Ever since performing on HelloGiggles’ Video Chat Karaoke, Tori Kelly has been on fire. The 20-year-old singer/songwriter has been busy with more YouTube covers and collaborations, more writing, more producing and she released her 2nd EP Foreword on October 22nd. The EP ranked No. 16 on the Billboard 200- selling over 16,000 copies in its first week! She also just performed on Ellen and opened for Ed Sheeran at Madison Square Garden. Talk about dreams coming true!
I had the chance to catch up with her while she’s on the road. This girl can really do it all and she had time in her day to talk with me about everything. (Pretty sweet.) HelloGiggles also has a special behind the scenes look at her new music video ‘Dear No One’. Check it out after the interview!
Hi Tori, how are you?
Hi Samantha. I’m good. How are you?
I’m good, thanks! So I guess we’ll jump right into it. It’s amazing that you do it all-write the songs, produce, mix and distribute them all on your own. What’s the process like?
Thanks. It’s always different. Sometimes I have the whole song written before I hear the production of it. Since I play acoustic guitar, that kinda helps a lot in my song writing. A lot of times I’ll just write the whole song on guitar first to make sure the lyrics and the melodies are right. Then I’ll either go in my own home set-up in my room, which I can make a lot of songs there or I’ll go into a bigger studio, where I can record with more live instruments. And then I’ll build the song up from there. It’s always different. Other times I’ll hear the music first and I won’t have any sort of concept or lyrics or anything. I’ll make a track of just the music, then I’ll write on top of that. The process is always different, which makes it fun.
That’s awesome. So what’s your favorite place to write your songs?
My favorite place is usually in my bedroom at home. I think I feel the most vulnerable there and I’ve lived there for a long time, so it’s like a magical writing room.
The music just flows.
Yeah, I’m on a tour bus right now, so I’m trying to write while I’m on the bus and I’m trying to get in the flow of it. I’m trying to train myself to write.
What artists inspire you?
I grew up listening to a lot of gospel music when I was a kid. My parents would always play this one artist, Crystal Lewis. She was kinda the first person I remember listening to. It’s crazy because we’re actually like friends now. She’s like a fan of my music, so it’s really weird how it came full circle. But yeah, I listened to a lot of gospel growing up and then I listened to a lot of soulful/jazzy music. My parents were always playing stuff like Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Maxwell, Lenny Kravitz…I’m inspired by a lot of people. Then I kinda went into more people who were songwriters and people who can play instruments. I got into a lot of John Mayer, Jeff Buckley…Lauryn Hill kinda fits into that too. Kind of all over the place, but I think all those different genres that I grew up listening to kind of make their way into my sound.
I was listening to your EP last night and your sound is very unique. I can’t place my finger on who you sound like, which is cool.
You’re welcome! So I see you’re a part of a lot of YouTube collaborations, is there someone in the industry that you’re dying to collaborate with?
Oooo um I think it’d be cool to collaborate with Allen Stone. I’ve been a really big fan of his. I think that would be cool..even if it was like a YouTube cover or something. I’d love to write with him. I know me and Ed Sheeran were talking about doing a cover for YouTube. That would be fun. We have done a song together that hopefully comes out soon!
That’s awesome! Can’t wait to hear it. Hmm what’s your favorite song to perform live?
Um I like…there’s one song on my EP called ‘Daydream’ that I’ve liked performing lately because of the meaning of the song to me. The lyrics are basically me talking to my younger self. Kind of giving myself advice…or giving the kid version of myself advice. I’ve been in the industry since I was like 12, so I’ve seen a lot and learned a lot along the way. So that song I think when I tell people the story at my show, it seems to really draw people in and inspire them.
I saw you perform on Ellen. That’s pretty sick. How was that?
It was crazy. It happened really fast.
I can see you being one of the big performers that she scares, so you should probably get ready for that.
Oh my gosh. That would be so fun. I mean not fun in the moment, but afterwards it would be fun. Now, I’ll be prepared…hopefully.
How was opening for Ed (Sheeran) at Madison Square Garden?
That was really crazy. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be because I was pretty busy in the weeks leading up to it. I didn’t have much time to psych myself out, which I’m thankful for. When I got to the venue, it was pretty surreal. Even soundcheck when it was empty I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m performing here. This is really weird and awesome and insane.” But I kept thinking I was going to be really nervous. When I got up there, his fans were like so awesome. A lot of them even knew my songs, which I wasn’t expecting.
Yeah, my dad was walking around the whole stadium just like trying to get different perspectives and he said everywhere he walked, there were girls singing along to my songs. I was not expecting that. It was really really cool. That was definitely a surreal experience.
If you could tour with anyone, who would it be? What’s your dream tour?
Oh dream tour! That’s a tricky one. I would be honored to open up for any of my inspirations growing up. That would be crazy. Someone like Jill Scott. That would be so cool. I just wanna meet her so bad. Someone like John Mayer would be cool.
Yeah, touring with another songwriter would be cool. So you guys have that in common.
Yeah! I got to open up for Jewel, which was really really crazy. She’s the sweetest. That was a lot of fun because it was towards the end of the tour and she was opening up to me a lot and giving me advice. Opening up for really amazing songwriters like that. I want to learn as much as I can.
The music video for ‘Dear No One’ was awesome. How was making it?
We were in New York…Williamsburg in Brooklyn. It was really fun. I think Jon Jon (Augustavo) did an amazing job. I’ve been a fan of his since seeing all the Macklemore videos. It’s cool because he’s been really successful lately, but he’s still up and coming as a director. I think it was fun for everyone on the team. I like how there’s a little storyline in it. I didn’t want it to just be a performance video. It is my first kind of official coming out music video. Yeah, I’m happy how it turned out and I like how he disappears at the end.
Yeah, I liked that. Did you imagine the video that would go along with the song or did he give you the idea sort of thing?
We ran a couple of treatments from different people and his treatment definitely stood out the most. I think he just understood what we were trying to go for as far as what the lyrics were saying. The song is kind of like a bittersweet song. You know it’s talking about wanting somebody and wishing that you had somebody, but also at the same time you’re confident in who you are as a person and you’re okay with waiting until that special someone comes along. He really captures that message. Throughout the video, I’m chasing this mystery guy. At the end, you realize he was never really there, but I have this smirk on my face like I’m okay with it. He definitely captured the emotion that I wanted. Kinda tricky though because you have to be like happy and sad at the same time. It was definitely tricky as far as like the acting. I was like, “Wait, am I happy at this part?” It was a fun little challenge.
Off your new EP, if people didn’t listen to you before, what song would you want them to listen to? (This is my favorite question to ask an artist.)
Hmm I think ‘Dear No One’ is a good representation of my sound. And it’s probably a little bit more on the pop mainstream side. I also think ‘Paper Heart’ represents me well because it’s really stripped down. It’s just me and a guitar and strings. I think it showcases the song writing more.
So I think I only have one more question. Did you win best hair in high school?
Oh my gosh. I’ve never gotten that question. That’s awesome. I didn’t. I don’t even know if they had an award for that at my school. I didn’t really figure out that I had curly hair until like junior high. It took me a while to figure out how to even do it. Curly hair girls will relate. You have to work with your natural curls and you have to get it…everyone has their little tricks. I would always straighten it when I was younger, but then I decided to embrace my curls.
Well, I’ll let you get back to writing. It was awesome talking to you! Great meeting you via phone.
You too! Thank you. It was an honor talking to you.
It was a pleasure talking to Tori. She’s such a sweet and talented gal. If she attended your high school, she probably would’ve won Best Hair, Most Talented, and Most Likely To Become Famous. Check out her EP and be sure to catch her on tour!