Torres' Sprinter is one of the strongest indie-rock releases of the spring, but it might never have happened if it weren't for the late Ray Bradbury. A little over a year ago, the 24-year-old artist, whose real name is Mackenzie Scott, was battling a serious case of writer's block after a post-college move to Brooklyn. "I was really overwhelmed," she says. "I had all of these ideas that had been festering in my brain for months and years. I didn't know where to start."
In late January 2014, Scott's friend (and fellow singer-songwriter) Sharon Van Etten gave her a copy of Bradbury's classic essay collection Zen in the Art of Writing for her 23rd birthday. "That book opened the proverbial floodgates," Scott says. "It felt as though he was giving me the freedom, or rather the permission, to put my real hates on paper – not just singing passionately about someone that I love or used to love but singing passionately about hate."
The next song she wrote was "Strange Hellos," a scorchingly frank highlight of the new album. "After reading that book, I was able to write that song and not censor myself," she says. "If there was a filter I had on myself, or some sort of a fear, it just completely did away with it."
Scott grew up in Macon, Georgia – "It's a lovely small town, but there's not a whole lot going on," she says – before moving to Nashville to study songwriting and English lit at Belmont University. "I was pretty depressed as a college student," she says. "I crumbled a good bit, and I did a lot of late-night songwriting and whiskey drinking." She also recorded her self-titled 2013 debut. "It was my homework, in and out of the classroom. I was eating and breathing songwriting, whether I wanted to be or not. Thank God I did want to be."
Now, living in Brooklyn, she does not have a day job; music is still her life. "I think it's good for the art, but maybe not for my sanity," she says. "I just think a lot. I don't know if there's such a thing as an overactive brain, but I have the tendency to sit and get in my head and not write anything down for long periods of time. That can be good, to have it brewing, but it can also be maddening."
Scott recorded Sprinter late last summer in rural Dorset, England, with co-producer Rob Ellis (known for his work with PJ Harvey). "It was one of the most gorgeous places I've ever been," she says, "and I think it gave me the mental clarity that I needed to make something singular."
Sprinter gets much of its punch from the intense, grungy guitar work of Scott and Portishead's Adrian Utley, but she says it was important to her that her vocals are the loudest part of the mix. "More than anything, I wanted the songs to be heard," she says. "I don't labor over my lyrics so that they can be buried under layers and layers of guitar."
This week, Scott launched a tour that will take her through North America and parts of Europe over the next three months. "I'm just ready to get this album out there," she says. "I covered a lot of ground, emotionally, on the record – and that includes my childhood, my present as a 24-year-old and there's a lot about the future and the unknown on there as well. I put my entire life into this record."