When I sat down with Mackenzie Porter, one of Canada’s own country music icons, her infectious energy and enthusiasm filled the room, immediately setting me at ease. From the moment we met, she exuded a bestie-like aura, and it didn’t escape me that we were both sporting the same Aritzia sweater, a testament to her impeccable style, if I do say so myself.
Hailing from the heart of Alberta, Mackenzie’s musical journey began at an early age, as she immersed herself in the world of instruments and song. She listened to her parents’ country music as well as the music they would play growing up, inspiring the inception of her own musical odyssey. And coming from a family of musicians means so much more when you end up becoming a star.
During our conversation, Mackenzie opened up about the captivating fusion of her acting and singing talents, seamlessly intertwining real-life experiences with the imaginary ones of her craft. Her artistic explorations have led her through diverse musical genres, eventually guiding her to her true love, the world of country music.
You’ve already had such a multifaceted career, both in music and acting. Can you share how these two pursuits work in your life and what each means to you personally?
MacKenzie: I started playing violin, piano, and singing when I was four years old, so I don’t really remember anything other than just music. Even at six years old, I was in musical theater and acting. I’ve done both of these my entire life. It’s definitely a balance, trying to have the schedule to be able to tour and shoot a movie. I love them both and I really do feel like they fulfill different parts of me. Similar to when I’m on stage singing my songs, with acting, I get to be somebody else and tell a different story of experience that I haven’t gone through before. It’s a nice escape from my brain.
Do you find that your experience as an actor informs your experience of being a musician, and vice versa?
MacKenzie: Totally. I mean, it comes into play in so many different aspects. When I shoot music videos and even some of the songs I’ve written. I went through a breakup maybe 3 or 4 years ago. I’m now in a loving relationship, but I’m still singing those songs. I need to channel who I am, which is acting in a sense.
When you’re singing about past relationships and channeling those emotions, how do you cope when it brings up past feelings that you had?
MacKenzie: I think, when I’m performing, not as much as when I’m writing the songs. Obviously when you’re putting out music, if you’re in a healthy, happy relationship, you don’t want just the entire record to be that. You need to channel past pain and hurt that you’ve gone through. [When] writing songs, I definitely bring up old feelings. I’ll come home and have written a song where I’m hurt or upset by a situation that I’ve already gone through and I’ll be mad at my husband and he’ll say, “What the hell, I didn’t do anything!” I’m like, “Yeah, I know – but you did four years ago and I wrote about it today!”
That’s hilarious. Does that happen pretty often?
MacKenzie: I mean, we both write so many songs so of course it happens. We’re good at leaving that in the editor’s room. It definitely does come up a little bit.
Your song “Chasing Tornadoes”, can you provide some insight and themes that inspired that song? Is it indicative of your upcoming album and what fans can maybe expect from it?
MacKenzie: Totally. That’s definitely the most country thing I’ve put out and everything up to this point has leaned a little bit more pop-country. The record that’s about to come out kind of has both elements on it. I feel like there’s some right-in-the-middle, crossover stuff, and then, some super country stuff — more than I’ve ever leaned into.
Would you say it’s the North Star of the album?
MacKenzie: There are definitely songs I think encompass the whole record a bit better, but the record, when that song came out, wasn’t done. I think it was a perfect intro, but I do feel like the record as a whole is its own thing now. I’m still writing for it — if something magical happens, I’m going to throw it on that for sure.
You’ve grown up on a cattle and bison ranch in Alberta. Do you think that rural upbringing and your family’s musical background shaped your music career and influenced where you are now?
MacKenzie: It shaped everything about me and of course, my taste in music and lyrics. My dad is literally a rancher, he is at a cattle sale right now. That’s kind of like country music, what my family listened to, and what my grandparents listened to. My dad was in a country band as well. It was the genre of music that was playing at all times in my life growing up. I think growing up in that kind of setting, it’s a lot of blue-collar, honest people and I do feel like that country’s lyrics kind of lean that way anyway. When I got out of high school, I went through my Lady Gaga phase of music. I really did experiment with other genres. At one point, I wanted to do pop but I had no business trying to do it. It all led back to the kind of truth that this is the most honest thing for me. I did music engineering school and learned how to track on pro tools or logic and cut tape. We learned how to record. At the time I was in the school, it was a rock school. I think there was one girl and then all rocker-punk dudes. I remember the first day I showed up, I was in a sundress and like, so girly, and all of these punk dudes were in there judging me but we all became really good friends. We would record music and do sessions from midnight till three in the morning sometimes.
That’s so cool. Where was this school?
MacKenzie: It was in Vancouver. It’s called Nimbus Recording School in Vancouver. Yeah, it was actually really educational. Now I can cut my songs at home. I mean, if it’s for my record, I don’t do that, but for demos, I can, it helps to know that side of making music as well
Your debut single, “I Wish I’d Known”, was released back in 2012. How did it feel to embark on your solo music career? What motivated you to make that transition from being part of a band to going solo?
MacKenzie: That was a really difficult decision because I was really, really good friends with the other guy in the band and I didn’t want to wreck the relationship or hurt him in any way to go solo. I just kept saying that that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to have full control. When you’re working with somebody else creatively, you guys might have differences or even one might want to work harder than the other one. It’s hard to find two personalities that totally mesh. I think he was bummed, but wanted that for me too and it was the best decision for me, even putting out that first song — that feels like so long ago — I was completely independent at that point. I didn’t have a big team or label behind me or anything, but I remember being so proud of that song, and so naive to the industry. I’ve grown and learned so much since then.
How would you describe the evolution of your sound from back then to now? I know you said you were more pop country but how different do you think it is from your music that you’re about to release?
MacKenzie: I mean, so different. I was so young and I hadn’t really written a lot of songs back then. Even just the quality of the song wasn’t good. I feel like every artist, I would imagine, could feel the same. And I could be wrong! Taylor Swift probably listens to her first record and cringes. Those are not who I am anymore. You know what I mean? I think this record is the most mature and honest piece of music I’ve ever put out.
Who were some of your musical influences?
MacKenzie: My first concert was The Dixie Chicks — The Chicks, I guess, now. The fact that they play banjo and fiddle and I played the fiddle — I loved their record ‘Fly’. It was one of my favorite records ever. The instrumentation on that record is what I love. I feel like that sound is more present on this next record. Also, Shania Twain, how progressive she was and how she pushed boundaries with fashion. Going to see her was more than just a country show. Now I feel I’m inspired by Kacey Musgraves, or Julia Michaels and her songwriting, how honest it is.
As a Canadian artist, what are your thoughts on the country music scene in Canada? How do you see it evolving in the future?
MacKenzie: Now, more than ever, the quality of music that Canadian country artists are putting out is the best that they’ve ever done. I mean, so many of them come to Nashville to write and it’s not because there aren’t amazing writers in Canada. It’s just the density of the writing community here is insane – literally three houses down, probably a writer. You’re probably going to be among the best of the best just living here. For songwriting, I think being in Nashville is so important and I think a lot of Canadians have realized that they have to be here to get the best songs because, at the end of the day, it’s just about the song.
What is the best advice you’d give to young artists aspiring to be in the country music scene?
MacKenzie: Honestly, I’d probably say get your butt to Nashville. Just write as many songs as you possibly can and still obviously put them out in Canada, and even live in Canada if you want. To write, just write, write, write, write! I’ve written — you don’t even want to know — over 1000 songs. Every year, I probably write 200 to 300 songs. It takes that much for me. Some people probably write amazing songs every day, but I would say your average person will write 10 crappy songs and one good song, and then 10 crappy songs. The hustle and work ethic is so important in this industry. Write as many songs as you can and hustle so hard even though you’re going to hear every single person say no. You’ll eventually get one yes, and that’s how you get to the next level. Just stay in your own lane, put your head down, and work your butt off.
MacKenzie Porter is heading on her tour, “The Canadian Headline Tour”. See her perform in a city near you:
Adelaide Hall — Toronto ON.
The Park Theatre — Winnipeg MB.
Commonwealth Bar & Stage — Calgary AB.
Like what you saw? Here’s more:
Chappell Roan Is Showing You The True Meaning Of Camp
Every Guest Who Joined Drake On His ‘It’s All A Blur’ Tour
The Beaches Will Get You Through Your Breakup