The musical icon Prince once said that Kandace Springs “has a voice that could melt snow.”
The vocalist, pianist and composer released her first EP in 2014 and quickly started winning fans with performances on Letterman, Kimmel and Fallon. Two years later, she released her debut album Soul Eyes in 2016 on Blue Note, revealing an artist with maturity well beyond her years.
This year, Springs gifted us with her rousing third album called The Women Who Raised Me, a tribute to some of the great female vocalists who have inspired Springs over the years.
Springs joined us for a conversation about bringing those early influences to the fore with this new record — and also lets us in on the details of her (not-so-)secret car collection.
I want to talk about some of the people you’re putting the spotlight on. You said that these artists have impacted your musical stylings and journey, so it isn’t just them as singers, but a broader influence of these artists on you?
It’s kind of a journey with all the things I’ve listened to growing up — Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Roberta Flack. But my dad was a huge influence on me, as well. Some of the things [he] always told me to listen to was organic stuff, live stuff, and to always produce my records that way. So we went back to that, and I wanted to attribute this record to all those female singers that I grew up listening to. Norah Jones is on the record, too! I love to brag about that.
You talk about Norah being your ultimate inspiration. When you first heard her music, when was it and how did it affect you?
When I first heard her album, I was about 12 or 13 years old. My dad gave it to me as a birthday or Christmas gift — one or the other. I just melted when I heard her voice. He always made a joke saying, “Hey, this girl Norah Jones, she done stole your gig … You can be like her some day.” And sure enough, now we’re friends and we sing on the same record label.
How does that go down in the studio? What was the experience of doing this collaboration?
It was March of 2019. We did it live in the studio with the band members. Everything is pretty much live, right on the spot. The entire album is like an old-school record.
Was that because you insisted it was like that, or was that just the natural feel?
I love that. You cut things in the moment, with the vintage Wurlitzers, a beautiful Steinway, and Clarence Penn on drums, who played with Betty Carter, and Scott Colley on bass, who played a lot with Carmen McRae. It was an amazing get-together. We got [producer] Larry Klein, and he’s a king of live instruments and orchestration. He’s so great at that kind of production.
I read that this recording was a very intentional move back to more straight-ahead jazz. Was that a hard move back, or was it just a natural progression? It seems like a lot of vocalist who have jazz skills move toward more commercial types of music, but it almost seems like you’ve pushed forward commercially but you want to bring it back to more of a jazz core.
That’s my heart and soul. That’s what I started out playing … That’s what I was listening to and that’s what I was drawn to. I like the commercial stuff, too, but that old-school, straight-ahead jazz is my foundation. You know, I can do all of it, I can mix it up, but that’s my favourite. It’s like a beautiful palette of several colours to choose from — that’s how I look at jazz.
Was that an interesting dynamic among you and your contemporaries when you were growing up listening to this kind of music? Did they think that was weird?
It was kind of funny. All my peers growing up were playing, you know, the most recent stuff on the radio, and here I am bumpin’ Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McRae in my little car as a teenager. I used to be a valet attendant before I got into music, I was blasting Sade and he went, “Who is that?!” I was like shame on you, my friend. You need to check this girl out.
You mentioned your dad being a musical influence; he was a professional musician. But your mom was the one who took you around and did the heavy lifting in terms of getting you out and about, right?
She sure did, man. Thanks, mom! She would take me to my piano lessons with the Wooten brothers — my dad set it up, so it was teamwork. I have to thank them both for that. Victor Wooten is probably the most popular, and then there’s Joe Wooten, who taught me a lot of my piano schools. They gave me a good head start, and then my dad gave me a few pointers on vocals, and I ran with it from there.
Being from Nashville and having that musical talent in your family, was it preordained that you would get into music? Was there any other path that you might’ve gone down?
It was a little bit of both. I have another passion that some people don’t know about. I love cars. I was going to go to college for automotive design. That’s what I’m doing right now, actually. I work on cars, I fix and resell them, I trade them. I was ready to do that [full-time], and then I got an offer with a music opportunity. Now, it’s a best of both worlds.
So you’re the house on the street that has a car up on blocks all the time?
Pretty much. I had 14 cars, but I think I’m down to 10 right now.
It’s a nice variety, too. From muscle to exotic to 4×4 to military Humvee, a Dodge Viper, big-block, hot-rod with a 454 in it. I just love cars. This is my little collection. I play around with them.
Do you like to drive? Do you like to go fast?
I sure do! I was driving the Viper a second ago, saw one of my Corvette buddies and we were revving at each other. Last weekend, we went out to Windrock [Park] here in Tennessee, way out in the sticks. I had bought a Rubicon from Tanya Tucker, the country star. So, that’s one of the things we do. It’s so much fun. I collect old pianos and fix them up, as well. I’m very hands-on. I paint and I draw. And I play soccer.
That seems to go back to making these records live off the floor, with real instruments. It seems like it’s in that same house of authenticity, of being tactile and real.
That’s right. That’s right.
You said that this is the album you’ve been wanting to make forever. What was in your head that you wanted to get out?
I like the authenticity, like you were saying. For example, Nina Simone, she’s so raw, she’s so herself. She would mix jazz, soul, everything. One of her best things was classical piano. My God, could she play. I love Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Liszt, and mix that stuff into my shows. It’s kind of tracing back to her, and how she would mix contemporary with classical and jazz. So, there’s a little bit of that in this record.
You mentioned Larry Klein, producer extraordinaire and an incredible musician, as well. He’s worked with Joni Mitchell and Molly Johnson. Tell me what Larry brings to the table when you’re in the studio with him.
One thing I love about Larry Klein is that he lets the artists and the musicians do their thing, but whenever we’re not sure about something, he comes in and just knocks it out — he says, “Hey, let’s do this,” and he’s pretty much right every time. I love how he captures the best of the artist and lets them be themselves. I feel very comfortable with him. He doesn’t get in the way. He gets it. He lets everything happen naturally.
Is there anything else you’d like to get out there about what you’re doing in the near future?
It’s been kind of crazy. It’s hard to say sometimes. But I’ve been on Facebook, Instagram, and I’ll do live performances on there. The other day I had Norah Jones with me, and we did Angel Eyes together. You’ll just see stuff that we’re posting. We’ll see about shows in the future, but we just don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s one of those things where you just watch as we go.