By Courtney E. Smith
SoCal girl Tori Kelly has made her mark on the pop charts with the single “Nobody Love.” The song became inescapable at pop radio, which was a step onto a different platform for the girl who started out as YouTube star, known for her inventive guitar arrangements and covers of pop songs.
But left to her own devices, Kelly was writing songs of her own, of a more indie pop variety. She released an EP in 2013 called Foreward that was a little more of the crunchy, DIY variety. But for her major label debut album, as well as it’s lead single “Nobody Love,” Kelly teamed up with executive producer Max Martin. And to hear her tell the tale, it was not a decision she took lightly.
“I’ll be honest, I was a bit nervous to even work with somebody as successful as Max because I didn’t think that our worlds would go together at all,” Kelly says. “There was me, coming from this indie, singer/songwriter thing and then him, completely running the pop charts. But I knew that was the next step. Personally, I knew that was what I wanted.”
When asked what the experience of working with a guy like Martin is actually like, Kelly says it was not at all like the picture she had in her head. He’s no svengali, pulling the strings of the (largely) female artists he works with like Taylor Swift, P!nk and Katy Perry.
“I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he’s very hands-on,” Kelly says of Martin. “The session was very collaborative too, he would ask, ‘What do you think about this?’ It’s not like he was a machine. I think I had an idea of walking in and the song would be perfect and done and he’d say, ‘Here you go! Go sing your song.’ But it wasn’t like that at all, he was completely listening to what I wanted. He said right away, ‘I want to make the song that you want.’ It was very much me leading the sessions.”
Kelly revealed that “Nobody Love” was the first song that she wrote with Martin, after working on material on her own for a year and a half. What Martin brought to the proceedings was a particular finishing touch, she says–that professional something that took the song from a YouTube-worthy sensation to a smash pop single.
“I had all these songs but they felt very different from each other,” Kelly says, recalling the start of their recording sessions. “There was nothing to pull them together. When [Martin] came on board we went into it knowing the style of song that was needed still, that we didn’t have. He helped bring more polished sounds out, which were lacking. He nailed it on the head, along with the other writes on the song: Rickard Göransson, Savan [Kotecha]. The four of us, we vibed right away.”
The songwriters may have vibed, but the song itself took a few iterations to get just right. Before it would end up as the lead single for her debut album, Unbreakable Smile, it would require a little bit of Martin’s magic production touch.
“It took a few days to get the song in a place that we were all happy with. There was a moment where it was like, ‘Wait a second, I think this is the one.’ And then it ended up being the single. Stuff like that is really exciting to be able to be a part of.”
“Nobody Love” has racked up over 10 million streams online since it was released in early 2015, with the music video standing at 3 million views.
Unbreakable Smile is in stores on June 23.