This YouTube sensation has easily blossomed into a superstar!

Capitol Records recording artist Tori Kelly, hailed as an “Artist to Watch” by Rolling Stone, USA Today and SPIN – will release her debut album, Unbreakable Smile, on June 23.  Max Martin (Katy Perry, P!nk, Taylor Swift) served as executive producer on Unbreakable Smile and featured artists include Ed Sheeran, LL Cool J and Daye Jack. We caught up with Tori to discuss the evolution of her music, and what to expect on the debut album!

1. So you come from a very diverse background, and your parents were obviously responsible for how radiant you are. Tell us how responsible and instrumental they were/are for your musicianship.

I think the fact that both of my parents are music lovers, and they love a lot of different genres of music, I think that really helped my childhood. My mind was filled with all different types of quality music and that’s helped even my sound now. When I’m in the studio I have this confidence now to try whatever and not feel limited to a specific sound. So it’s cool because I feel like I get to experiment with different things so I definitely give credit to my parents for that.

2. So there are fans like myself that have been listening to you since YouTube and your EP’s Forward and Handmade Songs. Can you tell us how your music has evolved since then and what makes Unbreakable Smile so special?

I definitely think I’ve grown a lot since that time, and I’m really thankful for those EP’s that I put out. Because I did get to experiment and kind of figure out my sound, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and figure out what I like to sing. So, my writing, my lyrics have matured naturally as I’ve gotten older. A lot of my songs back then, I used to start them with a guitar so it was very singer/songwriter driven, and I wanted to challenge myself to see what my writing would be like if I put down the guitar for a little bit. I think that opened up a whole new layer of songwriting for me by doing that. Now when I go back to using my guitar for shows, it’s cool because I’m approaching it from a new dynamic and I have to learn the song all over again to be able to play it.

It all came full circle though because as a kid I never played guitar, singing was my instrument guitar came way later. So it’s good to know that I can pick it up but also know that I don’t need it, it’s not a crutch. That definitely plays into my sound having the option to do acoustic versions of songs.

3. If you had to choose, what is your favorite record on the album and why?

Ugh, that’s such a hard question, they’re all my babies! I think there’s still something about the title track Unbreakable Smile. It just seems to be like the theme of this chapter of my life, and it was the first song that I wrote for the album too so it kind of set the tone for everything. There’s things in that song that broke me out of my shell, I was holding in a lot of feelings for a while so once I wrote that song I just felt like a whole new person and songwriter. It’s also one of my favorites to perform live too.

4. How was it working with Swedish music producer Max Martin on the album?

Working with Max was absolutely amazing, he came into the picture at the perfect time because I had a lot of songs already done that were really heartfelt and I put a lot of myself into them but there still wasn’t that common thread to tie everything together. When he came in to work on the album, I honestly wasn’t for sure if he’d even be a fit but I was like okay let’s see how this goes. In the end, I was very very happy with everything that came out of those sessions. I think the biggest thing was that he accepted me as a writer, so he listened to my ideas too and it was very collaborative. It wasn’t like a situation where I walked in and the song was already done, he really wanted to make a song that catered to me as an artist. It was an amazing experience working with him!

5. Do you write most of your music from a personal place?  Like who is responsible for “Should’ve Been Us”?

It’s a little bit of both to be honest. I think when I’m writing there are some songs that come straight from me, like I don’t even care sometimes if people will be able to relate to it or not because I just have to say it. Then there’s other times when I’ll be writing and I’ll tweet an idea to make it a little more relatable but at the end of the day, I have to connect to the song or else it just doesn’t feel real.

6. Lastly, what does Tori Kelly do when she has a moment to herself, off tour, no studio time?

I honestly like to just chill, and be with my own thoughts for a little bit to not let the chaos of everything really get to me. I also just like to sit and hang out with people, I’m not the type of person who constantly needs to do something. My downtime lately has been just hanging out, especially since my life is planned out, there’s always something in the schedule.

7. You’re performing in NYC the day of your album release June 23rd, what can we expect during the show?

Oh man, well you guys are getting sort of the tail end of the tour so we will hopefully be 100% ready to go by then. All the kinks of the tour should be worked out by then. But I think you nailed it, it’s the album release date so I don’t know what I’m going to be feeling that day. I’ll probably be bouncing off the walls! Or I’ll probably just be speechless because that’s going to be a very special day. My band will be with me, there will also be some acoustic moments, and I think people can just expect a really good time. It will definitely be very emotional for me.

Catch Tori at the Best Buy Theater on June 23!
-Tia Long (@ByTiaLong)