When singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Tori Kelly first played her new single “Nobody Love” for her friends, their initial reaction to the rhythmic, big-sounding pop track was, “Oh, this is really different for you.” “That was interesting to me because in my head, this is the style of music I always envisioned myself doing: urban pop with a hip-hop type of Lauryn Hill twist on it,” says Kelly, who first rose to attention with her intimate, acoustic guitar-driven EPs Handmade Songs and Foreword. “I was always a singer first, then the guitar made its way in on its own. A song like ‘Nobody Love’ was always the vision. This is where I knew I would end up.”
Kelly co-wrote “Nobody Love” alongside Rickard Goransson and Max Martin, the Swedish songwriter and producer who has ruled the Billboard Hot 100 for over a decade with a string of No. 1 singles for Britney Spears, Katy Perry, P!nk, and Taylor Swift, to name a few. Martin says, "After hearing Tori sing, we felt so inspired that we had no choice but to get involved. It’s been such a pleasure to be a part of her journey.”
Martin serves as executive producer on Kelly’s upcoming full-length debut album, which Capitol Records will release this spring. She also co-wrote with such vets as Savan Kotecha, Toby Gad, Claude Kelly, Chuck Harmony, Wolf Cousins, and Ed Sheeran, whose show at Madison Square Garden Kelly opened in November 2013. The album, she says, does not depart from her soulful roots. “It’s like a marriage between that soulful urban thing and a mainstream pop vibe. It was hard to get to that place, but once we had ‘Nobody Love,’ I knew we’d cracked the code. It felt seamless.”
Working with one of the most successful hit makers in the industry is a long way from Kelly’s early years making songs in her bedroom and posting them online. Born and raised in Temecula, California, Kelly is the daughter of musicians, her dad is a singer and bassist and her mom plays piano and saxophone. “Music was really big in my house,” she says, adding that one of her earliest influences was gospel singer Crystal Lewis. “My dad always played her records, along with Jill Scott, Jeff Buckley, and Maxwell. Hearing me hum around the house as a kid, I think he knew that he should fill my brain with really good technical singers.”
Kelly began singing at age three, took up drums at 12, and asked for the music production software Logic for her fifteenth birthday. In 2009, she borrowed a guitar and posted her first cover, Paramore’s “The Only Exception.” In 2012, Kelly got a major break when her cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You,” went viral, racking up over 22 million views. To date Kelly’s YouTube channel boasts over ONE MILLION YouTube Subscribers with over 87 million views. Bolstered by her easy magnetism, Kelly’s 2012 self-penned, produced, mixed, and released EP Handmade Songs By Tori Kelly debuted at No. 6 on Soundscan’s New Artist chart and at No. 9 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. It also went Top 10 on the iTunes Pop chart.
Kelly began playing shows at local cafes to build more support for her music. Her first show in LA, at Room 5, was attended by music manager Scooter Braun (Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber). Impressed by her sweetly soaring vocals, graceful guitar-playing, and knack for blending breezy melodies with boldly heart-on-sleeve lyrics, Braun signed on to represent her and secured her a deal with Capitol Records. At the end of 2013, Kelly released Foreword, which debuted at No. 16 on the Billboard Top 200, propelled by the single “Dear No One” — a love song for the guy of her dreams she has yet to meet. All-Music wrote that Foreword added a “new sophistication to her sound without interfering with her subtle, emotionally expressive power as a vocalist and songwriter.”
Over the past year and a half, Kelly has sold out shows in several major cities (including The Troubadour and The Roxy in Los Angeles, the Bowery Ballroom and Gramercy Theatre in New York City, and Bush Hall in London), headlined a nine-city sold-out U.S. tour, and supported Ed Sheeran, and Sam Smith on tour.
Smith says of seeing her for the first time at South by Southwest in March: “I saw her sing this song live, and I'd never reacted physically to a singer like that before in my life. I was grabbing people. Her vocal ability is unbelievable. She's a master of her voice, and this song showcases that voice, which is like candy covered in honey.”
She began working on the songs for her new album after wrapping up her performance schedule and is excited for fans to hear “Nobody Love,” which she describes as a “breath of fresh air to sing.” “I'm excited to perform again,” she adds. “I really miss it. I've been in a cave writing, and sometimes I forget how to interact with people because I've been in studio-land. I'm excited to get out and play for people. That's always the dream.”