Singer-songwriter MacKenzie Porter sure has come a long way from the ranch where she was raised in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Since moving to Nashville in 2014, she’s developed a unique style that may best be described as a traditional country with a contemporary edge. Her hook-laden songs have sparked a list of accolades including multiple Canadian Country Music Award nominations as well as a previous JUNO Award nomination for Country Album of the Year. Making her mark in 2020, MacKenzie became the first female artist to have three back-to-back #1 singles at Canadian Country radio in 22 years with “About You,” “These Days” and “Seeing Other People”, following Shania Twain in 1998. She also earned a crossover Top 10 at Canadian pop-radio — a first since 2003 for a Canadian female country artist — with a remixed version of “These Days”. She has gathered together these hits and more on her new EP “Drinkin’ Songs: The Collection”, and she’s excited to talk about her first long-player in quite a while.
“It’s kind of a different thing because a lot of the songs have already been out,” she says, calling from her Nashville record label. “For basically the last two years I’ve been dropping singles and they’ve all built toward this bigger body of work. We wanted to close this chapter and wrap it up. I wanted to add one extra song (“The One”) so it didn’t feel like everyone had heard everything already. To have these songs live in one spot so it’s just not all singles based is something that I really wanted to do. Next year I’ll put out another full-length album and it will be the starting point of a new chapter.”
MacKenzie’s current single, “Drinkin’ Songs”, drops an absolute earworm refrain in the chorus and you’ll find yourself humming along by mid-song. For her, however, the most important thing is the lyrical hook and nowhere is this more obvious than on the reflective number “These Days”, a song about a former lover that comes to life with the sentimental lyrical imagery of ’98 Chevys and matching tattoos. These strong visuals struck a universal chord that helped the song cross over from the country to the pop charts.
“In Nashville, we would call this a furniture song where it can put you in that moment by describing the scene,” she begins. “For me, specifically for a nostalgic song, it’s that sense of taking you back to the moment. I think that’s really important in this type of song.
“As far as crossing over to pop, that was just kind of a one-time thing that happened. I was really lucky that pop radio embraced it the way it did. If the next song decides to cross over too that would be great but that’s not my goal. My goal is just to be a country artist. “The One” and “Drinkin’ Songs” are country songs, but pop radio is playing a lot of country music now so I guess we’ll just see.”
MacKenzie’s string of three Number One songs is a combination of co-writes and covers, and in future, she would like to lean toward doing more of her own material in her recordings. She is proud of the songs she has written, particularly her song of female empowerment, “Drive Thru”.
“If it was totally up to me I would do all stuff that I’ve written,” she says. “But at the end of the day I live in Nashville and in my opinion it has the best writers in the world. If I hear a song that is an undeniable smash then I have to put my ego aside.
“Drive Thru” is intended as a song of empowerment and I hope to be a role model in everything I do. I try to keep my social media very positive and very inspiring. I don’t promote any negative stuff on my page. My goal is to lead by example in every sense, whether it’s standing up for yourself or standing up to a guy like in “Drive-Thru”. I’m all about that.”
“Drive Thru” begins with a little bluesy riff that sounds like it could have come from the strings of Bonnie Raitt’s guitar. Open Spaces wondered whether there were some blues in MacKenzie’s background.
“No, blues was not an influence,” MacKenzie says. “Basically I grew up mostly just playing classical music. I play the violin, and I was in orchestra and quartets. I played solo and in concerto competitions and stuff like that. My music theory is classically trained but on a personal side, I listened to country and then pop music or even old school rock stuff. But I always say my biggest influence was country music.”
Growing up, MacKenzie was not the only musical member of her family. Her brother, Kalan, showed he had good pipes at an early age and he went on to win Season Two of “Canadian Idol”. She says that Kalan left the music business about ten years ago and he now works in Silicon Valley. (“He’s so much happier because I don’t think the industry was for him”.) MacKenzie says that Kalan is still a great sounding board for her and she’s happy to have him in her corner. Someone else she has in her corner is her newlywed husband Jake Etheridge, a budding country singer in his own right. He also has a new album in the works and one wonders just how this family dynamic works.
“It hasn’t been too hard this year,” she says. “This was our first year of marriage and it looks pretty different than what I expected. We were planning on having to do long distances all year but that changed due to COVID. We’ve been lucky in that sense where we’re both home and able to promote it on the phone like this. This is the only option for artists right now. We do listen to each other’s music a lot and we help each other out with branding. It’s sometimes hard to shut off because we’re constantly working and we’re basically self-employed, but we do try to have intentional nights where we don’t talk about work.”
MacKenzie and Jake also have strong acting resumes as she has appeared in numerous films and television productions including a starring role in the series “Travelers”, while Jake has had roles in both “Nashville” and “Dakota”. MacKenzie says she is not going to say never in terms of future acting roles, but music is definitely her first priority now. Make that music and marital bliss, although you would never know that from her album as almost all of the songs, including the new track she co-wrote, “The One”, is of the hurtin’ variety.
“It’s so funny,” she laughs. “The thing is Jake’s album is also about heartbreak. I promise that we are very, very happy, but we both just love sad songs. We’re just both a little more emotional. When you ask us to play our favourite songs they’re probably going to have an element of sadness because that’s what we both connect with. Maybe my next record will have more love songs on it.”
Other country news:
As mentioned, MacKenzie’s hubby, Jake Etheridge is back with a brand new EP, “Because I’m High”, which is due out on all platforms on November 20. Jake spent time at an old, former painter’s home, which had been converted into a studio and his songwriting was inspired by the space around him. “The wood floors are covered in various colours of paint and it just had a feel unlike other proper Nashville studios,” he says. “I wanted the songs to feel warm – a slow jam that we all played together at once, not just a track by track ‘wall of sound’ type build-up.”
Another country music husband and wife, Eric Ethridge and Kalsey Kulyk, not only have solid solo careers but they’re now involved in a joint video venture. Eric’s brand new album “Good With Me” highlights his signature vocals and catchy hooks. The album features his latest single “Kiss Me Goodbye” and the Dan + Shay-penned hit “Dream Girl”, which has already surpassed three million global streams. Kalsey, who recently celebrated her first Top 40 hit with “Who I Was”, is a finalist in the 2020 SiriusXM Top of the Country competition. The couple is currently making their way across the country for “Love On The Road”, a new digital series that sees them transforming a van into their new home and capturing the process and all of their adventures along the way. You can follow their exploits here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkSE7hL2h4nXizEYbhOk9ug/videos
“Sophomore Slump” is the new release and second full-length album from Jenna Walker and Stuart Walker, the brother and sister who form The Reklaws. It follows their debut album, “Freshman Year” which was the most domestically streamed album by a Canadian country artist in the past decade. Recorded in Stuart’s living room, “Sophomore Slump” features 12 tracks including the gold-certified hit, “Where I’m From”, the drinking anthem “Beer Can” as well as the duo’s brand new single, “Not Gonna Not.”
Abbotsford B.C. native Karen Lee Batten returns with the aptly titled “Too Strong” a powerful new single about love, strength and hope. She co-wrote the tune with Jeff Johnson, Mitch Merrett and Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger. Karen, who was a Canadian Idol finalist, is a seven-time Female Artist of the Year winner at the BC Country Music Association Awards, and she’s nominated in four categories for the upcoming BCCMA’s, including Fan’s Choice Award.
Staying with the west coast, BC-based country singer Dani Strong has just released her much anticipated second album “Undefined”. The album sees her wandering across genre lines, blending pop hooks with clever lyrics while remaining firmly rooted in familiar country sounds. Dani thrives on the story-telling nature of country music and her latest release, “Mrs. Jones (Evelyn)” won Best Country Song at the 2020 International Independent Music Awards in NYC.
Finally, rising to the top with a string of hit singles over the last year, Saskatchewan pop-country artist Samara Yung is delivering on high expectations with the release of her new EP “Things I Can’t Turn Off”. The six-track collection showcases the growth of Samara as an artist as she takes listeners on a journey through the rise and fall of a relationship. The EP features the hit “Too Cool,” her highest streaming single, and “Swerve” which was her first Top 30 at Canadian country radio.