Torres Shares Summer of Pride Playlist, Talks Signing With Merge, Label Drama & 'Phallocentric' Live Music Business

Jenna Gribbon

Torres is in the midst of a career renaissance. On the heels of her breakout LPs -- 2013's eponymous self-released debut and 2015's Sprinter (released via Partisan Records) -- the 28-year-old singer-songwriter earned widespread critical acclaim and support slots on tours supporting Garbage, Brandi Carlile, Tegan & Sara, Sharon Van Etten and more. But following her signing to 4AD -- and the release of her third full-length LP Three Futures in 2017 -- the newcomer (née Mackenzie Scott) was relieved of her contract for not being "commercially successful enough.”

Scott announced the biz breakup in a now-infamous April 2018 Twitter post, captioned: “I wish them all the best. Also, fuck the music industry.”

Despite the high-profile departure, Torres proved herself highly resilient: In June, she inked a new deal with Merge Records and announced plans for a forthcoming fourth LP set for release in 2020. This summer, she will play a handful of festival dates, including stops at MRG30 in Carrboro, N.C. (July 26), and Pop Montreal in Quebec (Sept. 28). “I feel like I’ve lived an entire lifetime in the three years since recording Three Futures,” she said in a statement. “This new record documents the significant fruits, for better or worse, of some terrifically delusional pursuits.”

To help usher in her next era -- and fete Billboard’s Summer of Pride -- the queer musician crafted a Pride-themed mix comprised of artists that fit outside the "white cis male" mainstream, including tracks by Shamir, Brandi Carlile, Lizzo and more.

“These artists are not straight white men,” Torres tells Billboard. "Just that they exist and are putting art into the world is great. I don't see the songs as needing to be thematically referential to empowerment or inclusivity. I just bump them because I like them.”

Scott finds herself perplexed by the word “tolerant” as it relates to the LGBTQ community's place in the business. “‘Tolerant’ is a funny word and a dubious concept. It makes me think of someone whose heart isn't in the right place, like someone who internalizes discriminatory feelings towards someone else, but ‘allows’ them to occupy the same space anyway,” she says. “That's some serious hogwash.” Pride -- for the alternative upstart -- means living each day “how I want to live it,” she says. “I make out with my girlfriend a lot in public. I own a small business as a songwriter and performing musician, and I travel the world doing what I love best. That brings me an immense amount of pride. If someone tries to give a set of rules I'm supposed to abide by, particularly in terms of social conventions, I laugh it off and do whatever I want. That's pride.”

Torres also describes the live market as largely “phallocentric.” “It's gross. If you look at any music festival poster, it's going to be more than 80% dudes, unless it's a festival whose angle is specifically woman/LGBTQIA -inclusive, which I also don't love,” she adds. “I don't like that this business' well-known misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, and racism necessitates having our own music festivals where it has to be spelled out that it's an inclusive line-up. I want to play major shows without a mention of my perceived gender, perceived sexual identity, or anything else that has nothing to do with music.” Her hope for the future? To see the straight white boys' “time in the sun” come to an end. “It's not that I think they should all go away, it's that I want them to feel what living in the margins is—having to work 10 times harder at everything to even be taken seriously.” 

During her youth, the singer - who grew up in Macon, Georgia and currently lives in Brooklyn,N.Y. - rejected the idea of “coming out” altogether. “I don't have a coming out story— I never came out,” she says. “Straight people don't have to come out, so I never understood why the expectation is that queer people are supposed to come out. I've always just done what I wanted and loved who I've loved and I don't consider my sexuality to be part of my identity any more than I consider my hair color or clothing choices to be.” An unidentified individual from her hometown ended up telling her parents she had a girlfriend before she herself had broken the news. “It was super rude,” she says. “But it would have been just as rude if she'd told them I had a boyfriend. Folks just need to mind their beeswax.”

Moving forward, Torres remains focused on the positive aspects of her career, including a global fanbase and new home at Merge. “I was in a pretty dark place—lost—for a long time following my departure from 4AD,” she says. “Mostly I just felt befuddled that a label would invest so much into an artist that they didn’t believe was worth sticking with for more than six months. If I’d known that could happen I never would have signed the rights away to them in the first place.” She had, after all, made the record before signing the deal —something she still thinks about to this day. “I would have signed with another label had I known that was coming. That being said, I’m so grateful to them that they released me. I would have been stuck for two more record cycles with a business that wouldn’t have worked for me or done my art any justice.”

Joining iconic indie imprint Merge, whose roster boasts fellow indie mainstays Waxahatchee, Swearin', and Wye Oak, has given her a second life in the industry. “I’m glad to have found a label in Merge that’s actually run by artists and touring musicians,” she says of the imprint, founded in 1989 by Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan. As for her advice for her former label home? “The truth is that 4AD needs to get some people of color, some women, some queer people, anyone else in the boardroom that isn’t a white cis man in a suit.”



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