Tori Kelly on Family Business, Freaking Out Fans + More [Exclusive Interview]
Unbreakable Smile is the title of Tori Kelly's debut studio album, and it literally describes the California native's onstage presence. The "Should've Been Us" singer has been a rising start the last couple of years, wowing peers and fans alike with high-profile performances at the BET Awards and Grammys.
But Tori Kelly's journey didn't happen overnight. PopCrush had the pleasure of speaking to Kelly recently after wrapping up her headlining "Unbreakable" tour in Los Angeles, where we discussed her career being a family business, the diversity of her fans, the role of social media and more.
We thought that all you had to do now after your massive tour was just sleep and watch Netflix, but apparently that's not the case. How are you feeling after your biggest tour yet? We saw your tweet about how you can't wait to get back out, but is there a sense of relief now that your done?
There is and there isn't. Like you said, it's by far my biggest tour that I've ever done. I remember doing just everything. The production, more lighting and I was so happy with the setlist. It finally felt like this is the first time that I went on tour and could be so invested in the show. I don't want to say relief because I could just honestly keep doing shows forever [laughs]. But there was kind of a sense of a chapter closing right after my L.A. show at the Greek which was just a couple nights ago. I just remember feeling like I'm ready for the next phase. It felt like such a big way to end this chapter in my life.
Now that you're back home, what did you miss most while being on the road?
I missed my dog [laughs]. Yeah, I love my dog. We're just sisters. Any dog person knows that feeling. I would say my family but I actually got to see them a lot on the tour. They would come out to shows and kind of be on the road with me. I guess I missed not having a set schedule every day. I forgot how structured everything is on the road, which is good and bad. It's nice to kind of have a sense of normalcy like a job. On the flip side it is nice to have those kinds of days where you don't have to be anywhere at any certain time.
It's no secret how much your parents have supported you on this journey. We met your dad, Allwyn, at the Detroit show and he's a delightful human. Do you still learn from them or have they taught you everything they know since you've been doing this for awhile?
I still get their wisdom all the time. Even if I wasn't doing music and we weren't all so invested in it, I think just as parents, they always say like, "This is all great that we're working together, but we're your parents first and foremost," and I respect that so much about them. They really put family first. All the glitz and the glam and all the different things that we do like all these shows, that's all amazing but I love that they never put that in front of being good parents. It's been really cool. We have our struggles just like any other family does that are growing pains but I love them so much.
Clearly life has been a whirlwind for you these last couple of years, but how has the adjustment been for your parents and the rest of your family?
They've adjusted pretty well. I think it's because we've been doing the whole music thing for so long. I was signed when I was just 12 years old. When I decided to go the independent route they were right there, and when I decided to sign with a major label again they were right there. I think it kind of just feels very organic. It's almost like our sense of normal now of this family. Like I said before, they're good parents first but we have to consciously remind ourselves to make sure we stick together as a family and not let the whole business part get in the way. I think if we have that then it just works out.
To put things in perspective, you used to just pile your gear in a van and do all these gigs. Now you're on a tour bus, you're at the Grammys and making talk show appearances. Do you ever need a minute just to sit by yourself and not feel overwhelmed?
Oh yeah, all the time. I wake up every morning and just try to have that quiet time. I think it's so important morning and night, anytime I can squeeze it in. I recommend that for anyone no matter what they're doing. I think it's so important to just have those "alone" moments. I remember I had a day one time where I just completely shut off my phone and just unplugged and drove to the beach. I just remember marveling at God's creation and you just start to think differently once you kind of unplug from all the craziness of the world. You can kind of start to think of the bigger picture of this. To answer your question, yes I do have those quiet moments [laughs].
Your fans must have lost their minds since you're so active on social media and decided to unplug for the day.
Yeah, they did. It's so funny. It was literally for one day. I was on Twitter and they were like, "Are you alive? Are you okay?"
Your generation feels right at home when it comes to social media compared to older artists who probably needed quite some time to adjust. Did it come naturally to publicly share so much on YouTube, Twitter and other social platforms or did you go through an adjust period as well?
It felt pretty natural all the way through. I always saw social media as a platform for art. Things that we're passionate about we can just put up and share with the world. My YouTube channel just had its 10th birthday.
Happy Birthday, Tori Kelly's YouTube channel! That's like 100 in Internet years.
Exactly! Even just saying that you can see how much things changed over the years. It's definitely a lot more saturated. It's kind of like a lifestyle now. You're almost made fun of if you don't have any kind of social media, which is kind of sad. I think it's a little harder now to find talent. It can definitely be fun. I don't want it to sound like a negative thing. I personally owe a lot of what my career is to social media, so I kind of built it up on that.
Before your show in Detroit, we noticed just how diverse your fan base is while they were waiting in line. People were literally making new friends from out of town. We also noticed parents that brought their daughter, who wasn't able to physically get around on her own, and set up a chair for her in line hours before doors open and wait with her. It's not easy to build that loyalty with people because of what you were saying, it's so saturated right now. Why do you think such a diverse group gravitates toward your music?
What a great build up to that question. Wow. I mean, I definitely can't just take credit for that. I don't want to carry all of that because I definitely think there's such a power in music itself. And I think a lot of it has to do with the things I'm talking about in my music. I look out art my crowd every night and it's so diverse and it makes me so happy. It just feels like I'm hitting something on the head here. I would hope that I'm talking about things in my music that people can relate to. Maybe opening some people's eyes to different things that they never thought about before. It's definitely a huge compliment and super flattering just to see all different kinds of people come together like that.
We love that you're an actual musician and you can play different instruments. Your drumming is outstanding! Was it a conscious effort on your part to learn how to play multiple instruments, and not just rely on your voice?
I think it was kind of always in the back of my mind. To be honest, I feel like I picked up different instruments just, like, on accident. I never thought of myself as a guitar player. The only reason I really picked it up, and yeah I love playing, but it was mostly because I didn't want to rely on other people. Like, I'm at a gig and they'd be like, "We'll let you have a guitar player or you can sing to track." And I was like, "No ,no, no. I don't want to sing to a track. What do you mean?" I didn't want to keep asking people to play with me so I eventually just learned a few different chords and kind of learned by ear and taught myself and it just became a part of my sound. The drums were kind of the same thing. I always played my brother's kit as a kid. He would never play it so I would just sneak in his room and start banging on the drums and play along to my favorite songs. I never thought that they would all kind of come together into what my music is now.
Now you're also branching off into movies, at least with voice acting. How did you get the part of Meena in Sing and what was the recording process like?
Gosh, that was like a dream come true when I got that part. I'm definitely the only one more on the singer side. I haven't ever done any acting on this level for sure and I'm surrounded by all these amazing award-winning actors on this movie. It's a huge dream come true for me. My character is really shy and is an elephant who loves to sing but gets horrible stage fright. She's trying to get over throughout the whole movie. It's really amazing. It was more fun than I thought it was going to be. I was a little nervous going into but I think it kind of worked because my character is also nervous. I just tried to channel that into the acting.
Maddona took a lot of heat over her Prince tribute at the Billboard Music Awards. Say ten years down the line a major awards show asked you to take part in a tribute to an iconic artist that died, would you do it?
I think it would definitely have to depend on who it is, for one. Whether or not that person had a really big impact on me personally. I would never want to just come off as if I knew their music but there are plenty of other artists who would do an amazing job. So I don't know. That's a tough one. I would definitely be honored to even have them consider me. I can say I absolutely love covering Prince in my own set. That was one of the coolest things I've gotten to do and pay tribute to him.
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