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Interview: MacKenzie Porter, The Next Big Canadian Country Crossover

MacKenzie Porter’s magnetic energy is fully entrancing on her songs written with their captivating hooks. It’s not hard to imagine why she has had such great success in Canada, so it’s only a matter of time before the United States catches on to her allure.

MacKenzie Porter’s magnetic energy is fully entrancing on her songs written with their captivating hooks. It’s not hard to imagine why she has had such great success in Canada, so it’s only a matter of time before the United States catches on to her allure.

The term “country music” means so many different things today, so I wanted to ask MacKenzie to describe where she felt like she fits into that:

“Country is so many different sounds right now. I think that how I want mine to be is the lyric as the country part. The storytelling. The whole song is a story, if it’s about love or heartbreak or whatever. Musically, I feel like we do incorporate lots of country music elements, as well, but then there’s a little pop side to it, too, production-wise.”

MacKenzie Porter has enjoyed a great amount of success this year being featured on Dustin Lynch’s single, “Thinking ‘Bout You.” Lauren Alaina was originally featured on the album version of the song before MacKenzie ended up on it. She detailed the “kind of bizarre story” that led her there:

“Obviously, everyone knows Lauren Alaina was on the song at the beginning, but scheduling-wise, it didn’t work out for the two of them to release the single for the both of them because she had another one. And that happens with labels and stuff like that. I got a call from my manager just being like, ‘Hey, Dustin is looking for a new female on this song. Would you want to attempt a vocal on it?’ I’m like, ‘Yes, I would love to!’ So I went in with Joey Moi, my producer, and we cut a vocal, sent it in, and I didn’t hear anything for like a month, I guess. […] Then, one day, Dustin followed me on Instagram, and I was like, ‘Woah, I feel like this means something.’ […] A couple days later, he called me and was like, ‘Hey, I’d love if you were the feature.’ I guess from his end, he got a bunch of submissions of different vocals, and he didn’t know whose was whose. I guess he did a blind listen and picked, like, ‘Oh, I like number 5,’ and I was number 5 or whatever number it was.”

She described Dustin Lynch as “an awesome human,” saying that she “only knew him as the country singer” before their collaboration. “He’s just a great, great human.”

Porter has been fortunate to find herself surrounded by really kind and talented people. Dallas Smith, a fellow Canadian country artist, suggested that MacKenzie come and hang out with him in the studio with Joey Moi in Nashville. That’s what started MacKenzie and Joey’s friendship.

She talked a little bit about how that initial meeting led to Moi producing her music:

“Obviously, I wanted Joey to do my record. After that hang, I just found his email and emailed Joey, ‘You don’t know me, really, but you should do my record and sign me, and everything will be great.’ He started listening to my music and introducing me to new people, so that’s how that relationship grew. Since then, he truly has been my number one supporter at Big Loud. He is involved in everything A&R, even like branding stuff. He’s just so in my career, and I think he’s just one of the most talented humans everywhere, but specifically in Nashville.”

Earlier this year, she was nominated for a JUNO Award for Country Album of the Year for her record, Drinkin’ Songs: The Collection. She told me that “it meant a lot” being nominated in that category.

Since she has moved from Canada to Nashville, she said that it can be difficult to “see the building of [her] career there because [she’s] here.” 

“For me, I always have my head down, just trying to focus on my thing, not look in other lanes. Just work my butt off. And it’s nice to hop up for a second, and other people in the industry be like, ‘We love what you did.’ Sometimes you get kind of lost in it, and you don’t know what other people think, so it’s just a nice reaffirmation that ‘You did a really good body of work, and we’re proud of it and saying it’s one of the best of the year.’”

Nominated in the category alongside her peers Lindsay Ell and Tenille Arts, MacKenzie Porter thought “it was cool that there were so many females, and there were more girls in the category than guys. That’s just a testament to so many females right now that are really working hard and creating great music and are being recognized for it. It’s pretty cool.”

“It was cool that there were so many females, and there were more girls in the category than guys. That’s just a testament to so many females right now that are really working hard and creating great music and are being recognized for it.” — MacKenzie Porter

She told me she has “so many” musical inspirations, but she named Kacey Musgraves, Julia Michaels, the Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton, Shania Twain, and Jason Isbell, specifically:

“I’m obsessed with Kacey Musgraves. Julia Michaels, I love her writing. Then, if you go back, I’m a huge Dixie Chicks fan, Dolly Parton, Shania [Twain]. I feel like all those people really influenced my music. I also love Jason Isbell.

I always think it’s interesting to hear what songs or albums artists are really loving. Sometimes, you might think they’re only listening to their own songs, but they need to get out of that headspace sometimes and listen to someone else, too. The album that MacKenzie says she has “literally listened to so much lately” is The Marfa Tapes by Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall, and Jack Ingram:

“Have you heard Miranda Lambert’s new Marfa Tapes? Oh my gosh. It’s just so good… She’s just so good, and that whole record… When I’m cooking or cleaning or whatever, I just love having that. So, I’m really inspired… She’s insane.”

We went on and talked about how we loved the stripped-back quality of The Marfa Tapes: “I’m all about a big production kind of song, but then sometimes just listening to that is just so soothing, and it feels relaxing listening to that record.”

Porter made history when she became the first Canadian female artist in twenty-two years with back-to-back #1 singles at Canadian Country Radio, and she became the first female to do that since Shania Twain in 1998.

When asked about how it felt to be mentioned in a stat last held by Shania Twain, she said, “It feels kind of silly. She’s so beyond where I’m at right now.” She continued, saying, “The fact that that hasn’t been done in twenty-two years is also kind of sad and insane because there has been a lot of incredible females. But I’m glad that we’re breaking down those barriers again that [Shania Twain] already broke down, but they’ve been built back up somehow. I’ve never met her, but I’m such a fan.”

Talking to MacKenzie, you could tell that, just like almost everybody else, she’s in awe of Shania Twain as an artist: “Obviously, she’s Canadian as well, so I have a special spot there. One day, if I met her, I would truly probably have a heart attack.”

She might seem new to the scene to you, but she’s already been in multiple songwriting sessions with big name writers in Nashville including Nicolle Galyon, Craig Wiseman, and Natalie Hemby:

“Working with them can kind of be intimidating because they’ve written so many incredible songs. But they’re so kind, all of them. I write with Craig [Wiseman] a lot. Craig and I just cut a song that we wrote for my next project. All these people just work their butts off, and when you get in there with them, even if it’s nerve-racking, we all start from the same place everyday of not having a song. We’re all trying to get a hit, basically, or a great song. So it does all of a sudden feel very collaborative when we’re in there. I think the reason why they’re so successful is they’re all so talented, but they also bring out the best writer in me, or in other people in the writing room.”

“…we all start from the same place everyday of not having a song. We’re all trying to get a hit, basically, or a great song…” — MacKenzie Porter

Some artists really objected to the idea of songwriting and collaborating remotely over Zoom, while other artists chose to embrace the fact that it was the only way to do it during the pandemic. MacKenzie admitted that she had to grow on the idea and was “not into at first,” but she says now she’s “all about a Zoom write.”

“I really have written my record on Zoom, basically, or at least an EP, on Zoom. It works. I mean, it’s different, but there are pros and cons to both.”

One of the pros she pointed out to me was that she can “pop on for four hours” and write with someone in the UK or in LA “and pop off” in time to “be back with my dog at 3PM.”

I think we can all agree that COVID challenged and pushed us all to new limits in different ways. Porter said that she was motivated to use the time to her advantage and work on new music like she had never been able to before:

“I feel like we accomplished a lot during COVID, and that was the goal. I remember when everything happened, my manager was like, ‘There’s gonna be 2 groups of people out of this. There’s gonna be the people that work the entire time and come out of it with a great record and a new thinking-outside-the-box/how-can-we-get-ahead during this time [mentality]. And then there’s gonna be people just waiting for this to be over. Who are you?’ And I was like, ‘I’m the person that’s gonna write the record!’”

In addition to her music career, you might know her from her past roles starring in the Netflix series Travelers or AMC series Hell on Wheels. I asked her if she had aspirations to continue acting, and she answered with “definitely”:

“I think right now, music is such a grind. It’s just such a thing that I need to be focusing on every single day. When my career hopefully grows, I might be able to take a month off. I feel like Kelsea [Ballerini] or Maren [Morris] or, obviously, Carrie [Underwood], they can take off two months to do a film and it doesn’t really effect their career. Me, I need to be on the ground running. But, yes, I want to do more in the future.”

She has “so many” dream collaborations, but she picked Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves, Blake Shelton, and Jordan Davis as the artists at the top of her list right now:

“I would love to do something with Chris Stapleton one day. I would love to do something with Kacey Musgraves. I’m not really sure if she would do anything like that, but I would love to. […] I would die to do something with Blake Shelton or even Jordan Davis. I’m about to go on tour with him. The level of country music right now is so good. The caliber and just the quality, and it actually has so much depth now. I feel like there was a phase where it was like party music. Although there’s still that lane, there’s a lot of in-depth music, which I really really love.”

“The level of country music right now is so good. The caliber and just the quality, and it actually has so much depth now…” — MacKenzie Porter

After trying to get her to spill a little bit about what all she has coming up, she teased an unannounced tour with an unnamed artist and a secret collaboration with an artist from a different genre.

Tour dates opening for Jordan Davis have already been announced, but there’s even another tour she’ll be joining, as well: “This fall, I’m out on the road with Jordan Davis. And then I’m out on another tour that we haven’t announced yet. So it’s gonna be good. It’s gonna be busy.”

She remained tight-lipped about her upcoming collaboration, but did tease this: “I have another kind of collab, but in a different genre, so that’ll be coming out. I have my own record. And then I have a bunch of other tour dates that we’re about to announce. […] Last year was this little work year, and now it’s like, put it out in the world.”

Catch MacKenzie Porter opening for Jordan Davis on the Buy Dirt Tour, which will kick off this September before wrapping in December. She’s also featured on Dustin Lynch’s single “Thinking ‘Bout You,” but keep an eye out for new music of her own coming soon.

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