torres is the unapologetic alt-pop provocateur that we can’t get enough of

As she shares Helen in the Woods, the new single from her forthcoming album Three Futures, NY musician Torres tells us why she’s constantly flirting with the line between sexy and scary.

by Alexandra Pollard
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19 September 2017, 4:56pm

A suited, shirtless Mackenzie Scott, AKA Torres, sits with her legs spread apart on the cover of her new album, Three Futures. It's a power move as much as it is a provocation, the unapologetic reclaiming of a space usually occupied by straight, male rock stars. That sentiment reverberates through the album too, dripping as it is with lust and longing, the sort that flirts, in Torres' own words, with the line between "sexy and scary."

Seeing the women around her shrinking themselves, both literally and in terms of their desires, sparked within Torres a desire to do the opposite. On Righteous Woman, she immediately topples the expectation of virtue set out in the song's title. "I am not a righteous woman," she sings over guitars that sound like they're submerged in water, before her voice descends into a gravelly sneer, "I'm more of an ass man. And when I go to spread, it's just to take up all the space I can." There's a playful edge to its sleaziness, but she means it too, sick as she is of queer, female desires being confined to the edges of what's seen and heard.

Speaking over the phone from her home in Brooklyn, Torres spoke to i-D about alter-egos, manspreading and how a fear of death has awakened a resolve to enjoy every orgasm.

I read an interview with you that said, 'Torres is the creative alter-ego of Mackenzie Scott'. Would you agree that your musician self is an alter-ego?
Oh that's interesting. Um, yes and no. Torres is more an augmented version of Mackenzie. It's not so separate as 'alter-ego' makes it sound. I think if I'd used my own name, I probably would have started to hate my own name. I think I would have started to feel like a real imposter.

Like you're playing the part of yourself?
Yeah, or like I think of myself, Mackenzie, as greater than I am. I think having a stage name provides that platform for me, that allows me to amplify myself. Everything gets dialled up – and dialled down in some ways – and yeah, I need that distinction. Basically I needed to give myself permission to change on a dime the moment I start performing.

The idea of taking up space seems to crop up a lot in the album. The lyrics of Righteous Woman, and the album artwork, reminded me of 'manspreading', and this idea that men feel more entitled to take up space. I wondered if you were subverting that in some way?
Yes. You're spot on. I live in New York and I take the train every day, and it's just so funny to me to look across the train car and see all the women sort of shrinking themselves in order to fit into the space, because inevitably they're sitting next to some man who's got his legs spread two feet out, and he's got his arms slung on either side of him. And it's not a question, he's not saying, 'Is it OK if I do this?' He's just doing it. I'm not necessarily saying that he should – whoever he is – apologise for taking up that space, but I want to see the women doing it too. I wanna see them unapologetically taking up the space that their body occupies, and I wanna start that movement.

How do you think that 'manspreading' manifests itself on a psychological, political and social level, and how can women take up more space in that way?
Oh God. This is a can of worms. I mean, I think there's always been this assumption that male-centric issues are kind of like the standard, and that everything that is non white, heterosexual male is in the margins somehow, or it's alternative. I think that everyone who's not that, who's not considered to be the centre, or the standard, they should spread. We should absolutely be taking up more and more and more space, and not asking for it. I think that's a big part of it, not feeling like we have to ask or apologise for doing so, because the bodies that we occupy are the space that we've been given for the time being. Regardless of who you are, we've each been given a body, and that body occupies space, and that body is going to die eventually and then we won't have it anymore. I won't have my body forever, I only have it for the time that I'm here on this earth, so in the meantime, it's very important that I use my body to its fullest capabilities. Taking up space is a huge part of that. Taking up intellectual space, taking up space in conversations and in every realm, politically, socially, economically, culturally, we should stop apologising.

You've talked in the past about a paralysing fear of death, but just now when you mentioned the impermanence of your body, you sounded quite at peace with it. Has that fear subsided?
Oh, not at all. No. I wouldn't say at peace; I think it's more resignation. It used to sort of cripple me, and it kept me from living in the present the way I wanted to, because I was so afraid of the future. It was almost like I just wanted to get it over with. I would just not be kind to myself, psychologically, mentally, emotionally, physically… I think I had this overall mentality that consumed me: 'Let's just get it over with, live fast, die young', that stupid, youthful falsehood. And now, I'm learning how to love myself, and I'm learning how to indulge my senses while they're still mine, while I still have my hands to feel and while I still have my taste buds, and while I still have my eyesight to see colour and to see art, while I still have my raging, youthful hormones, while I still have orgasms, while I still have my legs to walk. That's the shift that I've taken.

Listening to the twisted fairytale that is Helen in the Woods , it doesn't surprise me that you've got plans to release a short story collection. Is that song entirely imagined?
It's rooted in a truth, amplified of course. I wanted to write a song about the really dark side of love or infatuation, which when it becomes obsession can take a really fucked up turn. I also wanted to take that male stalker theme and subvert it, I thought it was more captivating to write about this obsessive young woman who's stalking the person that she's obsessed with, and creeping around outside of his house and looking in his windows and showing up naked in his bed - typically behaviour reserved for male serial killers in movies. I thought it might be kind of interesting to have it be a woman. There's that fine line between sexy and scary, which I'm constantly flirting with.

I think the whole album flirts with that line.
Great! I'm glad it translated.

There's a guitar melody in Skim which you said kept presenting itself to you in the form of a house. Did you manage to build the house? And does that happen a lot?
Yes, actually. I don't touch music theory anymore, it's not what makes the most sense to me. What does make sense to me is colour and shape and lines, and for that melody, it did end up coming out exactly the way I heard it in my head, but it took a very long time to get it there. I kept seeing it in these lines... I didn't know right from the start that it was architecture, but then when I would try and draw the melody, I realised I was actually drawing some kind of a house, or like a roof to a house. I actually read this quote [by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe] that said, "Architecture is frozen music." It's like anything that creates a frame, it's about creating the structure to support the lyrics, which is something that I hadn't really considered in quite those terms prior to writing this album. What the new album needed was a shape.

Would you want the casual listener to be able to recognise that shape, or is it something you did for yourself?
I can't control the way the album is received as a whole, but I do hope that is consumed as a whole entity, because there is an arc to it, and my hope is that the shapes and the colour schemes and the smells and the tastes that were imparted into the album during the writing process will manifest on some level of the listener's subconscious, whether they're cognizant of the shapes or not.

Torres' new album is due for release on 29 September via 4AD

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helen in the woods