Interview: Tori Kelly Talks ‘Solitude’ EP & Quarantine

Mike Wass | August 17, 2020 12:42 pm
Tori Kelly's 'Change Your Mind'
The R&B/gospel star drops an acoustic ballad called 'Change Your Mind.'

Tori Kelly had just started touring her last project, 2019’s Inspired By True Events, when America was shut down due to COVID-19. Instead of taking a well-earned break, she decided to revisit some ideas that had been saved on her phone. The songs started flowing and, before too long, Solitude was born. The five-track EP finds the Grammy winner in a much happier place, and that is reflected in the music. The project has a breezy, feel-good sound, which proves to be quite the balm for 2020.

I recently spoke to the musical chameleon, who bounces between pop, R&B and gospel without missing a beat. (Tori even had a hit country record). The 27-year-old opened up about the creation of Solitude, and revealed that going back to basics in her home studio reminded her of recording Handmade Songs way back in 2012. Other topics of conversation included the hitmaker’s next project (she has already started writing) and her viral cover of “When You Believe” with JoJo. Catch up with Tori in our Q&A below.

I’m obsessed with Solitude. It’s so calming for me. Did it all come together during quarantine?

Literally, yes. It definitely was one of those things that came out of nowhere. Well, it felt like it came out of nowhere, but looking back, I actually was in writing-mode already. I was supposed to be on tour. I did only four shows and then lockdown happened. I think because I was already in that creative mode, it felt good, especially in the beginning, just to keep myself busy. I had all these ideas in my phone that I never got around to finishing.

I could never get to them, because when you work with other people, you end up starting new ideas. It’s so fun to work with other people, but I love doing my own thing at home. It was so nice to finally flesh out those ideas that just kept getting pushed back. That’s really how the EP came about.

Do you decide on genre before starting a project or does it just happen?

It feels like it just happens as I go. I’m starting to realize that just the sound or genre usually correlates to where I’m at in life. My last album was super vulnerable and very personal. To match what I was saying in the lyrics, I wanted the music to be really stripped down. It just happened. I think with this EP, I’m in a very different place than I was in the last album. A lot of healing has happened and I’m happy. I feel like doing fun songs and writing about other people’s stories. I was ready to move in to more of the R&B space and just make some feel-good music.

There are a couple of break-ups songs on the EP. “Unbothered” is about getting over someone, while “Value” is about ending something toxic. What inspired those songs?

I had the word “value” in my phone for a couple years. I just knew that one day I wanted to write a song called “Value.” The song is about knowing your value. I didn’t know what the context of that would be, but then I was FaceTiming a friend, and she started telling me a little bit about her situation. There’s a lyric in the song that I basically use because of our conversation. The song is a mixture of her story and another friend’s story. I just pulled inspiration from both of them.

I also incorporated a little bit of my own experience too. I think all of us have felt inadequate or not good enough. That’s why I always wanted to write a song called “Value.” Even though it is about a breakup, the core of it is really just about knowing that you have worth.

“Unbothered” is so feel-good. I interpret it as being about that feeling of letting go.

Yes, but you can apply it to any situation. It’s mostly about feeling free. For me, personally, my last album was so personal and pretty heavy… so to sing a song called “Unbothered” was special. It’s just about that bird-like feeling of lightness. I’m in a way better place now. The song actually got sent to me and I just fell in love with it. I knew I wanted to have it on my EP. That usually isn’t the case with me, but it feels like I wrote it — even though I didn’t.

How did you interact with producers and other collaborators?

I was getting beats sent to me. Producers are looking for ways to stay busy because nobody is doing studio sessions. I was also writing stuff on my guitar. I would scroll through the tracks and realize that the song that I had just written on guitar perfectly matched a track that I was listening to. A lot of the songs came about that way, where I already had the idea and then incorporated their beats into the song. There was a lot of texting and emailing. It was pretty cool to do it that way.

Are you now a technical wiz after doing all of this stuff by yourself?

It’s funny because it feels like I’m going back to my roots. I did my first EP completely on my own in my childhood bedroom. That’s when I learned how to use Logic. That’s when I started to get a little more technical. Getting to come back and utilize my home studio, it definitely felt like I was going back in time to that place. I’m always learning, though. I’m always trying to get better at the tech side of things. I’m not the best.

I really want to talk about “Don’t Take Me Home.” What’s the story behind that one?

Let me try and explain this right. The story behind “Don’t Take Me Home”… it’s really strange how that song came about. I was having an off day, which I know all of us have had during this quarantine period. I was just so over being in my house, which is really a lot for me to say. I am more on the introvert side and I can be alone for a really long time just creating music. For me to be like, “I’m so sick of this. I need to get out of the house,” is unusual.

I was craving some sort of date night, just me and my husband. I started writing from that place of longing. I was reminiscing on our dating phase, where there’s so much adventure. Every day was something new, and we could make an adventure out of anything — just going to the park or sitting in the car listening to music. All of those memories took me back. That’s where the inspiration for the song came from. I just thought it was ironic, because it’s called “Don’t Take Me Home” and we’re all stuck in our houses right now.

“Glad” is such a nice way to end the EP.

I purposely wanted the album to end with that song for a few reasons. One, I did that song all on my own. It’s really the only song that I completely produced and wrote and recorded. It’s really stripped down, which I like. It’s probably the most personal song on the album, too. You can probably tell when you listen to it, but it’s a love letter to my husband. It’s about reflecting on the first little chunk of our marriage when we were just figuring things out, trying to get on the same page. That one’s one of my favorites.

Have you already started thinking about your next project after this?

Definitely, yes. I would just put it this way. I am home all the time. I have this studio, so there’s probably going to be a lot more music coming out soon.

Will the next project be more pop or R&B?

I’m leaving it open. I will say I think this EP is a nice teaser of what’s to come. I like the way that it feels. I like the direction that I’m starting to go in, but at the same time, you never know. The creative process is always funny, because it can surprise you. I’m just going to go with my gut and write music that feels good.

I have to ask you about your cover of “When You Believe” with JoJo. It sounded incredible.

Thank you. She is so amazing. We go way back. I met her when I was, I think, 12, and she was already JoJo, because she started so young. I was just this little girl who had just gotten signed to a label and was trying to figure everything out and so confused. She was in the spotlight doing her thing. I remember we crossed paths. There was somebody that we were both working with, and then they introduced us. I just remember even back then when we were kids, she was always so sweet, so supportive.

It’s cool just to have someone, I guess, to walk through the industry with a little bit, having known them for so long and rooting for them. I’m so happy for her, and where she’s at now. The new music that she’s putting out is so incredible. I have nothing but love for her. She’s so great.

What is the biggest lesson that 2020 has taught you?

That’s a great question. I think the biggest thing that I learned with everything going on in the world… I guess I’ve just realized how much we actually need each other, how much we need people in our lives. We can’t really do this life alone. We can’t get through it alone. It is cool to find ways to connect with people online, but that’s what I’ve noticed. Even for myself as an introvert, I’ve just realized, “Wow, I’ve really missed people.” I think I’ve taken my relationships for granted, which I never want to do again.

Thank you so much for your time.

Thank you so much. It was great talking with you again.

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