For jazz and blues aficionados, the art of snagging a premium find in a box of old records for sale, hangs on stumbling upon a Blue Note Records label pressing. Since the early days of Sidney Bechet in the ‘30s, Blue Note has traced the history and evolution of the genre. Today, among the new artists turning the dial over at the legendary label is Kandace Springs, and this one… she’s one to watch.
Undeniably beautiful with dynamic style, the 27-year-old Nashville-based musician’s signature voluminous locks and oversized hooped earrings exude bold confidence. Springs looks like a poster girl pop star, with the sort of personal style that would be sure to inspire fan clones, were that in fact the case. Springs and Ariana Grande, though, arguably live on opposite sides of the music spectrum. More Lena Horne at the Cotton Club than Brittany on MTV, the singer-songwriter prays at the altar of jazz, counting “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Angel Eyes,” as a couple of her go-to tracks to play and sing.
That said, keeping ranks with jazz contemporaries, such as Nora Jones (who happens to be among Springs’ favourite artists), didn’t always seem to be part of Springs’ musical aspirations. Based on listeners’ first introduction to the artist, by way of her 2014 self-titled debut EP (a record produced by Pop & Oak of Rihanna and Nicki Minaj fame), all signs pointed to Springs’ bright future as a hip-hop songstress.
While her debut EP was critically well received, Springs herself wasn’t quite convinced, and then fate intervened. After premiering a cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” on Okayplayer, she caught the attention of Prince, who would ultimately set in motion the musical transition that would inspire Soul Eyes. “We became really good friends,” says the singer, opening up about her last day with Prince, before his passing. “The best part of that trip was that I got to play him this record,” Springs shares. “He said ‘this is it.’ He said, ‘you’re going to be traveling the world… so get ready’.” Tellingly, “Rain Falling,” was a standout for Prince—a song Springs wrote when she was 16-years-old. “It shows I was doing this stuff way before,” explains the singer. “I avoided it for a while because I thought you had to be what other people told you to be [in order] to be successful… but that’s not true. If you notice the artists that are huge, they’re who they are. Look at Nina Simone, she’s raw… her voice is like nobody else’s. That’s what the world is hungry for, and I would like to bring that to this world the best I can.”
Under the guidance of the late great musician, Springs journeyed back through her own musical history and ended up sat behind the piano… again, for the first time. “Ultimately, who I am is a girl behind a piano, signing jazz standards,” she declares.
An addictive mix of classic jazz and Nashville lyricism, Soul Eyes—released this past summer—is simultaneously nostalgic and fresh. The album’s title track weaves moody piano with evocative contemplation, while Springs’ smooth vocals lulls the listener into a melodic swell. Soul Eyes is Springs’ coming of age, and if this is her just getting started… it’s no wonder she is at the top of both ours and critics’ ones to watch list.
Below, Springs lays out her musical evolution and shares the secret behind her effortlessly cool personal style.
Your new album Soul Eyes is a departure from your early sound, what sparked the transition?
It’s actually going back to my roots, to what I started out doing as a young girl. It feels awesome to put this album out… out there like this. I think there are a lot of people hungry for this… like a stripped down musical album. I feel like Norah Jones captured that. When [her album] first came out, people were like, “yeah, yeah… we love it.”
Do you think through this album, you have found your sound?
In a way, I always knew that was me. I was signed to a record label [and] a lot of people were like, “jazz music doesn’t go places, you need big radio bangers—hip-hop.” So… I made a hip-hop base EP, which was dope and I absolutely love that EP, but it’s not who I really am. My father would always harass me and say, “Kandace, I’ll tell you one thing, it’s that quiet storm people like.” I heard that with Norah… and then eventually, I met Prince.
I understand he had a significant impact on the shift in your sound.
So I sent him these little clips, and it was when I was sending him this stripped down material that he’d be like, “Kandace, that’s what you are.” He would say the same thing as my dad: be true to who you are.
Do you think your Nashville lineage comes through in the music on this album?
I would say for sure. [Nashville] is a real musical town; it’s not just country. I mean there’s blues and soul… a lot of people don’t know that.
How did you get your start in music?
My dad is a soul singer in Nashville, his name is Scat Springs. He still sings there to this day. He’s been performing for the last 27 years. He’s performed with everyone from Garth Brooks to Michael McDonald to Brian McKnight to Chaka Khan…Aretha. He’s a great, legit singer… best singer I’ve met.
Sounds like you were exposed to great music early on then, thanks to him.
Early on, he had me listening to Nina Simone and Roberta Flack…and then eventually he got me into Sade and stuff. He was the one that gave me Norah Jones’s first record. I was about 13 or 14 maybe, and the last song on that album… [it] really reached out to me—it moved me. It was “The Nearness of You.”
That’s a great one.
Yeah… it’s a jazz standard. And I figured I liked jazz when I was 11-year-old or so, I started playing piano when I was 10. And I learned my first jazz chords from the Wooten brothers… lot of musicians know them, they’re from Nashville. They taught me to play jazz and soul… and then I got into classical later.
And what about singing?
I picked up singing, right after that Norah Jones record.
And before that, you weren’t interested in signing?
No, I didn’t want to sing! I wanted to be a piano player!
Then that record came into your life…
I know I keep coming back to this, but seeing her playing on TV and hearing her signing, that’s what inspired me to do what I’m doing now.
What is it about her voice that you admire so much?
She doesn’t over sing. She can sing her ass off, but she’s all about tone and texture.
Let’s talk about style a bit, how does your stage look differ from your everyday look?
On stage I bump it up a little more. The gold jewelry is my signature thing… I always wear something gold on stage. I’m always wearing combat boots or Converse… Nike sneakers. I’m a big tomboy at heart. a country girl… I grew up playing in the woods. I love cars and trucks and stuff. I keep that in my fashion. On stage, I like to bump it up and put a dress on… but [I] always wear the boots.
Any particular fashion trends you’re excited about this season?
To be honest, I’m a little weaker on my fashion knowledge. If it looks good, I’ll take it. I don’t care how cheap it is, but I do care how expensive it is. [Laughing.]
Do you have an outfit or a piece from your wardrobe that is almost like your uniform, something quintessentially “you?”
I do. The jacket that Prince gave me… a black leather jacket. I’m not sure what the designer’s name is… but it’s one-of-a-kind and the stitching is gorgeous, and it has sick looking fringe hanging off the arms.
I like that you don’t know the designer.
Well, he told me, but it doesn’t have a tag with a name on it or anything [laughing], so I have no idea! Maybe I can look it up…
Do you have a favourite brand or designer?
Like I said, I’m pretty weak on that… but I really like All Saints and Diesel. And… I don’t care how cheap they are, but I always find so much stuff at Forever 21. [Laughing.]
They have good stuff!
Thank you! Yeah!
What style trait do you find most attractive in people?
Humbleness is one. You know… I keep saying her name a million times, but Norah… she’s one of the humblest people you will ever meet. I met her; I had lunch with her, and she was so down to earth.
Being a fan, it must have intimidating to meet her in person.
Because she’s so down-to-earth, it feels like, “oh, this is one of my long lost best friends.”
Who is your style icon and what do you love about their signature fashion look?
Okay, so you’ll laugh, but she’s so badass, I’m not sure know about her clothes particularly, but I love Michelle Rodriguez. She’s like my hero… she’s so badass! [Laughing] She’s a tomboy… she rocks boots and a black leather jacket. She’s a car girl too, and I love cars.
Oh yeah. When I’m not making music, I’m working on my cars!