Illustrated and Explained: Torres on Crafting "Emotional Realms" with Pedals

On Three Futures, Brooklyn-based songwriter Torres (Mackenzie Scott) steps fearlessly into new terrain. The result—one of this year’s most daring, immersive records—is her most ambitious to date. Pivoting from the intimate, straightforward arrangements found on her self-titled debut and 2015 standout Sprinter, Scott utilizes more industrial and electronic textures to soundtrack themes of intimacy, pleasure, and using the body as a mechanism for joy.

Reconnecting with producer Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey), Three Futures highlights Scott’s capacity for using effects to further enliven her ornate guitarwork. Both live and on record, it is not uncommon for listeners to beg the question, How the hell is she making that sound? We caught up with Scott amid a worldwide tour to get to the bottom of it.

Which pedal in your setup do you rely on the most?

My Death By Audio Echo Dream is pretty integral to every song. I mostly use it for a subtle slapback effect on all the guitar solos.

Torres' pedalboard. Illustrated by Sunny Eckerle

How often do you re-configure your board and how do you decide pedal order?

I change it up once every few months. My board looks different every tour, but there are a few old standbys that stay put. I mostly decide the order of the chain based on trial and error. For a while I had all my overdrives at the end of the chain and because I wanted to boost the stuff at the front of the chain. Now I've got the fuzz and overdrive at the beginning of the chain to boost the moodier, more atmospheric sounds at the end of the chain.

What combination of pedals are we hearing the most on Three Futures?

Lots of POG 2—a polyphonic octave generator—combined with the Death By Audio Echo Dream combined with the EarthQuaker Afterneath, which is a really expansive ambient reverb pedal.

Torres - Helen In The Woods (Official Video)

Tell me more about the Moog Minifooger MF Ring and EarthQuaker Bit Commander pedals. How do you use them in conjunction with the rest of your gear?

These are the two most specific pedals in my chain. The MF Ring is what you're hearing on the guitar solo in "Helen in the Woods." I like to pair it with the Echo Dream and several overdrive pedals at once to make it monstrous while still maintaining the Moog sound.

The Bit Commander is the hardest of all my pedals to control, especially in a live setting. I'm not ready to give up on it, though. It gives me a thunderous crunchy fuzz when it does what I want it to. I use it in conjunction with a Fulltone Full-Drive 2 MOSFET overdrive and a tiny bit of the Afterneath (with the mix turned way down) for the guitar riff in the chorus of "Three Futures." I also like to kick it on for the end of "Helen in the Woods" and "Skim" for an extravagant finish.

Favorite spot to look for/shop for pedals?

I find myself splurging on gear at Main Drag in Brooklyn more than my bank account wishes I would.

Tips for new songwriters when it comes to using effects?

I don't really like telling people how they should or shouldn't write, as it's a completely subjective experience, but I know that in my own process, I try to write the songs with as little embellishment as possible initially just to see if the song is good on its own. If I do use effects during the writing, I like to stick to one pedal and commit by using it as a foundation. As with any element of songwriting, whether it's sonically or lyrically, I think establishing parameters is important so you don't end up dabbling.

How do you recover or bounce back from pedal or gear malfunctions live?

If at all possible, make it look intentional.

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