Sense and Sensuality: Torres and the Healthy Hedonism of “Three Futures”
Mackenzie Scott maps out the mental spaces, color palettes, and newfound sensuality that influenced her third LP.
Touring can be bad for your health. Mackenzie Scott is only twenty-six years old, but in the past couple of years she’s found herself growing increasingly sick on the road, sapped of any youthful energy she might have had before committing to a life spent in a van. The Georgia-raised, New York–based singer/songwriter better known as Torres is more than half a decade into a career that’s found her performing over two-hundred live shows since the release of her 2013 self-titled debut. And it’s taken a toll.
While touring behind her 2015 album Sprinter, Scott found herself feeling increasingly worn down by the demands of the job. Overworked, over-stressed, and sleep-deprived, she reached a breaking point. Something had to change, but in making major decisions about her health—mostly involving diet and exercise—Scott found herself more in tune with her own physiology. Much of the time she spent writing her new album, Three Futures, also involved her becoming reacquainted with her own biology, and in doing so it led to a new outlook: a celebration of the body as a vessel for joy.
“I completely flipped the way that I was living,” she says on the phone from her home in Brooklyn. “I cut out most everything that I was eating and completely changed it, and made it a lifestyle. And I started getting really into walking. I wrote so much of the new album just walking and walking and walking. Then at the same time I got really into cooking. I basically had to just start cooking all my own food because I wanted to know everything that was going into it. It all came together at this intersection where I was really paying close attention to everything that my body was telling me. I paid attention to my senses—taste, smell—and I used my limbs more.”
Three Futures, which is out via 4AD, is the end result of Scott’s exploration of the senses, a journey that manifests in various ways throughout its ten songs. For one, the Rob Ellis–produced album is the most physical-sounding Torres record to date, driven by dense layers of electronics, hypnotic loops, and dancefloor-friendly beats. The songs on Three Futures evoke a late-night atmosphere, whether in the dreamy surrealism of “Skim,” the darkly ominous pulse of “Helen in the Woods,” or the stunning minimalism of “Bad Baby Pie.” These are songs that are meant to be felt as much as heard.
It’s also an album that Scott wanted to experience on other, less immediately palpable levels. She began the process of writing the album by first sketching out a blueprint of an imagined house with ten rooms, each one with its own assigned cast of characters, scents, and colors. Scott says that she’s personally had experiences of synesthesia—a condition in which stimulation of one sense triggers another, such as perceiving colors when hearing a song—and sought to extend that feeling to her own music, however difficult that might be for the listener to perceive in any obvious way.
“In imparting our ideas of colors or color palettes and smells into something intangible like music, there’s no real way of actually, consciously getting that across,” she says. “However, I do think that, intuitively, that symbolism hopefully finds its way [into] the song—even on a deeply subconscious level. Those colors will make themselves present, and the scents will make themselves known. The mildest form of synesthesia being triggered is a good thing.”
In addition to exploring the senses, Scott has embraced the sensual. Many of the songs on Three Futures are “sexier,” as she puts it, some in more explicit ways than others. The title track opens with the line “I got hard in your car,” while the humorously defiant “Righteous Woman” sets up an evocative punchline: “I am not a righteous woman / I’m more of an ass man.” But it’s not just a clever turn of phrase—Scott is flipping gender roles as society understands them, and turning ideas of masculine and feminine sexuality upside down: “And when I go to spread, it’s just to take up all the space I can,” she sings.
In marketing the album, Scott’s also used a variety of highly erotic visual imagery. She’s straddled by a mostly-nude woman in the video for the first single, “Skim,” and she’s depicted in a promotional photo with hands caressing her torso as she reclines in bed. While she says she “doesn’t want to make a gender conversation” out of our chat, part of what inspired this exploration of eroticism were the false notions she was taught in her conservative surroundings early in life.
“As a woman, and especially a woman in the South, I was raised to believe that modesty was a requirement—‘modesty’ meaning cover yourself, hide yourself, take up as little space as you can, because men are stimulated visually,” she says. “That was the mentality that I was raised with. That’s never sat right with me, because it’s not any woman’s responsibility to shrink herself or hide herself to make someone else more comfortable or to keep them from temptation, whatever that may be. The other implication there is that women are not stimulated by sight, which I think is one of the most harmful lies that I was ever taught.”
But Scott never moralizes or judges the subjects of her songs. Even when tackling topics such as one-night stands—events that have the potential to lead to personal regrets—she avoids attaching a sense of shame. Part of the idea of giving in to pleasure is tied into the overarching theme of sense and sensuality, of being in touch with one’s body. And on a broader level, it reflects something else from her past that she’s had to unlearn—that right and wrong are, in large part, far from ironclad.
“I’ve come to this point where I kind of had to rethink everything I grew up believing as right and wrong,” she says. “Mostly what I’ve concluded, at least at this point, is [that] the majority of things we call ‘wrong’ are social conditioning. I also don’t believe that anyone is all one thing—I think everybody is a mix of good and evil, if you want to call it that, light and darkness. Whereas previously I tended to write as young writers do, from the perspective that made me come out as having the higher ground, or having the higher moral authority… I don’t necessarily think that’s [the] writer’s job. I think it’s the writer’s job to observe and pay attention and not judge.”
Mackenzie Scott has undergone a lot of personal growth in two years. She’s healthier, more upbeat, and unapologetic about the way she lives her life. Each song on Three Futures captures a specific time, place, and atmosphere in a four-minute art-pop song, providing stimulation on various levels, even if subliminally. As a songwriter, she plans everything down to the finest detail. But the inspiration, as Scott says, comes from something less intellectual and more corporeal.
“I realized I had never really taken note of the body as an actual temple,” she says. “And not in the biblical sense. But the body as a true place of worship… Actually indulging the body in every way in pleasure—pleasure that ends up building the body up rather than tearing it down.
“A healthy hedonism.” FL