Sprinter feels like a benediction, an invocation of the sacred and exhalation of the profane. The career-making sophomore album by Brooklyn artist Mackenzie Scott, who performs as Torres, is a thing of fierce beauty — confessional poetry at its most carnal and unflinching. In it, Torres probes at her Southern Baptist upbringing, and what it means to be a “child of God” and a “tired woman,” a cosmic traveler on the path of loss, longing and redemption.
Named one of the best albums of 2015 by NPR, Sprinter was produced with frequent PJ Harvey collaborator Rob Ellis. Harvey is an obvious point of reference for Torres, but so is Kraftwerk’s spacey experimentalism, Nabokov’s luscious literary glee, and the stark grandeur of the Swiss alps, which literally took away Torres’s breath on her European tour this past year.
“I’m no martyr,” sings Torres on Sprinter’s profound, unnerving closing track, “The Exchange.” But in her Sunday best and brutal grace, she’s a damn-near righteous revelation.
Let’s talk about “New Skin.” How did you end up working with Sharon Van Etten and the folks from War on Drugs?
That song, we did together for the nonprofit organization Weathervane Music, in Philadelphia. It was really special because I was just starting out then, and I think that was Sharon’s attempt at introducing me to people. She took me under her wing and brought me into her circle.
How do you usually write songs? Is that level of collaboration part of your process?
Well, I didn’t write with them. I wrote the song and I brought it to Philadelphia, but they played on it. They made it come to life. That was the first time I’ve really been collaborative with anyone creatively. I had to trust all the people involved because, to me, it’s a sacred process, songwriting, revealing yourself in that way. And the good news is that they all are really good at what they do, and they made me feel really good about what we were doing. They didn’t make me feel small.
Your songs are very personal reflections, made public. What’s that like, sharing such intimacies with not just the world, but with the people in your own life?
Believe it or not, that’s the scariest part, having people I know hear songs. I don’t know if I’m a psychopath or what, but I feel completely able to release my songs into the world. I find it so easy to share with strangers it’s unbelievable. But when it comes to sharing my personal thoughts with friends and family, it’s the most painstaking thing. It’s really hard for me to get to that point where I’m able to articulate those thoughts, much less share them with other people.
I don’t think that makes you a psychopath at all. I think that makes you human.
[Laughs.] Well, the psychopathic part is that I have no issue sharing any of that with the world.
But those are faceless people you may never see. It’s easier.
I don’t envision people’s faces. I just envision the Internet, envision songs on “the Internet.”
It can sometimes feel like spirituality is hip, but identifying as part of a faith-based community is stigmatized. Have you experienced that attitude in your years of performing?
I’m not surrounded by that many people who think it’s cool to be a Christ-follower. That being said, I don’t care. I really don’t. My spirituality is sacred and it’s the biggest part of me. It is me. I’m a spirit. We’re all spirits. And I don’t talk about it unless someone wants to talk about it. I like to let people get to know me and form their opinions before ever knowing whatever it is I believe, whether they give a shit about it or not. And then if they want to talk about it, I’m open to it. But it’s not a dogma, it’s not a structure. It’s just a way that I live my life and I don’t care if people don’t think it’s cool, ’cause I’m cool. [Laughs.] I know I’m cool.
Listening to your music, it does feel sacred, like you’re having dialogue with your faith. Do you see yourself as creating “Christian music”?
God no, I hope no one ever says I make Christian music. No. I mean, it’s so funny. My spirituality and my faith are a big part of me, but I think that to talk about it like it’s a genre or something marginalizes it, trivializes it. It’s not a thing in and of itself, it’s just me. I am a faithful person, I am a spiritual person. But we all are. We all have something we believe in, even if it’s nothing. There are people who believe in nothing, and that’s something, too.