‘I’ve learnt that being in an uncomfortable place is sometimes right where you need to be’, say’s two-time Grammy-winning global singer-songwriter, Tori Kelly, as she gears up for the release of her hauntingly vulnerable third studio album ‘Inspired by True Events’.
Despite the struggle of recent years, smiles are beaming and curls are perfectly bouncing just below the shoulder as her warm presence fills the huge meeting room filled by just us two. Her laid back and quite introverted stance warms to a sweet greeting as she is seemingly raring to begin.
The morning after the night before, spirits are high after she put on an incredible show at the sold-out Islington Academy less than 24 hours before. Eager to share her love for London, Tori pays attention to her excitement and height of happiness saying, ‘I love London and there’s a special place in my heart for London because I came out here and my first show was at Bush Hall and it just blew my mind that there were people out here who knew my stuff because at that time I was just doing my covers on YouTube and didn’t really have any music out yet – I just thought that was so cool.’
‘At one point I made a couple of trips out here because I remember doing my biggest show at the time, capacity wise, in London so that just stuck with me. Ever since then London has held a special place in my heart and it’s been way too long since I’ve been back here. I’ve been bugging my team for so long to send me to London I was like I will go for anything so it felt really good to be back here and seeing people who I recognise in the crowd – my fans are amazing.’
Delving deeper into the new chapter of her career we discussed the logic behind her first single, ‘Change Your Mind’, and why the track was the one she chose after weeks and months to introduce this new project to the world, she explains: “’Change your mind’ was the first song that I wrote which felt like it was part of a new chapter because I had been writing for a while, like a year or so, but when I started working with Jimmy Napes out here he was just amazing and opened up this whole new world which felt like therapy.’
‘I started being open about some of the things that were happening and we wrote that song and the team got excited about it so it felt like the first song which started to tell the story. it’s me opening up about things which have happened over the past couple of years and it felt like the right intro because I could’ve gone with a different song but I think story-wise is why I chose it because I wanted it to prepare people for this type of album’ – that she states isn’t one you would necessarily hear in the club but where you can hear her heart.
Holding nothing back and staying true to her words her second single ‘Sorry Would Go A Long Way, co-written with Jimmy Napes and Bruno Major, tells a narrative story detailing a difficult time when her father left her mother in recent years. Telling stories from personal experiences isn’t uncommon for artists but telling someone else’s story from a close proximity is, speaking on the curation of this song she detailed the unexpected process to how it felt curating it: ‘[Sorry Would Go a Long Way’] was scary to release because it isn’t fully my story to tell and I understand there are so many different perspectives. The song is so close to my heart because I love both of my parents so much but when my dad left it was really hard on everyone and I just held all my emotions inside and didn’t really know what to do with them.’
‘When I got into the studio with Jimmy Napes and Bruno Major I explained what was going on and I actually had that title in my phone because I thought that it would be a cool song title so as we started writing and Bruno started playing the chords and I was just like woah and the song kind of just fell out.’
With an album as personal as ‘Inspired By True Events’, which truly cuts deep takes an extensive amount of perseverance and soul searching, Tori Kelly certainly emphasised that the journey to pouring out her heart wasn’t an easy one and in a split second, where I was moved by her emotion and overwhelming energy she exuded, we bonded over the reality that recording in a small studio with people you trust isn’t always the hard part, it’s sharing it with the world that is: ‘The hardest part of creating this album is the promo element of it because you can go into the studio and write songs which you never have to talk about the stories of because you can be mysterious. There was a while where I was thinking I’d just put these songs out and people could just decide what they mean’.
‘After listening to all the songs I decided I had to explain what these songs are about because there are real stories behind these songs and I think if I didn’t it would be a disservice to the songs, my fans and to the type of artist I want to be. I always want to be open and honest with the people listening to my music so it just felt like, even though thinking about all the promo was making me really nervous at first, it kind of felt like it was the right timing.
I’m able to be like hey this is my story, this is what happened and hopefully people can relate to it and feel these emotions with me – Ultimately it was really scary but also truly freeing.’
We agreed that sometimes in your darkest times you shine the brightest and with the struggle comes valuable lessons to which Tori shared that she’s learned a lot from being in uncomfortable situations, ‘I’ve learnt that sometimes being in an uncomfortable place sometimes right where you need to be and I had Jimmy napes hand holding me throughout this album process because he was so good at telling me exactly that and reassuring me that being uncomfortable isn’t always a bad feeling.’
‘It makes for good music and it’s healing, it’s a good thing so I think that’s what I’ve learnt and even though it was awkward at times and sometimes I wanted to run away from it I’m glad that I stayed in it and challenged myself to get these songs out.’
Not only did Kelly have to navigate around her hardship, but the songstress now also is the proud owner of two glistening Grammy Awards, which fittingly lie where the magic was made in her home studio. Although it’s the ultimate achievement for a recording artist it carries a level of pressure when it comes new material yet when asked if she was affected with an infectious smile and lit up eyes she humbly exhaled ‘Not at all actually! I think with the gospel album I didn’t even really expect much from that I wasn’t thinking about the numbers or the charts or anything like that it was really just his is a project that I fully believe in and I want to get it out.’
‘I grew up on gospel music and my faith is very important to me and so it was one of those things where I didn’t really know what the reaction was going to be like but I wanted to put it out anyway – the fact that it won Grammy’s is insane to me, it was a huge honour and I’m so thankful but it’s crazy.’
As we reminisce on her recent accolade and the abundance of joy which followed, I can’t help but pay tribute to the lengthily rollercoaster she’s had thus far, from being singed at twelve years old but shortly being dropped, facing rejection on American Idol and struggling to find her sound to then releasing a string of successful EP’s, a critically acclaimed debut album and hitting it out of the ballpark with an album which holds such importance to her heart and her faith. Tori Kelly has hit many stumps on her path to stardom and whilst she got knocked down she rose again stronger and never let anything taint her vision. On giving advice to people following their dreams she couldn’t emphasise the importance of self-belief more: ‘I would say even though you’ll be tempted because we’re all human and this is what we do, especially with social media, try not to compare yourself to other people.’
‘It’s so easy to compare yourself to people on the internet, every day we’re seeing these seemingly perfect lives online and filters and all these false projections of reality so even if you need to take a step back then do it.’
Without trying to sound cliché, Kelly is adamant about being yourself and staying authentic. ‘I really believe you need to be yourself because there were so many times where I would, for example, change my hair or debate whether I should play the guitar or not and I would go through all these different sounds and looking back now I realise I can do this genre and I can also do that genre because there are no rules really and I know it’s easy to overthink it but try not to compare yourself ultimately and you should be good.’
With these words and more, Tori Kelly makes it clear that she’s a formidable force with a myriad of talent. Above all, she’s a down to earth human being with real-life struggles and flaws as she sits still doubting her level of fame insisting she’s the same little girl with her guitar who loves to sing. By pouring out her heart, persevering and being explicitly open there’s no doubt ‘Inspired By True Events’ is a paragon of how someone’s struggle could be someone else’s saviour.
Inspired by True Events is now available to purchase and can be streamed online across all major platforms.
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Words // Arun Mohammed // @Arun_Mohammed