Tori Kelly on new album ‘TORI’: “I’m stepping into my power and owning my craft”

Tori Kelly has spoken to NME about her fifth studio album ‘TORI’, saying that she finally feels like she is “owning [her] craft” and living her dreams.

Last Friday (March 22), the California singer-songwriter was in London working on the soundtrack for a popular TV show, which has yet to be disclosed to the public. Speaking to NME, she reminisced on the fact that four years to the day, she was in the capital for the UK leg of what was supposed to be her first-ever world tour. However, the rapid rise in COVID cases in March 2020 forced her to cancel the remaining dates of the trek.

After the worldwide lockdown, Kelly released the R&B-tinged ‘Solitude’ EP as well as the festive ‘A Tori Kelly Christmas’ album in 2020. She said in a press release that she was mentally in “a new era” during that time – which has culminated in the highly-awaited ‘TORI’.

“I embarked on making this album a few years ago – it’s pretty much four years in the making,” Kelly told NME. “I had gone to the studio after just putting out all these personal and sad songs [about what I was going] through in my personal life. After having healed from that, I went into the studio and I’m having fun, experimenting with different sounds and not caring as much about what people think.”

In 2021, the artist teamed up with the pop polymath Jon Bellion who she said she “was a big fan” of. Bellion worked on ‘TORI’ with Kelly, including the liquid drum and bass track ‘Young Gun’. She told Bellion that her guidelines for the album were to be able to “belt out [songs] in the car” and “dance” to them, which she thinks they “accomplished and a lot more”.

Kelly said to NME: “[We] showcased a whole different side of me that no one had got to see of me before. I had known [that side of me] was there all along, but I don’t think I had the styles of music to pull it out. I feel like I’m stepping into my power and owning my craft.”

On ‘TORI’, Kelly boasts a more sultry and groovy sound that would make you want to dance. The singer said she and Bellion were heavily inspired by the late ’90s to early ’00s pop-R&B sound while making the record.

“I just love everything from that era: the fashion to the sound and I think there’s a lot of hip-hop influences on the album,” she told NME. “I was trying to create this world of nostalgia, but also there’s that balance with [‘TORI’] feeling fresh and new. I think the way we got there was not staying in that old school sound but blending different sounds together to make it feel fresh too.”

Kelly released the club-ready track ‘Cut’ last July, which was from her fourth EP ‘Tori’. The song also featured ad-libs by Timbaland.

“‘Cut’ was fun to make,” Kelly said. “Timbaland and Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins’ ad-libs were a staple of that era. So, we were just messing around in the studio and Jon started to do that style of ad-lib all over the track.

“When it was done, we thought it’d be best to get Timbaland’s blessing and Rodney Jerkins’ blessing on this as it’s both of their style. Timbaland came back to us like, ‘This is cool, but I want to be the one doing the ad-libs’. And we were so excited for him to be on it. He brings this whole different character to the song.”

Kelly rose to fame by uploading videos of her singing covers to YouTube. NME asked whether that image of Kelly with big blonde curly hair and her guitar was gone.

The double Grammy-winner replied: “I would say that that part of me will always be a part of me and I think there are moments of that on this album. But I also think you guys think that you know what my sound is and think you know what my look is – that’s why I changed my fashion, I changed my hair colour back to my original colour. I wanted to see how far can I really stretch this out [and show other aspects of me]?”

She also worked with Kim Chae-won from the K-pop group LE SSERAFIM on ‘TORI’. Kelly told NME how the song came along: “There is a connection between me and the K-pop world through YouTube. I didn’t realise that [K-pop stars] knew me due to my covers. Even a few K-pop stars were covering my songs and they were so massive.”

Kelly continued: “LE SSERAFIM is this amazing girl group I have been following and Kim Chae-won was happy to hop on the song ‘Spruce’ and killed it. We haven’t actually met yet, so we worked on the song remotely. I sent the song to her and then she sent back her verse, which was amazing. [I had] no notes.”

Last year, five days before the release of her ‘Tori’ EP, Kelly revealed to her fans that she had been hospitalised with blood clots in her legs and lungs.

“It was a really scary time,” she told NME. “The timing of my health scare made me realise I had to be honest with my fans. I also had a lot of things planned, too, so I couldn’t really be like, ‘Hi, guys! Everything’s cancelled.’ A big part of who I am is being authentic with my fans, so I wanted to let them in and know that I cared about them and still wanted to give them this music.”

“Shortly after [I healed], I went on a small, little tour in the US,” Kelly said, speaking about her 2023 ‘Take Control’ US tour. “I felt like I was crying every show. It was so emotional to not only come out of that health scare and on the other side of that, but I hadn’t toured in four years at that point. The whole thing was just special and overwhelming. It was one of those things that made me want to kill it every night because I’m just so grateful to be here. So I’m not taking anything for granted and want to make this music.”

Now healed, the 31-year-old feels like she has “a new attack on life” and has been giving it her all. She admitted that she’s in a “really cool place” where she’s “super creative and breaking some of those barriers that people have put up” for her.

“I think with this project: you think you know who Tori Kelly is but this album will prove that maybe you didn’t,” she said. “For fans, I hope it’s a soundtrack for them: whether that’s them playing it before a girl’s night out or blasting it in their car on their way to work. I want this music to be a part of people’s lives. I do think there’s a sound or song for everyone on here as it is so diverse.”

When asked what is next for her, Kelly told NME: “I’m the most in-the-moment I’ve been in my whole career because I do feel like I’m living my dreams. So it’s hard for me to look ahead as I’m trying so hard to soak everything up in the now.”

‘TORI’ will be out next Friday (April 5) via Epic Records and Beautiful Mind Records. You can pre-save or pre-order the album here.

Kelly’s upcoming ‘Purple Skies’ North American tour will kick off on April 12 in Ventura, California before stopping in Idaho, Washington, Canada and other locations before ending in Kansas City, Missouri on May 3. Check out all dates and ticket information here.

The post Tori Kelly on new album ‘TORI’: “I’m stepping into my power and owning my craft” appeared first on NME.

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