it takes 100% faith in oneself. I have this tunnel vision of this record I was planning to make. They're all my songs, I wrote them all and brought them into the studio. Then I had to make decisions that may or may not have been good ones simply because there wasn't someone else in the room producing for me to bounce ideas off of. There wasn't anyone to reign me back in or suggest we take a step back to look at things objectively. For better or for worse, that is what makes this record so special. It is 100% me. The most interesting aspect to me was how quickly I was able to move through it and how little I was able to know during the whole process [laughs]."
Why do you think it's still so hard for the music industry to see women as producers?
"I think about this a lot. I don't know. Obviously, it's infuriating. It's downright misogyny. What we're seeing right now in America is an intense hatred of women. People hate women. I'm not afraid to say that. I see it, I hear it.
As it pertains to the music industry, and specifically producing, an interesting thing is that I tried to hire women. I don't want to give names, but before I self-produced this record, I reached out to several women about engineering or producing with me. One or two of them were game and it didn't work out with scheduling — that's totally fine. Two of three of them simply passed because they thought it wasn't for them, or whatever the reason was — I don't know. I think that women are maybe afraid of other women, which doesn't make any sense to me either. I love women. The lie that women have been told is that there's only room for one. It has to be a competition if there's more than one woman in the room. That is not the case. I think it's an easy way of controlling women…Why [is the industry] so afraid of power in the hands of women? Why do they think women aren't profitable? Because I guarantee they are. I want to work with women, I don't want to be in competition with women. I like to be friends with women, collaborate with women, date women, and kiss women. I love everything about women, and it's infuriating to me that there's a narrative that's a complete lie that says there is only room for one woman in any given room. It's insane and completely asinine."
You put yourself into credit card debt to make and release your last record. Did that influence how you operated while creating the new record?
"Point blank: I'm still in debt from the Three Futures era [laughs]. Yes, I had to go into this new era with a lot more wisdom and experience. That meant doing it pretty cheap. I signed with Merge Records, which is wonderful. I went about everything through the proper channels: I got my little advance, I made an airtight budget, and I stuck to it to make this record. That means not having a lot to recoup and now I'm in the position of figuring out where the money is going to come from to go on tour. I've had to be very frugal. I'm happy with the way everything has turned out and I feel more knowledgeable. I've got my hand in every aspect of things whereas, prior to this, I wasn't so informed about the financial repercussions of what I was investing it.
"The truth is that I don't want to do anything more than I want to do this. I did spend quite a big chunk of time doubting if this was the thing I'd keep doing. I had my parents looking at me and asking what my plan b was because they were afraid for me. I was afraid for myself. There was an actual period of time when I was paying for things with dimes. I'm not kidding, dimes. I'm not saying that so you will feel sorry for me, I'm saying it because no one in their right mind would do this unless it was something that was imperative, something that had to be done. The conclusion that I came to was that this is the thing I was put on the planet to do. I don't know how I know that, but I do. I decided to write these songs and I knew that I had to share them, that people had to hear them. So, I had to figure out how to record them and get them out there. That's when I started talking to record labels again and trying to rebuild my career from the ground up. I am very blessed because I was somehow able to do it and get people to work with me even though things weren't looking good or profitable at all."
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.