All Access: An Interview With Tori Kelly

By: Carl Lamarre
Images via Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images
Images via Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images
  TAGS:   Article, Exclusive

It’s so easy to love Tori Kelly. The 22-year-old singer-songwriter has blossomed beautifully from her days as a YouTube sensation to a rising star signed to a major label. Her rendition of Frank Ocean’s “Thinking About You,” has garnered over 22 million views on YouTube. In addition to building a devoted fanbase showcasing her mesmerizing vocals, she lets fans get to know her bubbly personality more than your everyday singer. It grabbed super-manager Scooter Braun’s attention, setting Kelly up with the team that launched the careers of some of the world’s biggest stars including Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. With boisterous curls and an enchanting wit in tow, Kelly is carving out her own route to the top. She’s hoping to leave her first major mark on the music world with her debut album Unbreakable Smile set to be released this spring.

After touring with the likes of Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, Kelly is becoming a household name in the performance arena. So far, a bevy of show appearances on Ellen, Good Morning AmericaThe Today Show and The Billboard Awards have introduced her to the world. After stringing together a handful of great performances, Kelly’s big festival moment came at Wango Tango, where she wowed everyone with a stripped-down performance of her latest songs including “Unbreakable Smile.

We sat down with Kelly to discuss when she first fell in love with music, the day she signed her deal with Capitol, lessons she learned from performing with Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, her single “Nobody Love,” and her transition from YouTube star to recording artist. Get to know her below and keep it locked to All Access Chill from Slurpee® for more inside information on your favorite names in music.

Slurpee: Let’s take it all the way back. When did you fall in love with music?

Tori Kelly: Oh, wow. I know my parents say that I was singing before I could talk. I personally remember specific moments at three or four when music was playing literally all over the house. I owe a lot to my parents today, because they kept no genre off limits. Music was always playing in the house. They never told me to be quiet, turn the music down or anything like that. So I felt pretty free and experimental as a kid to kind of figure out my own voice.

Slurpee: You just touched on your parents and we know they’re both musicians. How much of a role did they play in the early stages of you falling in love with music?

TK: Yeah, I mean, I think they kind of saw something in me at a really young age and just wanted to cater to that and nurture that. You know, everything from helping me pick out my guitar, to my dad building studios all through my childhood, helped me a lot. So he kind of helped me put my own setup together. We’re just a very music loving family. I just think they wanted to help out as much as they could.

Slurpee: Our favorite cover by you is “Suit & Tie” by Justin Timberlake. What’s your favorite cover that you’ve done?

TK: Ooh, that’s hard. I think it has to be that [Michael Jackson] “PYT” cover that I did. I think just because with that one, I spent a lot of time creating it. It took me like three to four days. I usually just kind of jam out to a random song and just kind of put something together quickly. But with that one, I was really into just trying to make something unique. So I think that’s gotta be my favorite, plus it’s an amazing song.

Slurpee: Now that you’ve transitioned from cover artist to a major label artist, how does it feel knowing that you have fans covering your own original music like “Dear No One” and “Nobody Love?”

TK: Oh, it’s crazy. I mean, seeing that on YouTube and stuff, it’s pretty surreal knowing that I can write a song, or even have specific lyrics in it, can translate into other people connecting with that. I think that’s kind of part of the magic in music. It really can inspire people to do their own thing too, which is the best feeling for me.

Slurpee: Let’s talk about your new single, “Nobody Love.” I loved the video for it! Talk about the recording process and how everything came together for it.

TK: I got together with Max Martin – who I was a huge fan of already. So I was kind of nervous to even work with him. He was absolutely amazing and “Nobody Love” was the first song that we wrote together. He wasn’t trying to change anything that I’m about. So I’m really happy with how it came out. It took me like maybe three days to really get the lyrics and the melodies right, because he’s a perfectionist like myself (laughs).

Slurpee: That’s great to hear. Let’s take it back in time again. Let’s venture back to the day you signed your deal with Capitol. What was going through your mind that day?

TK: I think going back to the whole industry side of things was so cool for me. Now I was coming into it already knowing who I was as an artist. I could be more confident and have my own ideas. It felt really good to be able to walk in the second time around and kind of know what I wanted in my career. I think because of that, I’ve been able to surround myself with such an amazing team, who are just so on-point with everything. It feels good to have that.

Slurpee: I hear that. You’ve toured with some big-time stars like Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith. Talk about some of the gems you’ve received while touring with them and how you plan to implement those things into your own live shows.

TK: I definitely learned a lot from just being around Ed. I think he’s so good at just being himself and he makes everyone feel on the same level as him, which I think is very cool. He’s super genuine. He’s the type of person, too, that makes you forget that he’s about to go play on a huge stage, because he’s so chill (laughs). You’re like, “Oh yeah, you’re Ed Sheeran. I forgot.” I took that and thought that would be really cool to come off that way as well. He’s so interactive with the crowd too. You just feel so entertained throughout the whole show and it’s literally just him and a guitar (laughs). He commands the audience.

I think with Sam, it was cool to see just how sweet and genuine he was on stage and off stage. I think people can really see that, and none of it is fake. He’s literally just a guy with an amazing voice. I thought that was cool. There’s something really charming about that, as well. He keeps it real and he keeps it all about the music.

Slurpee: While transitioning from a YouTube sensation to a big-time recording artist, has it been hard to fight off the “cover star” label? If so, how have you gone about that?

TK: You know, it’s interesting because I’ve definitely thought about that before. When I really take a step back and kind of look at where I’ve come from, and my journey up ‘til now, it’s all been such a natural progression. It’s been like an organic process. It was never like I woke up and it just kind of hit me. It was very slow. I think the coolest part is that the fans, they really feel like they’re a part of the journey. So I don’t look at it as a bad thing coming from the Internet, social media, or YouTube. I see it as a really cool thing, because I think people can find something to connect with. And in a story like that, you gotta be proud of where you came from. I don’t want to lose that connection.

Slurpee: From your first two EPs Homemade Songs and Foreword to you now crafting your debut album, how would you describe your progression as a songwriter?

TK: That’s a really good question. I think there’s definitely some more maturity. That just happens naturally from getting older. You start writing about life experiences as an adult rather than a 16-year old (laughs). I think I’ve managed to keep that rawness and the realness always in my music, but I think I challenge myself more now. From comparing the EPs to now, the years in between that, I think I’ve been able to get together with some really amazing writers and talented producers. I soaked up all of that in this past year and a half. I really learned from them. It’s exciting because I feel like I still have so much more to say. So I think as a songwriter, it makes my life fun (laughs). It’s like songwriting never gets old. There’s always stuff to write about.

Slurpee: I loved your performance at Wango Tango. Talk about what fans can expect from all your performances.

TK: Wango Tango was crazy because it was a small line-up. I’m looking at the flyer and it has my little face on there. Ah, it’s so weird! But no, I was super excited. I think they can expect definitely a full band, maybe some acoustic moments as well. They can expect to hear some brand new songs coming off the album. They can expect to see a girl with big old curly hair having a blast.

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