Tori Kelly Talks Grammy Wins, Gospel Music And Her Return To Pop Music

Premiere Of Amazon Prime Video's ″Chasing Happiness″ - Arrivals

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 03: Tori Kelly attends the premiere of Amazon Prime Video's "Chasing Happiness" at Regency Bruin Theatre on June 03, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

FilmMagic

It’s been four years since Tori Kelly first broke onto the Top 40 scene with her debut full-length Unbreakable Smile, which quickly established her as a name to watch. Since the title rose all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard 200, she racked up a handful of minor hits, switched genres, and is now back in the pop field, but she’s not looking for that enormous radio smash like she once was. This time around, she’s talking about the things that matter the most, and her fans are happy to listen.

I spoke with Kelly about her jump in and out of gospel music, her new highly-personal album and where she keeps the two Grammys she just received.

Hugh McIntyre: I was just listening to your new album Inspired by True Events. I like it! I was expecting it to be more like your first album, and it sounds like a mix of both of your albums. How do you feel it fits in?

Tori Kelly: Yeah, so some of my fans... I've been reading their comments about the album. Some of them feel like it is kind of going back to my EP days, the very first music I put out, which makes sense to me because honestly I wasn't thinking a lot about the production on this album or where I wanted to go sonically. It's so about the stories and the lyrics on this album.

I think what probably happened naturally was I went to what felt comfortable, which is stripped down, raw, live instrumentation. Keep the music part of it really simple, to where the lyrics and my voice can pop more.

I think my first album, Unbreakable Smile, was more like, "Here I am world! Here's some pop songs and I'm going to sing all big!," which is so much fun. I love that still. But with this album it felt like it was time to just kind of... They call this my “grown up album.” I think every artist probably goes through that feeling of, "Hey I need to just say some things, whether or not it makes sense. This is my story. This is what needs to come out." Hopefully people connect with the songs and can relate to them. I'm being really honest on this album.

McIntyre: The line that I've seen reading about it is one that I've heard before: "It's my most personal album."

Kelly: Yeah.

McIntyre: Why did you go that route, and how did that come up?

Kelly: It wasn't intentional. I had been writing for this album for gosh, two-and-a-half years or so, with breaks in between. But there was just so much that went on in the last couple of years that seemed to happen all at once. I mean, everything. My parents separated, which was very hard. And my grandfather passed away, which was also very hard.

McIntyre: I'm sorry.

Kelly: And I got married, which is awesome, but…

McIntyre: Congrats! Good and bad.

Kelly: Thank you. Yeah, well it was just a lot of emotions all at one time, I was like, "Whoa."

At one point, but not right away, that all went into the music. It didn't right away because I was still separating myself. It was really strange. I would go into the studio and not really talk about all the things that were happening because I didn't feel like people wanted to hear that, or I didn't even fully process what was going on. So I would just go in and write some songs about...whatever.

Then in some of the early sessions you would start to hear some of the emotions trying to peek through. “Two Places” is a good example. I wrote that song very early on in the album process, so even though I wasn't being super honest with all the things that were happening, you could tell I was in a place.

What happened was when I finally got to... It was about a year-and-a-half in, and I got to work with a guy named Jimmy Napes.

McIntyre: Yeah. Oscar winner.

Kelly: Just some guy…

Yeah, no, he's incredible! Known for a lot of Sam Smith’s music. I thought this could be the perfect match because he's so good at making it all about the vocal and the raw emotion and even keeping those little imperfections just to make it about the story and the song. As a producer, he doesn't really let things get in the way of the actual song. We started working together and it unleashed all of these stories, all the things that were actually going on in my life. I was like, "Okay, I can't hold this in anymore. I have to say all these things." So that's where you get the vulnerable album. It wasn't intentional.

McIntyre: It's Jimmy.

Kelly: And I think I was fighting it for so long, too. I was like, "I don't think this is the next move," but life just happens. And I think that's one of the cool parts about being an artist. You just write about your life.

McIntyre: There are tracks in between the songs. Are they video recordings or something from your childhood?

Kelly: Yeah, they’re interludes I wanted to throw on the album. I've always loved albums with interludes on them. I think it's more rare nowadays to see, but I thought it would be really cool. It was a last-minute touch, a last-minute decision I threw those on there. They're actual clips from home videos I grabbed from back home when I was visiting.

I knew that Jimmy had done a lot of string sessions in London when I wasn't there and we didn't use all of them. I asked, "Hey, can you send me all of those? Because I have an idea." In my home studio I pieced together all these little interludes that I had in my head. I went through a bunch of clips and I was bawling my eyes out. I didn't sleep for two days because it was so...real. It made all the songs and the album feel like, "Okay, this is my life literally on an album." It's crazy.

McIntyre: There's one in the beginning that's especially cute. Your father is clearly looking through a camera. Anyway, it’s a sweet moment on the album.

Kelly: That was fun.

McIntyre: Were you nervous to release this if it's so personal?

Kelly: A little bit, yeah. As the songs were coming together and I was working with Jimmy now and some stuff was coming out, I was a little hesitant, just because I had never done that before. But then at the same time it was so freeing to put these songs out. It's scary in a good way because it was therapy to get these songs out, but it felt good at the end of the day.

McIntyre: I've been following your career since your first album. Two-and-a-half or three years passed from album one to album two, and then 10 months until this most recent album. What dictated that timeline?

Kelly: The gospel album sort of fell out of nowhere, I think that's why. Because these songs are inspired by true events, a lot of them I had already finished before the gospel album. At one point I was writing both of those albums at the same time.

The way the gospel album was made, it started from this idea of, "Okay, I want to do a gospel song just because I love gospel music." I grew up on it. And then I worked with Kirk Franklin and that one song turned into eight songs and I was like, "Okay, I can either try to pick the best ones and throw them on this other album or I can just let it be what it is and give it its own moment and just really go for it."

The reason why this album came out soon after is because for me, all these songs go together with the gospel album because they were written around the same time. [The gospel album was] me saying, “Okay my faith is very important to me. This is what has helped me get through these hard times without really telling you what those hard times were.” And then this album is like, "Okay, here are the hard times." So, to me, they fit together.

And I'm already, not to move on too quickly, but I'm already so excited for the next because it feels like I've been waiting to get these songs out. It feels like such a big chunk of my life that needed to be written about.

McIntyre: Tell me if I'm wrong, but when it comes to the Christian/gospel world, the music that is Christian/gospel is Christian/gospel. It has to be labeled that to sell it to people. It's on its own. How are you navigating balancing genres? How do you tell your new gospel fans about a new pop album?

Kelly: I haven't really thought about it, or I try not to really think about the genres too much because I've always loved so many different styles of music, right? Growing up, gospel music was in the house, as were R&B, soul, pop and rock. Growing up it was like I pulled from all these different styles and it really influenced even the way that I sing. I went gospel, I went into that genre, and I have so much respect for that genre and it's also so much a part of me. And not only the genre, but the message too, and what they're singing about. My faith is a huge part of my life.

To answer your question, it's awesome to be able to say, "Yeah, I've done country songs. I've done gospel songs. I've kind of gone all over”, but from my perspective, it's still feels like it's me. It's still my voice. I'm still putting all of myself into it. So if anything it's fun for me to share and experiment. I don't have to stick to one lane. I've been calling it life music. Life songs. Doesn't always have to have a title on it.

McIntyre: I was really happy to hear when the gospel album came out that it wasn't this radical departure. It sounded like you. It worked, but there are times when something you might say something in a gospel song that might turn off a non-Christian audience. Is that something you think about now as you're writing?

Kelly: It's something that Kirk Franklin and I thought about as we were writing the songs because we knew we were making this certain type of music and everyone might not share the same beliefs.

We were like, “Okay, we're making gospel music. Obviously, not everyone's going to have the same beliefs,” but we knew that some of the things we wanted to put into the songs are universal. I mean, everybody wants to feel hope. Everyone wants to feel loved and feel valued. Those are some of the themes. We thought, “If we put these into the songs, people can relate. People can connect.

That's what was happening at the shows as well. People would say, “I don't necessarily share the same faith but I'm connecting with this music.” That was really cool. I think my faith is always going to play a part in everything I do because that's just who I am. Stylistically, the way I sing is influenced by gospel singers. That's always going to carry through my music. There's even a little bit of a gospel vibe on some of the songs on this new album. “Until I Think of You” has a choir!

McIntyre: The last era, with the Christian/gospel album, it went really well for you. How did it feel to dive into that world and be welcomed so warmly immediately?

Kelly: Oh, it was amazing. I give a lot of credit to Kirk because I fully trusted him with the music and with how we went about the whole thing because he's a living legend. He's been in the game. He did the whole album with me. Having him be so involved, it just felt like people saw that I’d received his stamp of approval. That was really awesome for me. And yeah. Getting these incredible features on the album was amazing. I'm a huge fan of Jonathan McReynolds. Kirk called him up right away and was like, "Fly over here, let's do a duet” and he literally got on a plane that day. It was incredible to let myself learn and be a sponge. It just synced.

McIntyre: Do you have any interest in putting out more music in that field?

Kelly: I think I would, but I'm not sure when. Like I said, I think it peeks out in my music anyway, so I wouldn't be surprised if, whether it's a gospel song or maybe a whole album again, comes out some day, but I'm just kind of going with the flow. We'll see.

McIntyre: So, just a few months ago you won two Grammys! 

Kelly: Crazy. That was months ago already. Oh my gosh. I just got them though.

McIntyre: Really?

Kelly: I haven't even had a lot of time with them. Yeah, they take a while.

McIntyre: What did that feel like?

Kelly: It was incredible. It was surreal because I was actually nominated in 2016, which was so crazy. Then I put out this project that is so close to my heart and which is something I thought not everybody would understand, but it's what I love. To get two Grammys is just like… “Whoa, what?” Insane. It still doesn't feel real, because every artist dreams of that growing up.

McIntyre: Where are they at home?

Kelly: They are in my studio. I have a little home studio and there is one on each speaker. Some people told me I should put them in a regular place, like the bathroom to freak people out when they go in, but I think that would freak me out. I like the separation.

McIntyre: There's a story that Gwyneth Paltrow keeps her Oscar in the bathroom so no one has to ask to play with it. They can just pick it up when they're visiting.

Kelly: Yeah, that's crazy. Take a selfie and stuff. Maybe I'll do that for a party or something, I don't know.

McIntyre: Just hide it somewhere. Put it in a cupboard and ask someone, "Oh, can you go get a cup?"

Kelly: I should. I should. That'd be so funny.

McIntyre: Is there one award that meant more or that was particularly surprising or meaningful?

Kelly: I don't even remember which one was announced first, honestly. It happened so fast. I was literally, I won one of them...

McIntyre: They usually award song and save album for later.

Kelly: Yes, they did the song category I won [Best Gospel Performance/Song]. I was freaking out. The walk down to the stage was the longest ever. I'm adjusting my dress, I'm like, “Okay, what do I say?” And I have no idea what I said.

McIntyre: You haven't watched it?

Kelly: I did, but it was the same night. I don't want to rewatch it. I won it and then you go backstage. They take the Grammy from you because it's just a prop and then you don't really have time. I just remember... I think there was one other award after me and then all of a sudden I'm walking back out and there was no time to process anything. So yeah, it was pretty wild.

McIntyre: Now that you've won, are there expectations for the new album, either when it comes to Grammys or charts or anything?

Kelly: Actually, no. I wondered, “Am I going to now feel pressure?” But it doesn't feel that way at all, and I honestly don't even know why. It feels freeing to release the music I want to. I mean, I've always done that, but especially with this album, I don't think there's a pressure of like, "Oh, I want this to win a Grammy," or, "I want this to do well.” Of course I would love for it to do well, but I think when you really love your art and you believe in it so much… I feel so blessed I’m able to do shows and I get that instant gratification of people singing the words back to me.

I think having that, it just feels so good that I'm not even thinking about the charts or how it does. It’s a good feeling to not have that pressure. Because then anything that does come it's like, “Oh, amazing!” I'm so grateful for it, but I've done all I can. I have to let it go and let it be. Let it do its thing and be okay with whatever happens. You did your best, you put your effort into it and then you see what happens.

Seeing that it's already affecting people and moving people is really awesome to me.

McIntyre: I ask a lot of artists that question. A lot of artists say they aren’t worried about it, but I wonder, do you think the label is? Your debut album made it to No. 2 and the singles were huge.

Kelly: I would hope so, actually. I don't think it's in a negative way, but I think in a work hard type of way. I think I have a team that wants to work hard and do their thing. And what's great about that is it allows me to not have to be so obsessed with it or focus too much on it. It's cool because I have a team that is able to put the work in, look at those numbers, do all of that and I can kind of focus on the art.

I think if I did get too into it, into the charts, it would make me a little bit crazy, and it might even change the way I make music.

McIntyre: It definitely could. You see it all the time with people who are chasing it. You hear it.

Kelly: I think for me it would be exhausting to chase that sound and try to get it right. That’s not to say I don't love top 40 hits. There's definitely a sound there and I love it...and I've done it.

I think my first album was geared more toward that pop lane, which I still love. I'm a very... Whatever season I'm in, that's where I'm going to be. I didn't want to sacrifice any of the storytelling for a certain sound. Not to say that I won't go there again. It just felt like the right time for this.

McIntyre: Are you touring this album?

Kelly: I did an acoustic tour pre-album. It was cool because I got to tease all the songs. But yeah, I would love to tour. I love touring in general. I'm working on something with my team.

McIntyre: I’ve heard a lot of artists say they love teasing stuff or songs on the road and I imagine that would be so scary because people don't know them. When people know them, they're singing it back, they're excited. If they don't know it, aren't they just sort of staring at you?

Kelly: Yeah. Well I mean that's why I wanted to do it acoustic because I wanted it to feel super intimate. Give it a storyteller type of vibe. There was a lot of talking about the songs. It was just me and my guitar player. We had couches on stage. It was a very intimate vibe, and I think it made it less scary doing it that way.

By testing them out first on the true fans, the people who are coming to the shows and supporting me...by being able to test them out with that crowd first, it took off that edge a little bit to where now that the songs are out, I'm doing interviews and going around and talking about it, I think it made it a little easier because I've already sort of presented the songs.

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It’s been four years since Tori Kelly first broke onto the Top 40 scene with her debut full-length Unbreakable Smile, which quickly established her as a name to watch. Since the title rose all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard 200, she racked up a handful of minor hits, switched genres, and is now back in the pop field, but she’s not looking for that enormous radio smash like she once was. This time around, she’s talking about the things that matter the most, and her fans are happy to listen.

I spoke with Kelly about her jump in and out of gospel music, her new highly-personal album and where she keeps the two Grammys she just received.

Hugh McIntyre: I was just listening to your new album Inspired by True Events. I like it! I was expecting it to be more like your first album, and it sounds like a mix of both of your albums. How do you feel it fits in?

Tori Kelly: Yeah, so some of my fans... I've been reading their comments about the album. Some of them feel like it is kind of going back to my EP days, the very first music I put out, which makes sense to me because honestly I wasn't thinking a lot about the production on this album or where I wanted to go sonically. It's so about the stories and the lyrics on this album.

I think what probably happened naturally was I went to what felt comfortable, which is stripped down, raw, live instrumentation. Keep the music part of it really simple, to where the lyrics and my voice can pop more.

I think my first album, Unbreakable Smile, was more like, "Here I am world! Here's some pop songs and I'm going to sing all big!," which is so much fun. I love that still. But with this album it felt like it was time to just kind of... They call this my “grown up album.” I think every artist probably goes through that feeling of, "Hey I need to just say some things, whether or not it makes sense. This is my story. This is what needs to come out." Hopefully people connect with the songs and can relate to them. I'm being really honest on this album.

McIntyre: The line that I've seen reading about it is one that I've heard before: "It's my most personal album."

Kelly: Yeah.

McIntyre: Why did you go that route, and how did that come up?

Kelly: It wasn't intentional. I had been writing for this album for gosh, two-and-a-half years or so, with breaks in between. But there was just so much that went on in the last couple of years that seemed to happen all at once. I mean, everything. My parents separated, which was very hard. And my grandfather passed away, which was also very hard.

McIntyre: I'm sorry.

Kelly: And I got married, which is awesome, but…

McIntyre: Congrats! Good and bad.

Kelly: Thank you. Yeah, well it was just a lot of emotions all at one time, I was like, "Whoa."

At one point, but not right away, that all went into the music. It didn't right away because I was still separating myself. It was really strange. I would go into the studio and not really talk about all the things that were happening because I didn't feel like people wanted to hear that, or I didn't even fully process what was going on. So I would just go in and write some songs about...whatever.

Then in some of the early sessions you would start to hear some of the emotions trying to peek through. “Two Places” is a good example. I wrote that song very early on in the album process, so even though I wasn't being super honest with all the things that were happening, you could tell I was in a place.

What happened was when I finally got to... It was about a year-and-a-half in, and I got to work with a guy named Jimmy Napes.

McIntyre: Yeah. Oscar winner.

Kelly: Just some guy…

Yeah, no, he's incredible! Known for a lot of Sam Smith’s music. I thought this could be the perfect match because he's so good at making it all about the vocal and the raw emotion and even keeping those little imperfections just to make it about the story and the song. As a producer, he doesn't really let things get in the way of the actual song. We started working together and it unleashed all of these stories, all the things that were actually going on in my life. I was like, "Okay, I can't hold this in anymore. I have to say all these things." So that's where you get the vulnerable album. It wasn't intentional.

McIntyre: It's Jimmy.

Kelly: And I think I was fighting it for so long, too. I was like, "I don't think this is the next move," but life just happens. And I think that's one of the cool parts about being an artist. You just write about your life.

McIntyre: There are tracks in between the songs. Are they video recordings or something from your childhood?

Kelly: Yeah, they’re interludes I wanted to throw on the album. I've always loved albums with interludes on them. I think it's more rare nowadays to see, but I thought it would be really cool. It was a last-minute touch, a last-minute decision I threw those on there. They're actual clips from home videos I grabbed from back home when I was visiting.

I knew that Jimmy had done a lot of string sessions in London when I wasn't there and we didn't use all of them. I asked, "Hey, can you send me all of those? Because I have an idea." In my home studio I pieced together all these little interludes that I had in my head. I went through a bunch of clips and I was bawling my eyes out. I didn't sleep for two days because it was so...real. It made all the songs and the album feel like, "Okay, this is my life literally on an album." It's crazy.

McIntyre: There's one in the beginning that's especially cute. Your father is clearly looking through a camera. Anyway, it’s a sweet moment on the album.

Kelly: That was fun.

McIntyre: Were you nervous to release this if it's so personal?

Kelly: A little bit, yeah. As the songs were coming together and I was working with Jimmy now and some stuff was coming out, I was a little hesitant, just because I had never done that before. But then at the same time it was so freeing to put these songs out. It's scary in a good way because it was therapy to get these songs out, but it felt good at the end of the day.

McIntyre: I've been following your career since your first album. Two-and-a-half or three years passed from album one to album two, and then 10 months until this most recent album. What dictated that timeline?

Kelly: The gospel album sort of fell out of nowhere, I think that's why. Because these songs are inspired by true events, a lot of them I had already finished before the gospel album. At one point I was writing both of those albums at the same time.

The way the gospel album was made, it started from this idea of, "Okay, I want to do a gospel song just because I love gospel music." I grew up on it. And then I worked with Kirk Franklin and that one song turned into eight songs and I was like, "Okay, I can either try to pick the best ones and throw them on this other album or I can just let it be what it is and give it its own moment and just really go for it."

The reason why this album came out soon after is because for me, all these songs go together with the gospel album because they were written around the same time. [The gospel album was] me saying, “Okay my faith is very important to me. This is what has helped me get through these hard times without really telling you what those hard times were.” And then this album is like, "Okay, here are the hard times." So, to me, they fit together.

And I'm already, not to move on too quickly, but I'm already so excited for the next because it feels like I've been waiting to get these songs out. It feels like such a big chunk of my life that needed to be written about.

McIntyre: Tell me if I'm wrong, but when it comes to the Christian/gospel world, the music that is Christian/gospel is Christian/gospel. It has to be labeled that to sell it to people. It's on its own. How are you navigating balancing genres? How do you tell your new gospel fans about a new pop album?

Kelly: I haven't really thought about it, or I try not to really think about the genres too much because I've always loved so many different styles of music, right? Growing up, gospel music was in the house, as were R&B, soul, pop and rock. Growing up it was like I pulled from all these different styles and it really influenced even the way that I sing. I went gospel, I went into that genre, and I have so much respect for that genre and it's also so much a part of me. And not only the genre, but the message too, and what they're singing about. My faith is a huge part of my life.

To answer your question, it's awesome to be able to say, "Yeah, I've done country songs. I've done gospel songs. I've kind of gone all over”, but from my perspective, it's still feels like it's me. It's still my voice. I'm still putting all of myself into it. So if anything it's fun for me to share and experiment. I don't have to stick to one lane. I've been calling it life music. Life songs. Doesn't always have to have a title on it.

McIntyre: I was really happy to hear when the gospel album came out that it wasn't this radical departure. It sounded like you. It worked, but there are times when something you might say something in a gospel song that might turn off a non-Christian audience. Is that something you think about now as you're writing?

Kelly: It's something that Kirk Franklin and I thought about as we were writing the songs because we knew we were making this certain type of music and everyone might not share the same beliefs.

We were like, “Okay, we're making gospel music. Obviously, not everyone's going to have the same beliefs,” but we knew that some of the things we wanted to put into the songs are universal. I mean, everybody wants to feel hope. Everyone wants to feel loved and feel valued. Those are some of the themes. We thought, “If we put these into the songs, people can relate. People can connect.

That's what was happening at the shows as well. People would say, “I don't necessarily share the same faith but I'm connecting with this music.” That was really cool. I think my faith is always going to play a part in everything I do because that's just who I am. Stylistically, the way I sing is influenced by gospel singers. That's always going to carry through my music. There's even a little bit of a gospel vibe on some of the songs on this new album. “Until I Think of You” has a choir!

McIntyre: The last era, with the Christian/gospel album, it went really well for you. How did it feel to dive into that world and be welcomed so warmly immediately?

Kelly: Oh, it was amazing. I give a lot of credit to Kirk because I fully trusted him with the music and with how we went about the whole thing because he's a living legend. He's been in the game. He did the whole album with me. Having him be so involved, it just felt like people saw that I’d received his stamp of approval. That was really awesome for me. And yeah. Getting these incredible features on the album was amazing. I'm a huge fan of Jonathan McReynolds. Kirk called him up right away and was like, "Fly over here, let's do a duet” and he literally got on a plane that day. It was incredible to let myself learn and be a sponge. It just synced.

McIntyre: Do you have any interest in putting out more music in that field?

Kelly: I think I would, but I'm not sure when. Like I said, I think it peeks out in my music anyway, so I wouldn't be surprised if, whether it's a gospel song or maybe a whole album again, comes out some day, but I'm just kind of going with the flow. We'll see.

McIntyre: So, just a few months ago you won two Grammys! 

Kelly: Crazy. That was months ago already. Oh my gosh. I just got them though.

McIntyre: Really?

Kelly: I haven't even had a lot of time with them. Yeah, they take a while.

McIntyre: What did that feel like?

Kelly: It was incredible. It was surreal because I was actually nominated in 2016, which was so crazy. Then I put out this project that is so close to my heart and which is something I thought not everybody would understand, but it's what I love. To get two Grammys is just like… “Whoa, what?” Insane. It still doesn't feel real, because every artist dreams of that growing up.

McIntyre: Where are they at home?

Kelly: They are in my studio. I have a little home studio and there is one on each speaker. Some people told me I should put them in a regular place, like the bathroom to freak people out when they go in, but I think that would freak me out. I like the separation.

McIntyre: There's a story that Gwyneth Paltrow keeps her Oscar in the bathroom so no one has to ask to play with it. They can just pick it up when they're visiting.

Kelly: Yeah, that's crazy. Take a selfie and stuff. Maybe I'll do that for a party or something, I don't know.

McIntyre: Just hide it somewhere. Put it in a cupboard and ask someone, "Oh, can you go get a cup?"

Kelly: I should. I should. That'd be so funny.

McIntyre: Is there one award that meant more or that was particularly surprising or meaningful?

Kelly: I don't even remember which one was announced first, honestly. It happened so fast. I was literally, I won one of them...

McIntyre: They usually award song and save album for later.

Kelly: Yes, they did the song category I won [Best Gospel Performance/Song]. I was freaking out. The walk down to the stage was the longest ever. I'm adjusting my dress, I'm like, “Okay, what do I say?” And I have no idea what I said.

McIntyre: You haven't watched it?

Kelly: I did, but it was the same night. I don't want to rewatch it. I won it and then you go backstage. They take the Grammy from you because it's just a prop and then you don't really have time. I just remember... I think there was one other award after me and then all of a sudden I'm walking back out and there was no time to process anything. So yeah, it was pretty wild.

McIntyre: Now that you've won, are there expectations for the new album, either when it comes to Grammys or charts or anything?

Kelly: Actually, no. I wondered, “Am I going to now feel pressure?” But it doesn't feel that way at all, and I honestly don't even know why. It feels freeing to release the music I want to. I mean, I've always done that, but especially with this album, I don't think there's a pressure of like, "Oh, I want this to win a Grammy," or, "I want this to do well.” Of course I would love for it to do well, but I think when you really love your art and you believe in it so much… I feel so blessed I’m able to do shows and I get that instant gratification of people singing the words back to me.

I think having that, it just feels so good that I'm not even thinking about the charts or how it does. It’s a good feeling to not have that pressure. Because then anything that does come it's like, “Oh, amazing!” I'm so grateful for it, but I've done all I can. I have to let it go and let it be. Let it do its thing and be okay with whatever happens. You did your best, you put your effort into it and then you see what happens.

Seeing that it's already affecting people and moving people is really awesome to me.

McIntyre: I ask a lot of artists that question. A lot of artists say they aren’t worried about it, but I wonder, do you think the label is? Your debut album made it to No. 2 and the singles were huge.

Kelly: I would hope so, actually. I don't think it's in a negative way, but I think in a work hard type of way. I think I have a team that wants to work hard and do their thing. And what's great about that is it allows me to not have to be so obsessed with it or focus too much on it. It's cool because I have a team that is able to put the work in, look at those numbers, do all of that and I can kind of focus on the art.

I think if I did get too into it, into the charts, it would make me a little bit crazy, and it might even change the way I make music.

McIntyre: It definitely could. You see it all the time with people who are chasing it. You hear it.

Kelly: I think for me it would be exhausting to chase that sound and try to get it right. That’s not to say I don't love top 40 hits. There's definitely a sound there and I love it...and I've done it.

I think my first album was geared more toward that pop lane, which I still love. I'm a very... Whatever season I'm in, that's where I'm going to be. I didn't want to sacrifice any of the storytelling for a certain sound. Not to say that I won't go there again. It just felt like the right time for this.

McIntyre: Are you touring this album?

Kelly: I did an acoustic tour pre-album. It was cool because I got to tease all the songs. But yeah, I would love to tour. I love touring in general. I'm working on something with my team.

McIntyre: I’ve heard a lot of artists say they love teasing stuff or songs on the road and I imagine that would be so scary because people don't know them. When people know them, they're singing it back, they're excited. If they don't know it, aren't they just sort of staring at you?

Kelly: Yeah. Well I mean that's why I wanted to do it acoustic because I wanted it to feel super intimate. Give it a storyteller type of vibe. There was a lot of talking about the songs. It was just me and my guitar player. We had couches on stage. It was a very intimate vibe, and I think it made it less scary doing it that way.

By testing them out first on the true fans, the people who are coming to the shows and supporting me...by being able to test them out with that crowd first, it took off that edge a little bit to where now that the songs are out, I'm doing interviews and going around and talking about it, I think it made it a little easier because I've already sort of presented the songs.

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I am a freelance music journalist based in New York City. My byline has appeared in The Huffington Post, Billboard, Mashable, Noisey, The Hollywood Reporter, MTV, Fuse, ...