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Photography Erea Ferreiro

Tora-i’s new EP is a deconstructed take on contemporary soul

Ahead of the release of her new record, & what else?, the London singer opens up about conspiracy theories, cashew nuts, and songwriting in the mountains

London-raised singer Tora-i broke onto the scene back in 2020 with her debut single “Vein”. With a backdrop of reverb-drenched guitars, swirling synthesisers and hypnotic drum loops, her deeply personal lyrics come alive through her emotive vocal performances, creating a free-flowing, experimental take on contemporary soul music. 

Few artists have the power to take the unusual and translate it into a universal experience. “Super structured songs weren’t what came naturally to me, or what felt right to me,” the singer explains of her songwriting process. Much like the work of her influences Solange and Frank Ocean, the experimentation with song structure doesn’t take away from the accessibility of the music. “It [the EP] wasn’t really genre-specific, it was more ‘I’m feeling this and I would like to get this thing out,’” Tora-i explains. “It wasn’t ‘play these kinds of chords’, it was going with what feels like it goes and what feels like it makes sense together.” 

Recorded with Josh Grant in Los Angeles, Tora-i’s upcoming EP & what else? marks another forward step in the artist’s musical and personal growth. The recording process of the project marked a time of reflection for Tora-i, separated from the distractions of regular life. “It did more for me as a person to have that time alone,” the singer explains. “When I wasn’t at studios I was pretty much by myself, [so] it was good for me to just sit and sweat out all my thoughts.” Across the project’s seven tracks, the artist’s wide-ranging musical sensibilities are clear, from the minimalist and contemplative “Crystalline” to the bouncy and joyous “Palace”. 

Down below, we catch up with Tora-i to chat about her new EP, Marc Jacobs heels and Marvin Gaye.

With the music on the new EP being so varied and broad in influence, do you approach writing lyrics in a more structured way?

Tora-i: Typically, no. Nothing was too crazy on this project, it wasn’t all stream-of-consciousness, there is a verse-pre chorus-chorus. My approach to writing lyrics for this EP was actually different because most of this was made in LA, so I had limited time and I mainly worked with Josh Grant for the trip. I can’t drive, so he picked me up and dropped me back every day. It was this routine which is something I haven’t done before, but it was actually good to have that discipline and to have that structure. I enjoyed it. 

And although I wouldn’t say every day we made the best song or every day something came out of it, it was good to have your mind going “OK, today this is what we’re going to do.” When I’m actually writing the lyrics, most of the time we’d make the beat and then I’d leave the room. He lives on a mountain, so I’d sit there, look out, and then I’d write to finish songs, because I’d have the melody down already, or I’d have some type of idea. When I was trying to perfect the words, I’d go out and just look out. I like open-air spaces, so it was a good place for me to write because I have lots to look out at, also that you can breathe so you don’t feel cooped up.

I find a lot of your lyrical content vivid and poetic, in particular “PBFF”. Has there been a conscious effort to improve and grow lyrically or has that come over time with constantly making music?

Tora-i: “PBFF” was mainly written after Cavalier had been wrapped up, around 2019. After Cavalier, I was listening to it again and I thought there were too many words. It needed to be more to the point and be clear about what it is that’s being said, while still keeping the romanticism of it all. I’ve made more of an active effort to try and do that this time. A thing I’ve found is that listening to other people while I’m writing sparks something in me: Joni Mitchell’s Blue was an album that I would always play a lot while I was writing. It makes you think about things differently, about different ways of saying lyrics. I took time to be more considerate about what I was saying and why I was saying it.

What have you found frustrating about being a musician in the UK? How does it compare to your experiences recording in the US?

Tora-i: I think the placement of me can be confusing for people, which I don’t really take on as much because it doesn‘t feel like it’s my problem. I wouldn’t say it’s frustrating for me, it’s just something I’ve noted. People have cliques, communities, and their own spaces with their own people. But because what I’m doing is a bit varied, it's what space do I sit in? That doesn’t really bother me too much, if you get it, you get it.

How do you feel growing up in London has affected your sound and approach as a musician?

Tora-i: I don’t think it comes out. It does probably in my lyrics more than the music. It’s quite direct, I would say a lot of London artists are. But the self-deprecating stuff – that’s not London, that’s just English. I was on tour last year with Americans and I was the only English person, and the dry humour was not cutting through.

When did you first become aware of the power of good music? What song could you not stop playing growing up? 

Tora-i: Young! I can’t remember what song it was, but I distinctly remember really singing my heart out to this Mary J Blige song when I was in primary school. It was like my heart had been broken and I knew what she was talking about. I distinctly remember it because I was really feeling it and it was like really being there with her.

Your favourite cornershop snack? 

Tora-i: Sweet and salty popcorn and cashew nuts.

What’s your ghost outfit? 

Tora-i: I’d wear six-inch heels just because I probably wouldn’t feel them. If I’m haunting you, I might as well do it in style – if this is what I’m spending the rest of my existence doing I better look good doing it. The first ones that came into my head are the Marc Jacobs ones with the cut-outs or a stripper heel where they’re see-through and you can put things underneath. 

What’s your star sign and are you a typical one of that star sign?

Tora-i: I’m an Aquarius, and probably. Aquarians are always like, “I’m different”.

What conspiracy theory are you quite into actually? 

Tora-i: In the age of fake news and AI that’s a very sticky one, actually. They can get messy real quick. There’s not even a particular conspiracy that I can actually think of, it’s more just my lack of trust in the government.

Any recurring dreams? 

Tora-i: I’ve had a couple, it’s generally about me being chased. I did this sound bath one time, and I had it in there. The woman in there said maybe instead of someone chasing you, you’re running towards something. It’s a different way of looking at it, but in the dream it does not feel like that. It is a good way to think of it, though, so I’ve been trying to shift my perspective on it. 

What’s your love language? 

Tora-i: Quality time and gift giving, when it’s thoughtful and considered.

“Someone commented on one of my songs on YouTube and said, ‘she’s such a sensible artist’. I was so pissed off!”

What’s on your For You Page right now? 

Tora-i: I really want it to be more food, but it’s not. It’s nails, lots of nails, some food and jewellery.

If you could only listen to one musician for the rest of your life, who would it be? 

Tora-i: I’m going to pick Marvin Gaye because I pick up on different things and different meanings. I listened to a lot of him when I was making the EP.

What adjective would you least like to be described as? 

Tora-i: Someone commented on one of my songs on YouTube and said, “she’s such a sensible artist”. I was so pissed off! I think the worst adjectives are ‘sensible‘ and ‘nice’ – nice doesn’t mean anything. Nice doesn’t mean caring and kind, it just means you’re there, part of the furniture. Sensible is giving boring, and that’s not cute. 

What do you put on your rider? 

Tora-i: First of all Americans don’t give you shit, they just give you some water. In England it’s obviously different, I had like a big rider but I don’t really eat before I perform. I would just have tea, fresh ginger, fresh lemon, honey and a kettle. In America they didn’t have kettles, so I started walking around with one.

You encounter a hostile alien race and sound is their only mechanism for communication. What song would you play to them to inspire them to spare you and the rest of the human race?

Tora-i: Rotary Connection, “I Am The Black Gold of The Sun”. You need something that sounds mega and it’s theatrical. But also you need something that has quite calming and soothing elements in it as well. That would be a good thing to make them not kill us.

& what else? is out now.

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