By Max Freedman
On an unseasonably frigid November afternoon, Mackenzie Scott enters a Brooklyn bar wearing gym shorts. Scott, best known as the musician Torres, doesn't have some sort of superhuman ability to withstand the cold: Gray leggings jump out from under her blue mesh shorts, with a matching blue tee and oversized pink button-down completing her look. The thoughtful layering isn't the only thing keeping her warm lately — her fourth and newest album, Silver Tongue (out January 31), is in part about a love that she consistently describes in no less than over-the-moon terms.
"I've never had this feeling," Scott says of "being completely enraptured by" her love for her partner Jenna Gribbon, who painted Silver Tongue's artwork (and with whom she just moved in down the block from where we're sitting). "I think this is my first real love album," she says, referring to Gribbon during our conversation as "a genius" and "brilliant." Though she's quick to gush about Gribbon in person, her lyrics throughout Silver Tongue are far more measured. She's never sounded more at ease — really, she's never sounded more like herself.
Even though Scott got personal on her 2013 self-titled debut and 2015's Sprinter, she recounted hateful kiss-offs and emotional fallout through characters and vague narratives rather than forthright stories. She brought her queerness and seething beckon into full focus on Silver Tongue's predecessor, 2017's Three Futures, but that album's tales tended to exaggerate Scott's desires. Three Futures also infamously saw Scott dropped from storied label 4AD only one album into her three-record deal, and this unexpected change, alongside other sudden shifts, almost led her to quit music.
Instead, she's returned with her most confident music yet while retaining the signature Torres sound. Her music still comprises eerie grunge-space rock guitars, percussion that resembles robotic arms clicking into place, softly purring background synths, and her domineering, ruminative singing. The big change is that, by some inscrutable sleight of hand, Silver Tongue is the first Torres record to also sound like a Mackenzie Scott record.
"These songs are very much me rather than the sort of characters I was playing on [Three Futures]," she says. She occupies herself, not fictionalized stand-ins, such as the "ass man" narrating "Righteous Woman" and the seemingly murderous titular character of the ferocious, demonic "Helen in the Woods." As such, she drifts toward contentment instead of melodrama — even though her current partner isn't the only person under the lens.
"The record is about two different people, one of them being [Jenna]," she begins before succinctly concluding, "and then one other person." In neither naming this person nor saying more about them, she hurls shade at a former lover without identifying how that relationship fell apart. She likewise keeps this figure at a distance throughout Silver Tongue, forgoing the rage she's long conjured in her music. Scott's calmer, more level-headed approach can be chalked up to a new lyrical approach: processing events as they happened rather than after.
"When something has already happened, you have the luxury of saying whatever you want about it," Scott says. "We manipulate the narrative of things from the past to make them be what we wish they were. You can't do that with a relationship that you're in the middle of. You can't trick yourself."
Scott's unflinching honesty with herself dominates the back-to-back Silver Tongue highlights "Records of Your Tenderness" and "Two of Everything." The former depicts Scott first falling for Gribbon: "I can't get one word in front of the other... I can't believe you're coming over," she beckons over alien synth transmissions and heartbeat kicks. Her surprise is reasonable, as she wrote penultimate track "Gracious Day" to win Gribbon back after they nearly broke up.
Likewise, on "Two of Everything," a song about that unspoken other, when Scott sings, "What was it that made her think / She could have two of everything? / One of you and one of me?" over astral guitars and sauntering snares, she's not angry that she's caught in an open relationship, and she's not scorning her ex. She's digging through the wreckage without squinting, trying to discern why this person wanted to forgo monogamy.
"That song was almost called 'Polyagony,'" she quips. "It was really hard for me to write, but it needed to be written." The mental clarity she achieved while writing it empowered her, just as the song's lyrics might embolden listeners: "I decided to write exactly how I wanted to without [changing] things to be more universal," she says, noting that this method "is something I haven't done in the past."
Scott candidly centered her own artistic desires rather than those of others — made-up characters, fans, and music-industry pressures, the last of which dissipated after the 4AD controversy. "I think that that's best left where it sits," she says. Still, this twist of fate manifested in another crucial way: Silver Tongue is the first self-produced Torres record. With nobody standing between her ideas and her instruments, Scott had no trouble putting together her most unfiltered art to date.
"I wanted to do things exactly in the order I wanted and try all my weird ideas without having to bounce them off somebody else. ... I had the language and technical capabilities, and I felt confident," she says. That she self-produced her most lyrically sincere record is no coincidence: "I'm really able to own the way that I feel and where I am in my life." In other words, hiring a producer as "translator," as she says, isn't necessary for someone who's finally achieved an ongoing, unsparingly upfront internal dialogue with herself.
Take "Dressing America," a bold but logical continuation of the Torres musical style. As she sings, "I tend to sleep with my boots on / Should I need to gallop over dark water / To you on short notice," she adds booming kick drums under the final lyric to musically mimic said galloping. A producer might strike this down as overwrought in theory, but Scott executes it so perfectly that it forms the backbone of the song's catharsis.
"Gracious Day" sounds especially like an unmodified rendering of Mackenzie Scott, partially because acoustic ballads are among the most naked forms of music and partially because they're sparse in the Torres catalog. A faint echo of reverb on Scott's voice serves a dose of desperation that the song's lovestruck lyrics alone might not depict (though "I don't want you going home anymore / I want you coming home" is possibly Scott's most clever bit of wordplay to date). String flourishes during the chorus likewise reinforce just how deeply Scott loves Gribbon and wants her to stay, if not move in with her — just as she ultimately did.
At one point in our conversation, Scott tells me, "I had two or three years of becoming a better person and simultaneously having my heart busted open by love, and that combination has made me very sappy." We're not talking about "Gracious Day," but this statement could definitely apply to it. Few Torres fans might have expected a lightly smarmy acoustic ballad on Scott's truest album to date, and she too didn't predict this current version of herself. "I never saw it coming, and it's purely because I'm in love," she says after describing herself as a "softie." Ever in touch with herself, though, she's quick to correct the record: "I'm still a hard motherfucker," she says with a laugh, "and you can quote me on that."