Tori Kelly’s Unbreakable Smile is that rare kind of debut album that stands out as an impressive achievement in its own right, but also hints at something greater. It had radio hits, quieter moments and soulful grooves, but there was always the sneaking suspicion that the 25-year-old’s voice could soar even higher, that she could open her heart even wider. That promise finally comes to fruition on Hiding Place, a collection of eight gospel songs written by (or with) the legendary Kirk Franklin.
The “Nobody Love” singer explained how the album came about — she was originally focussed on recording a pop/R&B sophomore LP — and opened up about working with Kirk, Lecrae and Jonathon McReynolds. She also promised that fans won’t have to wait too long for new (secular) music. Find out more about the making of Hiding Place, which arrived on September 14, in our Q&A below.
When did the idea of recording a gospel album crystallize?
So I didn’t really plan to put out a gospel album. To be honest, it felt like it just happened. I’ve been writing for the last two years, pretty much since I got off the Unbreakable Smile Tour. I went straight into writing and throughout that process, I basically felt that maybe I should throw a gospel song, just a song on the album. And the reason for that is because I grew up on gospel music, I grew up singing it and a lot of what makes up gospel music is a huge influence in my own music.
Growing up, I thought maybe one day I’ll do a gospel project. So, I threw the idea out to my team and they were super into it. My manager, Scooter Braun, he loved the idea. He said, “Let’s hit up Kirk Franklin,” who is a gospel living legend and I’m such a fan of his. I grew up listening to him and I was really excited that he was down. We were like, “Let’s just see what happens” and basically one song turned into a whole album of songs. We kept rolling them out. It was just such a fun experience.
I heard that you got to write with Kirk, which is exciting because that’s not the normal way he works.
Yes, I learned that as well. I didn’t realize that he had never co-written with anybody, but I’m really not that surprised because he’s so talented. He just hears every part of the song and he plays piano really beautifully. He can hear all the different harmonies in all the instruments. When I showed up to Dallas, which is where we did most of the album, he had already written four songs and presented them to me. I was like, “Wow, this is amazing,” which is actually really rare for me because I love to write songs too.
So for me to say, “Oh my gosh, I have to sing this, these are so beautiful,” was really big. And that’s when I was like hey, what if we wrote together and he was into it. I’m his first co-write ever, which is a huge honour.
Was it nerve-wracking when you found out that you were the first artist to write with him?
Yes, I was just honoured to be working with him. What’s funny is, and he’ll say this too, is that he was actually nervous. I thought was really weird because he’s been in the game for so long and he’s so talented. And I was like, “Why are you nervous?” I think what was happening was, we were both crossing over into different genres. I was naive and came in not knowing what it takes to make a gospel song. I know a little bit and I love to sing, that’s what I know, but I’m basically coming in and trusting him and putting myself into his hands.
And he told me that it felt like he was crossing over, because he had never worked with a pop singer or done a whole project with a pop artist. It was just a learning experience for both of us, but I think we joined forces really well. Because I brought things to the table that I had learned from my writing experiences and he did the same. So it worked out really well.
Is the process any different when you sit down to write a gospel song as opposed to a pop song?
Yes, it’s pretty different. I have never really sat down and explicitly wrote a gospel song, and really talked about my faith in a song. It’s always been there, but I have never really put pen to paper and done it. That’s why, again, I’m grateful for Kirk. He really took me under his wing and showed me how it works. And so much of it is really just expression and not holding back, you can’t hold anything back in gospel music, you have to just let it all out. And that was a lot of fun — not having to hold back and really just singing. Letting your voice go whatever it wants, letting the instruments go wherever they want.
The last few years have been quite dark for some people, is releasing a gospel album an act of healing?
I hope it does that exact thing. I always want to put out positive music and give people something to hold on to, but with this gospel project that wasn’t necessarily the first goal. But after the fact, when it was all done and Kirk and I had talked about this too, we looked at all the songs and we were like, “Wow, this feels really timely.” With all the things that are going on in the world, people are confused and all of us are looking for answers. That’s exactly what these songs do. They’re honest and they’re asking questions. There is literally a song in the album called “Questions” and a song called “Help Us To Love.”
Watch Help Us To Love here:
I love that song.
Thank you. I love just how honest and raw the songs are, and yes I do hope that it provides hope for people and can help them through a dark time.
Out of curiosity what is going to happen to all the pop songs you have in the can? Will you revisit them or are they gone forever?
[Laughs]. Nothing is gone forever! Yes, I have been writing before the gospel stuff and after the gospel stuff. I’ve just been writing a ton. And my fans know that. There is definitely more music coming and this gospel album was just a really special passion project that I wanted to get out there. Yes, there’s definitely more music coming for sure.
Will there be a big gap between projects or will your next album arrive shortly after Hiding Place?
I can’t say just yet. But I’m really excited for people to hear the rest of the stuff, it shouldn’t be too long.
That’s great! Can you tell me more about “Masterpiece”? I love Lecrae.
So, I got to do “I’ll Find You” on Lecrae’s album and that was our first official collaboration, but we had known each other a while before that. I really look up to him. He has been a good friend and a mentor. He’s like a big brother to me. After that collaboration, I was like, “Oh, it would be cool if he did something on one of my songs.” And then, working with Kirk, it was the perfect opportunity to reach out to Lecrae because they know each other as well. It was really easy. I literally just texted him and said, “Do you want to be on this song?” He did it in a heartbeat.
Watch Masterpiece here:
Thank you so much for your time.
Adopted from Idolator