Prince once said that Kandace Springs “has a voice that could melt snow.” The music icon heard Springs’ cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” online in 2014 and invited her to perform with him at Paisley Park for the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain, becoming a mentor to the young singer and pianist. Kandace’s 2014 self-titled EP turned even more heads and led to performances on Letterman, Kimmel and Fallon, as well as the Afropunk and Bonnaroo festivals. Okayplayer called her as “a vocal force to be reckoned with” and Afropunk dubbed her “a versatile and vital artist.”
Kandace’s 2016 debut album Soul Eyes presented an already remarkably mature artistic voice with an album that touched upon soul and pop while channeling her jazz influences as well as her Nashville upbringing. MOJO marveled at the album’s “sensuous vocals with minimalist yet elegant arrangements” while The Guardian raved that “she has a rare ability that can’t be taught – to sound like an old soul, just doing what comes naturally.”
Kandace draws much of her musical inspiration from her father, Scat Springs, a respected session singer in Nashville. It was due to him that Kandace grew up surrounded by music, and he encouraged her to take piano lessons after he watched her peck out melodies on the instrument when she was 10. Yet as a girl, she was equally interested in other creative outlets, especially visual art and, more unexpectedly, automobiles. “My dad gave me a Matchbox car, and my mom gave me a Barbie,” she says. “I drew a mustache on the Barbie and never played with it again, and I still have the Matchbox car.” (Her obsession with cars, which she collects, rebuilds, and resells, continues to this day.)
Something deeper in the young musician was sparked when she heard Norah Jones’ 2002 Blue Note debut, Come Away With Me. “The last song on the record is ‘The Nearness of You’ and that song really inspired me to learn to play piano and sing. It was just so soulful, simple and stripped down. That really moved me and touched me. It’s when I realized, ‘This is what I wanna do.’”
Kandace began gigging around Nashville, and eventually an early demo she recorded caught the ears of Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken, the production team who have written hits for Shakira, Christina Aguilera, and Kelly Clarkson, and are best known for discovering Rihanna as a teen and signing her to their production company SRP. Rogers flew to Nashville with an offer to sign Kandace. Still only 17 years old at the time she and her family decided that it wasn’t the right time to pursue a recording career, instead taking a job at a downtown Nashville hotel where she valet parked cars by day and sang and played piano in the lounge at night.
A few years later, Kandace was talking about going to automotive design school, but her mother suggested that she get back in touch with Rogers and Sturken. She instead moved to New York and started working seriously on new songs and demo recordings. She eventually landed an audition with Blue Note President Don Was at the Capitol Records Tower in Los Angeles, winning him over with a stunning performance of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (the original of which he had coincidentally produced).
If Springs’ latest album Indigo sounds like something new, that’s because it is. Simple while funky. Classic but contemporary. Straightforward in the way it breaks down complex ideas and genres. And, at the end of the day, undeniably human. That said, it isn’t quite a rebirth for the Nashville-born artist, who after stints living in New York and Los Angeles has returned back home to Music City. She’s long had that lithe and smoky voice and an intensely expressive mastery over the piano. For those paying attention, Kandace’s second album finds her unleashing what was there all along, all at once, for the first time.
For Kandace it boils down to a question that connects past to present: “What would Nina Simone do if she had the technology of today? You could never put Nina in a box—she would do a blues followed a classical piece, a jazz standard and then a Beatles cover. This LP took a lot of inspiration from that—it’s a mix of everything that I am.” Indigo offers a fairly plausible answer to that impossible query: songs that swirl classical composition with quiet-storm cool, jazz poise with hip-hop swing, tropical warmth with soulful depth, and earthen groove with airy psych. With all but two of the tracks here produced by the mighty drummer-producer Karriem Riggins—the living bridge spanning Oscar Peterson and Diana Krall to Erykah Badu and J Dilla—Indigo creates a vibe as familiar as it is previously unheard.
“I love crossing genres and the direction on Indigo was to marry all the different things to tell her story,” says Riggins. “It sounds organic because everything was built around the songwriting. She says so much on the piano, and her voice is amazing—it’s the focal point of the whole sound.”