In a world whose inhabitants seem to get more anxious with every passing moment, there is MacKenzie Porter. And to her, anxiety is nothing new.
She’s always been somewhat anxious in the writing room.
“I think it’s simply because I want what I write to be so good, but sometimes, it’s just hard to find the pathway to the perfect hook,” Porter admits during a recent interview with American Songwriter. “Sometimes, there are days that, no matter what you do, you just can’t find that hook.”
But then, there are the days that you do. There are the days when the words fall in place and the hooks appear.
And suddenly, a song materializes.
It’s a story similar to the one that unfolded two years ago for Porter, when the budding country music star found herself in the writing room with fellow songwriters Tom Douglas, Claire Douglas and Madison Kozak. As the four wordsmiths reached to find some sort of inspiration, Porter says she could feel those anxious feelings creeping in.
“We were just totally hitting a wall,” Porter remembers of writing her Joey Moi-produced song “The One.” “I went to the piano, and I don’t even remember who said it, but someone said, ‘the one before the one.’ And we just went and jumped on that idea. We knew that was what we needed to write.”
Granted, Porter found herself pulling from her own experience on the song, which follows a storyline that fictionally places the occasional actress at an ex’s wedding, watching him marry the love of his life.
“Oh, I’ve definitely been the girl before the girl that the guy marries,” says Porter, who snagged her first number one in Canada courtesy of her 2018 single “About You.” “I didn’t show up on his wedding day or anything like that. (Laughs.) But yeah, I definitely had no trouble pulling from that feeling.”
A native of Alberta, Canada, Porter grew up on a cattle and bison ranch in ‘the middle of nowhere,’ with only her animals and her extended family to keep her company. She would travel 45 minutes to Vancouver for violin and piano lessons throughout her childhood, eventually realizing that classical music wasn’t her cup of tea.
“I would always try to play a Britney Spears song on the violin,” she laughs. “But it gave me a good foundation in terms of reading music.”
After high school, Porter pursued acting and took on a variety of television and movie roles, but quickly became inspired to write songs by none other than Lady Gaga. Yet, the form in which she was trying to write within didn’t seem to gel with her upbringing.
So, she decided to give country music a try.
And the rest is history.
“I really think that pairing my theatrical experience with my songwriting helped me in the long run,” says Porter, who officially moved to Nashville in 2014. “I’ve always been surrounded by words, and I can get in touch with my emotions. I can go back to my first big breakup very easily, because I always had to do that with acting. It really helps me stay in those emotions and those feels while I am writing.”
Granted, Porter admits she has seen her share of challenges when it has come to breaking her way into the Nashville writing community, despite stats that show her snagging three back-to-back #1 singles on Canadian Country radio (“About You,” “These Days,” “Seeing Other People”), following Shania Twain’s lead as the only other Canadian female in history to achieve the feat.
“Writing good songs takes time and getting into those bigger writing rooms in Nashville to do just that didn’t happen overnight,” says Porter, who recently released Drinkin’ Songs: The Collection, which showcases her hits she has accumulated thus far. “In fact, I’m still working on that.”
Porter knows darn well that she now has to prove herself here in the states.
And she’s anxious to get started.
“I’m so proud of the success I have had in Canada, but I want to have big success here one day,” she concludes. “That’s what I’m driving for every day. I feel the pressure of making it here, because this is where I live. If you want to be one of the biggest acts in country music, you have to be here in the states.”
And, do you want to be one of the biggest acts in country music?