MacKenzie Porter is Big Loud’s next big star. Over the last two years, the Canadian actress-turned-singer has forged her own path to success; her stand-out singles ‘These Days’ and ‘Seeing Other People’ both becoming streaming smash-hits and charting across country radio in Canada and the US. Following in the footsteps of her label contemporaries Morgan Wallen and Hardy, Porter possesses the characteristic spark and vigour of a modern-day pop artist fit for the Nashville crowd, yet simultaneously demonstrates the emotional openness and songwriting value of a more traditionally country voice.
As she calls from her festive Tennessee home, her pup at her heels clamouring for a little bit of the limelight, Porter shares not only her love for music and the industry, but how she’s making it work for her. Through the ever-changing nature of the business, Porter is smashing out country-pop hits with focus and drive, something she is channelling into the new music she’s writing today. If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that Porter has the potential to transcend the country landscape and become a multi-faceted star.
Your music is pretty introspective. Do you tend to explore your own understanding of everything that's going on in the world within your writing?
I think the Drinking Songs collection is a lot of heartbreak stuff, which is kind of funny because I just got married. But I just prefer to write that kind of stuff. For me, it's not hard to go back and remember certain memories because I had to do that as an actor. When I'm doing a scene and it needs to be emotional, I have to think about something in my past. I like to go back in time, remember things and write about them.
How do you feel music and acting as forms of art compare?
Well, how they contrast to me is when I'm acting, I'm obviously playing somebody else. I get to pretend that I have been in the same situations or have gone through the same things they've gone through. As an artist and musician, it's my story, It's me. I almost feel a bit more comfortable acting sometimes, because I don't have to expose myself so much, and honestly my music is pop friendly. It's not about deep, sad, horrible things. I'm a pretty chill person, but when I get on stage, I feel like another version of myself.
Pop music has become much less restricted in terms of both the songwriting and lyrical narrative. Do you feel like you're able to express yourself more, regardless of the genre?
Totally. It's so interesting to see the vast differences of what’s in the top 10 songs across the world. People aren't consuming music the way they used to and it’s refreshing because as an artist, I don't feel so locked in a box either. You can have a moody song on a country record, or a pop song, or more folk, all on the same record. Even with country now, there’s a lot of different versions. There's Chris Stapleton country, there's Dan & Shay country, then you go into Luke Bryan Country - there’s different kinds.
Do you feel you can be more open and unrestricted in terms of the sound you explore now?
Yeah, totally. The thing everyone always asks is “will they play this on country radio?”. They will play it on country radio if it's a great song and people are listening to it. It does give you more freedom, it allows you to be more creative when you know that there's so many different styles being played. The fact that country music is been played on pop radio now too, it lets you head more in that direction. I think artists not having guidelines they have to follow only makes for better art.
Everyone is beginning to realise the power of streaming and how people are now responding to music – and the industry is really listening now. It’s becoming more progressive and forcing those within it out of their traditional approaches.
For the longest time, 50-year-old men were the gatekeepers of what got played. Now, Spotify and Tik Tok are blowing up the songs, it's giving people different avenues to get their music heard. I think it's nice not to have just the personal preferences of some certain people picking what they think is the best. It can be a big win for you as an artist. The audience are telling you directly that they do or do not like your songs, which is kind of good to know.
Does that put more pressure on you as an artist?
It’s a faster process of knowing if a song is reactive or not. Instead of us putting a million dollars into a song that we have zero idea about but just think is awesome, and seeing whether radio plays it or not, we now have the data to show that a song is streaming like crazy. Whatever format people are listening on, it's a little bit more certain.
When your relationship with Big Loud developed, what made you feel like you it was the right place for you?
I basically got to town and luckily, within a year and a half, I met Joey (Moi – Producer and Big Loud Founder) and he was into my project. Obviously, I was a massive fan of his, but he had the same vision as me. He hasn't tried to make me more country or more pop. I guess I could have shot for more labels and more teams, but it just felt right, it was natural.
It’s a collaborative process now. Especially when it's in-house like this, Joey's working on it, you’ve got the label on it, you're all working together.
So much more, and as a label they are more progressive. It's smaller so I don't have to go through thirty people to get an answer. I literally text my manager and Joey, who are the two owners of the company, and we can make a decision in 10 minutes.
They are also having an impact on Nashville and the way that it runs, do you think that shows that an independent label can now become a notable force in country?
I think people really respect Big Loud in Nashville. I think it’s because they think outside of the box and they do things like a little bit differently. They don't follow the rules. They were some of the first people to set up collaborations with pop artists and weren’t just putting out full records every two years. We're dropping a song a month, keeping everything going. I know everyone's doing that now, but I do think they were the first. It's working as well, you can see it with Morgan Wallen, Chris Lane and Hardy - all these are artists that are crushing it right now.
MacKenzie Porter’s Drinkin’ Songs: The Collection is out now via Big Loud Records.
Photography courtesy of Big Loud Records.