“I kind of feel like I was away for a bit after my first album, but now I feel like I’m just ready to get out there,” explains singer, songwriter and instrumentalist Tori Kelly over-the-phone to VIBE. The 26-year-old Cali native’s career took a brief hiatus between her 2015 debut and her latest project, however, it’s clear that she’s back and better than ever.
Kelly, who boasts a voice that possesses the power to bring even the most substantial sinners to their knees, recently announced she’ll be embarking on The Acoustic Sessions concert series beginning Feb. 25. This serves as her second tour since concluding a national excursion to support her Grammy-nominated album, Hiding Place. The latter is up for two awards at the upcoming 61st Annual ceremony — Best Gospel Album and Best Gospel Performance/Song for the Kirk Franklin-assisted chart-topper, “Never Alone.”
“I love writing songs and being in the studio, but being able to go out and perform them, and seeing the fans face-to-face and interacting with people, it’s where everything comes together,” Kelly beams. She details that only her guitar will accompany her during the 26-date “no rules” tour, where she’ll be playing the tunes her fans have come to love as well as never-before-heard music, which will be featured on her upcoming project.
In addition to a new tour, the songbird is a newly-married woman; she tied the knot in May 2018 with athlete André Murillo. However, her romance hasn’t always been a walk in the park, an experience that she chronicles in her newest song “Change Your Mind.” The acoustic reverie, which was written and produced by Kelly and Jimmy Napes, allows the musician’s soaring vocals and delicate story to permeate. The nearly three-minute ditty pertains to Kelly’s parents’ early disapproval of her now-husband, and her father not giving them his blessing around the time of the proposal.
“No one ever said it was easy, and I love him, you gotta believe me,” she croons with raw and palpable emotion. “No it don’t seem right, but I’ll change your mind.”
“It’s definitely a lot of different perspectives with family and support systems,” she says. “I think what it came down to was really that my parents and I are so close, and they’re so loving and so protective in a good way, my whole life, my whole childhood. I’m also their first child. So, I think when you bring this new person into the mix, and I happened to fall in love with him, I don’t think there’s a lot of room for that. So, I think it just took a while for them to really be trusting and accepting.”
Despite some of the challenges she’s faced, Kelly finds solace in the fact that she’s never alone in her struggles. She hopes that through her music, listeners are able to heal any emotional wounds they may have also sustained.
“I just know that when I was going through this [with my family], it felt isolating,” she notes. “It was really hard, and I poured all that emotion into [“Change Your Mind”]. It was comforting in an odd way… It would be hard for any parent to let go of their kid, and I think really putting it into that perspective of like, ‘oh wow, people can be touched through the stories that I tell.’ It’s not just about me. It may be my story, but it’s about other people, too.”
Kelly continues to keep her connection with her fans as strong as her faith. She received two Grammy nominations for her sophomore album, Hiding Place, which deviates away from the pop sound that brought her to public consciousness in exchange for an R&B-tinged nod to her Christian roots. The eight-song project features artist accompaniments from Lecrae, The Hamiltones and Jonathan McReynolds. Gospel music icon Kirk Franklin executive-produced the project, and is also featured on the duet “Never Alone,” which currently sits atop Billboard’s Top Gospel Songs chart.
Growing up in the church, Kelly says that it’s always “been in her heart” to do gospel. She explains that while working on her upcoming material, she decided to try her hand at a spiritual song.
“I just randomly was like, ‘what if we put a gospel song on this album?’” she describes. “I remember artists doing that back in the day, like Destiny’s Child and Mariah Carey, so I thought that might be kind of cool. I brought it up to my team, and they were all for it. Scooter [Braun], my manager, he said ‘You should work with Kirk Franklin if you’re gonna do gospel.’” One song with the living legend “turned into eight,” Kelly details with a laugh, and the accolades poured in for the final product, something she admits she didn’t expect.
“When we decided to put out a gospel album, I set my expectations kind of low, because I figured this might not be what everybody’s used to, not everybody believes in the same things,” she adds. “I wasn’t expecting anything would come from it, but the fact that people are listening and loving this special piece of work, piece of content that Kirk and I made, it’s really humbling and awesome.”
When working with Franklin, Kelly aimed to soak in his musical gifts and lessons “like a sponge.” However, she said that they learned the most from each other just talking as people.
“He’s just an inspiring person,” she says of the Grammy-winning gospel sensation. “When he walks into the room, he’s just so open and honest, and he’ll just admit things just openly, and just talk about overcoming things. It seems like we talked more about real-life struggles rather than music, to be honest. When we wrote “Never Alone,” I found out that that was the first song he had ever written with someone, that he had co-written. He’s used to working by himself… that was a huge honor for me for him to step out of his comfort zone and wanna write with me.”
To be nominated for Grammys for an entire body of work rejoicing and celebrating her faith is beyond words for Tori Kelly. This is the same faith that has helped her thrive in her career; it leads her not into temptation and delivers her from the potential evils that can come with being in the music industry. She’s equal parts blessed and highly-favored.
“I mean, my faith is just the foundation of everything, you know?” she says. “It’s how I see the world, it’s me at the core. I think that even if I wasn’t doing music — although the music industry is really, really crazy — I think just as a person, [faith] just really grounds me and keeps me really confident. People are really important too, surrounding yourself with the right people, and having someone tell you when you’re getting a little crazy, is great as well.”
“Just knowing that [faith is] my foundation, and being able to go into this crazy music industry, I’ll focus on the right things,” she concludes. “God loves me and created me exactly the way I am, he didn’t make any mistakes, and I can’t do this thing called life on my own.”