IT has been good to catch up with Tori Cross…
as she tells me about her new single, Looking Up. She reveals how she came to work alongside XamVolo and what we can expect from her forthcoming E.P., Growth. I ask whether there are a few albums that mean a lot to her and which artists she counts as influences – Cross reveals plans for gigs and what she wants to achieve by the end of the year.
The songwriter tells me whether she gets time to unwind away from music and, as a Birmingham-based artist, what the scene is like there; if she has any advice for artists coming through; which rising artists we need to get behind – Cross ends the interview by selecting a great song.
Hi, Tori. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi, Sam. I’m sound, thank you. I just got back from London for a few days seeing friends and had a bit of a chill out!
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
My name’s Tori and the music I write is Soul/R&B. I’m from Birmingham but have been living in Liverpool for five years. I went there to study music at uni and loved it so much I decided to stay! In my final year at uni I met XamVolo, who recently toured with Paloma Faith, which is such a madness. I backing sang for him for a while until I decided to take my solo stuff seriously and focus all my time on that.
Looking Up is your new single. What is the story behind the song?
The whole tone of the song is intended to be sarcastic. I wrote the song based on my absent father who I spoke to on the phone when I was little but never met. I basically wrote the song as a first and last song written about him since he has such little relevance to my life yet, in the same vein, so much. I’m really pleased with how it came out because it feels really powerful. My stepdad has been an amazing father figure in my life, so I’m really lucky that I haven’t missed out on that.
It is from your forthcoming E.P., Growth. Are there particular themes that inspired the songs? Has it been fun to record the songs?
I was having writer’s block for so long and was confused about the direction I wanted my music to go in but one evening something just clicked and I wrote two of the four songs on this E.P. (in one night). I had such a clear idea of how I wanted these songs to sound so I worked with a couple of producers until I worked with TeeSoulful who produced, basically, what was inside my head.
For this track, I decided to work with XamVolo who captured the power needed behind this song perfectly! The common theme within all the tracks is the strength within imperfect situations. They are situations I have been through and grown though and I hope that other people can relate.
In terms of musicians; what sort of stuff are you into? Who were you raised on?
At the moment, my musical rotation is mainly around RAY BLK, Mahalia and Ariana Grande. I’m also loving Hozier’s new E.P., especially the track Nina Cried Power. When I was younger, I was obsessed with Amy Winehouse (still am); I love that she literally wrote whatever she was thinking and believed. She wasn’t concerned about outside opinions which I really admire. As well as Amy, I listened to loads of Corrine Bailey Rae, Lianne La Havas and Gabrielle Aplin. My mum played a lot of jazzy and Reggae/Ska stuff when I was growing up, mainly people like Ella Fitzgerald and UB40.
How do songs come to you? Will you set time aside to write or do you let the muse strike?
I do try to take time just to sit down with my guitar specifically to write, but almost all of the times I do I come up with nothing. Nothing that’s any good anyway! I usually just have to keep my phone close to me in case I do come up with something so I can record it onto my voice notes. It’s usually whilst I’m doing something else - having a conversation or watching a programme - that ideas come to me. Often, I will sit down to learn a cover and that can spark a new idea for a song.
You are a Birmingham-born artist. How has the music scene changed there the last few years? Is there a varied and growing culture there?
I’ve actually only just moved back to Birmingham, so I’m trying to work out the music scene and make new connections - but there is a buzz in the city and a sense of excitement. I feel like Birmingham musicians are starting to get heard and a lot of the underground artists are coming into the mainstream. I popped into town the other day and there was a massive graffiti and Hip-Hop festival at the Custard Factory. There’s always something going on!
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?
I feel like it’s nearly over. Haha. But, I want to gain a bigger fanbase and get some festivals booked in for next year.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jay Chow
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?
Probably recording my music video for the next single, Woman. It was the first time I’d done anything like that so it was a massive learning experience. I also got to work with some of my really good friends so it was so much fun! The visual side of everything in music is really new to me so it’s always an exciting challenge.
Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
Number one has got to be Corinne Bailey Rae – Corinne Bailey Rae
It really gets me. Me and my mum used to blast this out of the car with the windows down in the summer. I had the little lyric book that came with the C.D. and knew the album back to front. I think I still do! I was eleven when this came out and each song is still so vivid in my mind.
Second would be Amy Winehouse’s album Frank
I think this is her best album. It feels more honest and more ‘Amy’. I feel like she was pushed to make her second album safer so she held back in places. The whole album is vulnerable and it encourages me to be the same with my own music.
Finally; a newer album which I couldn’t live without is A Song for Every Moon by Bruno Major
I think it’s so beautiful. The harmonies make me tingle and the groove makes me melt. It’s made up of twelve songs because he wrote and produced a song per month, hence the name. I think it’s a really interesting way to work. This album can calm me down no matter what mood I’m in.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
Jessie Ware! I think she’d be a good laugh and I could learn a lot from her. She seems like a really grounded artist. Plus, I love her music and am obsessed with her podcast, Table Manners.
My ideal rider would be lemon and ginger tea, honey; Gü Key Lime Pie Cheesecake and a bottle of gin and tonic! Though, to be honest, I’m happy with a few Coronas. Haha!
PHOTO CREDIT: Karen Cross
Can we see you tour soon? Where are you playing?
I’ll be performing at The Victoria in Birmingham on 27th September; Jacaranda Phase One on 17th October and PizzaExpress Live Holborn in London on 18th February 2019. Any new dates I’ll be posting on my socials!
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Literally, just keep going. It’s such a hard slog and you need to be your own biggest fan. Also…be nice!
IN THIS PHOTO: XamVolo/PHOTO CREDIT: @yvonneschmedemann
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
I love to watch crime series and documentaries. I’m watching The Bodyguard at the moment and I’m obsessed. I’m also watching Killing Eve which is so good! I recommend them both. It’s the only time I get to switch off from music to be honest but, to me, that’s a good thing!
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
I’d like to play RAY BLK’s new song, Empress. I think it’s such an anthem and a great message for girls everywhere. Thanks, Sam!
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