In Japan's Aokigahara forest, there's a network of colored threads criss-crossing from the entrance to various points deep within the trees. Each thread represents a person who has ventured into the woods and hasn't come back. The threads that aren't there represent those who had doubts and were able to find their way back out of the suicide forest.
I tell Mackenzie Scott, known professionally as Torres, this morbid anecdote after she shares a similar image with me: Superman's crawl.
"These waterfalls inside of these mountains that open up into caves had to be discovered by people. There were people that actually had to go, had to physically crawl, through these tiny tunnels and essentially followed their instinct -- 'Hey maybe there’s something to be discovered inside of this mountain' -- without any proof that said the waterfall or a source of water exists," Scott explains.
"They had to do the Superman’s crawl -- one arm with a balled-up fist to feel your way because there’s nothing but darkness, so you’re just feeling out in front of you, other arm pinned to your side and you’re on your stomach. The most horrifying, nauseating part is if one of them came up against a dead end, it would be too small to turn around and they would die and rot there," she says.
While this all might seem excessively macabre, it's served as fertile soil for Scott, who was so inspired by the image of Superman's crawl that it became a metaphor for the frustration of having to choose just one of many possible life trajectories.
"I found it to be very frustrating that I can only occupy one tense at any given time. I can only occupy one trajectory, because we as people have this incredible ability, we have the capacity, for extreme foresight and imagination. Freewill is the plus side of getting to be a person -- it's getting to choose your own adventure," she says.
"It’s also very restrictive to be able to foresee paths and have so many options, all of which at any given point a person can see leading to joy and pleasure but being faced in so many cases with the pressing reality of having to walk through one door in favor of other doors that may be open to you," she adds.
That frustration comes to an apotheosis on the title track from Torres' new album, "Three Futures," which develops with a brooding patience that makes you feel like everything's happening exactly when it's supposed to.
"Time was a big [theme]. I was writing with this motif in mind -- the phrase that I had been throwing out is 'arriving to the party a century too late.' Visually, I was really interested in, and kind of became obsessed with, this visualization of walking into this grand room or through the ruins of Ancient Greece or maybe a mansion of some sort. It's a fully furnished grand structure that had given life to history’s most insane hedonistic, lavish parties, but I was arriving to this place only to find that nobody’s had a party there for ages," Scott says.
"I kind of have felt that way my whole life -- I’m not really sure why. Like I’m just getting to something way too late. I don’t mean that terrible thing that people do when they romanticize the past -- I’m a futurist for sure; I’m excited about the future. But there’s this hollow space inside of me; it’s like hunger for this experiential knowledge of what the ancient world was like. It's the ultimate feeling of missing out; it’s like true hunger for something that I’ll actually never get," she adds.
Scott was born in Orlando, Florida, and raised in Macon, Georgia, before she made the move to Nashville after high school. Yet, the whole time, she was trying to get to one place: New York City.
"Nashville is a lot more spacious. When I was living there I had a lot of room to myself -- you didn’t hear the cars that were driving by. Like, you can hear the taxi that just honked for seven minutes. Because external stimulation was limited, there was more chaos in my head. I was never able to choke it out, just drown out all of the noise in my brain, which leads to bad habits," she says.
I ask her what she means by noise.
"General dread, all of the existential fears -- fear of death, fear of those that I love dying, fear of isolation, everything that comes with that, fear of the unknown -- especially all of the ones that begin around the time when you go to college. I overthink the past. I just replay everything; it’s like a broken record of all that noisy headspace. When I moved to New York, what I found immediately, what I loved, is there’s so much external stimulation, so much noise, so many people to watch, it pulls me out of my own head, whatever I’m obsessing over that’s too self-centered in nature. It hasn’t made me any less depressed or anxious; it’s just given me a wonderful distraction," she responds.
As I hang up, I hear the noise of Manhattan's Lower East Side swallow the line.
Rutger Rosenborg was almost a Stanford poet-neuroscientist before he formed Ed Ghost Tucker. Whoops. He now fronts the Lulls and makes music on his own when he's not writing. Follow his updates on Facebook or contact him directly.