I’ll never forget when I first discovered Tori Kelly. In 2013, a friend of mine sent me a text with a YouTube link to her cover of “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” and insisted I gave it a listen. I was loving it until I got to the middle of the song where she did this insane riff with her voice. At that moment, I was completely blown away and I spent a while longer searching more of her covers online. I was instantly hooked.
Fast forward three years, and here we are with Tori Kelly finally on top. From self-releasing YouTube covers and her own recorded music, to being signed to Capitol, having a number of hit singles, and receiving a Grammy nomination, this girl is clearly on fire.
A reissue of her album Unbreakable Smile was released in January, after originally being put out in June 2015, and she is now touring in support of it. With hit singles like “Hollow,” “Should’ve Been Us,” and “Nobody Love,” Tori Kelly and her guitar have stolen the hearts of many, including mine.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance of catching up with Tori Kelly. We talked about her writing process, performing at the Grammys, being a guest on The Voice, and more. Check it out below.
You just got back from playing shows over in the UK. What was that experience like?
Oh man, I love, love, love going to the UK. It felt really short—it was only four or five shows—but it was cool. I got to play one of my dream venues there, which is the Brixton Academy in London. It was amazing. I love going out there, but I’m happy to be home, of course.
You actually played my college’s homecoming concert this past fall. How do you like college shows compared to regular ones?
Yes! I’m so glad you said that. That was one of my favorite shows, like ever, and I’m not just saying that. There’s just something about college shows. I’m wondering if it’s just because it’s the same kind of age group as me, where it just feels like I’m hanging out with a bunch of friends and people who are just super into the music scene. It feels very fun. That show to me felt like a huge dance party and my feet were hurting afterwards. There’s something about those shows that I really love. I have to come back!
Love Your Melon is an organization on my school’s campus and I know that you support it. How did you get involved with that?
Oh, how funny, I’m wearing one of their hats right now. I think I found them on Instagram first and started liking their pictures. I don’t know if maybe somebody there saw that and just started sending beanies, but it started small like that. And then I remember having a show in Minneapolis, where they’re based, and they came to the show and I got to meet them. They’ve been so supportive, so I love supporting such a cool thing. Not only do the beanies look rad but once I found out what’s actually behind it, and that a free beanie goes to somebody battling cancer, it was super cool to me.
Unbreakable Smile just came out as a reissue recently after its original release in June. What was the reason behind the reissue?
It was kind of a group decision, nothing crazy or too strategic about it. I think it felt like the right timing. I had “Hollow” and then “Something Beautiful,” which I really wanted to release. I wanted my fans to be able to hear those songs and have them, so it just made sense to put them on a re-release of the album. It, in a way, reminds people that I have an album (laughs) because it has been some time since it came out.
What is your writing and recording process like?
I am very scatter-brained when I try to write songs. I love it so much, but in the beginning process, I feel a lot of different emotions at once and I’m writing like six songs at one time. I know other writers that can stick to just one song, but it’s kind of like a puzzle to me. I just write different pieces here and there over time and eventually it becomes a song.
You and Ed Sheeran are an incredible collaboration on the song “I Was Made For Loving You.” What was it like working with him?
Thank you! That was an amazing experience. I had just met him the day that we wrote the song, and I was a huge fan too so I didn’t know what to expect. It’s kind of an awkward thing like, “Hi, it’s nice to meet you, I’m a fan,” and then you have to somehow write a song together. But he made it so comfortable and he’s super funny and a super, super good writer. He’s very talented. After that, I’d want to write with him again, for sure. He’s really great. I respect him a lot.
Who is someone you would like to collaborate with that you haven’t already?
Hmm. I would love to work with Justin Timberlake. I’ve been wanting to work with him for a while. I think he’s amazing. People who have the full vision, like people who write, and produce, and sing, and just do it all, I think people like that are really cool. I always thought it would be cool to do a collab with Kendrick Lamar, as well.
Can you tell me what it was like to perform at the Grammys with James Bay?
Yes! James! I love that guy, another person who’s just so genuine and easygoing. That was a huge moment for both of us. Kind of awesome… Actually not kind of awesome, super awesome, to share the same type of experience with someone who’s literally in the same position. We were both nominated, both have never sung at the Grammys, and it was just cool because we both had butterflies and were freaking out the whole time. It was a really fun night!
You recently helped advise Team Adam on The Voice. How does it feel to be a musician that those starting out can look up to for advice?
I loved that whole experience. For me, it was cool because every time the, I don’t want to call them contestants because they’re definitely artists, would walk in, I got nervous for them because I had totally been in that position before and I felt all those feelings again, wanting to do well and wanting to take a mark on the show. It was cool because I felt like I could really put myself in their position and hopefully give them any sort of advice that I had learned along the way and try to relate to what they were feeling. It was so much fun, but I didn’t know it was going to be that tiring. It was actually really exhausting to give so much critique. I don’t know how the other judges do it. It was great, though, and Adam’s great to work with.
You’re heading out on the Unbreakable Tour. What can be expected as far as the setlist and production on this tour?
Setlists and production are definitely going to be a step up from any other tours I’ve done. Just looking at the routing, this is definitely the biggest tour that I’ve ever been on, which it’s a dream to me. I love performing and it’s definitely my favorite part about being an artist. Being able to put together my own show and really see it come to life is something I’m stoked about. Rehearsals are starting really soon and I’ve been brainstorming about different things like setlists and visuals and I think what people can expect is to still get that same overall feeling of “the girl with her guitar.” I never want to stray from that because it’s such a key part of who I am as an artist. People can expect to definitely have fun and hopefully leave feeling really inspired.
Is there any specific city you’re excited to play on the tour?
Well, I’m not just saying this but Jersey is definitely going to be exciting. I’ve never done a show there, and I really haven’t spent much time there. I have done a show there, just kidding, you just told me (laughs) but other than the college show. I’m looking forward to coming back and doing another gig there. I think hometown shows are something really exciting. I get to play the Greek [Theatre] here in L.A. and that’s been a dream venue of mine for a long time, so that’s going to be pretty exciting, too.
What do you plan on doing once the tour is over?
Sleep! (Laughs) No, I’m going to go straight into writing mode right after the tour is over. I’ll probably be writing a lot while I’m on tour also, but I’m going to be focusing on the next album and trying to live life!
Tori Kelly will be performing at Electric Factory in Philadelphia on April 25, at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville on April 26, and at Beacon Theatre in New York on April 28 and April 29. Her album Unbreakable Smile is available now. For more information, visit torikellymusic.com.