April 10th, 2014
Torres - New Skin
When an artist tells you that writing is an "animal instinct" for her, you can expect one intense ride. Fortunately, intensity is just what the doctor ordered. "New Skin" grapples with darkness but ultimately hits a triumphant tone. With the help of favorites like Sharon Van Etten, The War on Drugs and The Pharmacists, it's a journey you're not likely to forget.
We begin season 5 by coming full circle. In January 2010, Sharon Van Etten, then a budding songwriter, came to Philadelphia to record “Love More” with us for our very first episode of Shaking Through. It turned out to be her break-out moment, and four years, two albums and countless tours later she stands on her own, an experienced and acclaimed artist. We couldn’t be more proud.
But our pride isn’t just about her success, and the part we played. It’s been a joy to watch HOW Sharon has handled that success: with a deep and sustained generosity towards others. It’s a measure of both her character and the character of independent music at large that she came to us with the idea of curating an episode. What an amazing way to give back.
So, on a frigid December day, nearly 4 years to the day she was last here, Sharon drove from New York to Philadelphia, bringing with her Mackenzie Scott, also known as Torres--An artist who we’ve come to love, and who matches Sharon in her ability to find strength in vulnerability. A Torres song finds that mythical blend between bruising and triumphant, a balancing act few can manage. “I see a lot of myself in Mackenzie,” says Sharon. “Especially when I was starting out. We come from a lot of the same places, and I wanted to curate an episode with someone whose voice I could relate to.”
As we settled into the day, we began with finishing the arrangement of “New Skin.” Mackenzie had the “seeds” of it ready, but wanted our help filling out a band that could give it power and energy. We brought in our favorite people in Philadelphia: Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs for guitars, Dave Hartley, who plays with Adam and records under the moniker Nightlands for bass, and Philly mainstay Chris Wilson who plays drums with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Add in Sharon on guitars and vocals and we had what Mackenzie affectionately called “The Dream Team.”
Since the band had never played with each other before, we gave them ample time to explore the song, and with each run through it felt better and better. As night fell and Marconi bulbs illuminated the live room we slipped into basic tracks. True to rehearsals it was the seventh and final take that felt the best and we moved forward right as the band hit their peak.
We added layers of guitars (from Mackenzie, Sharon and Adam) and vocals (From Sharon and Mackenzie), chosing to use ribbon mics wherever possible. We had a fleet of gear from our friends at AEA including the R440, R84 and R88, which gave each layer a rich, dark tone. It was a perfect fit for the vibe of the song. Members can explore the raw tracks and hear how they sound up close.
When it came time for vocals, we rearranged the Marconi bulbs around the R440 and Mackenzie tore into her performance. We almost had to ask her to pace herself, to protect her voice. She pulsed and swayed, willing herself through take after take of lyrics that one could only describe as deeply honest and cathartic.
But those words are ones that Mackenzie accepts only hesitantly: “I hear them a lot, and they’ve become kind of a four-letter words in the realm of singer/songwriters. But those are elements that should exist in all types of art, I think. I don't want to get all philosophical, but you know, if [you’re not honest] then why do any of us do this?”
It’s a philosophy we can get behind, it’s one of the reasons we were so excited to take Sharon up on her suggestion. We knew that Mackenzie would give everything to her episode. It’s a dedication to following your own voice that we feel should be applauded, regardless of your musical preferences. It’s not easy to put yourself out there like Torres does. But from our perspective, she’s better for sharing it, and we’re better for hearing it. Intensity, when used properly, is what makes for compelling art. “New Skin” has it in spades.