Every so often a new singer emerges who's able to assimilate multiple musical touchstones and still come off sounding remarkably fresh and unburdened by the past. Kandace Springs is one of those artists. The 27-year-old, Nashville-based singer, songwriter and pianist counts such stylists as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Roberta Flack and Norah Jones as her heroes, but as evidenced by her sparkling full-length Blue Note Records debut, Soul Eyes, Springs mimics none of them.
Instead Springs allows her comely alto to become a conduit that touches upon soul, jazz and pop while transforming those aforementioned influences into a personalized sound that reveals itself effortlessly. "The artists who have inspired me the most all sang so naturally," Springs says. "That helped me find my own sound."
Springs' journey to discovering her uniqueness didn't happen overnight. In fact, her 2014 self-titled debut EP had a decidedly contemporary R&B/hip-hop bent with production by Pop & Oak (Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Miguel). The EP was incredibly well-received and led to TV performances on Late Show With David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, as well as appearances at the Afropunk and Bonnaroo festivals.
As amazing an experience as that was, as Springs got ready to record her album she couldn't shake the feeling that she wasn't yet singing her true self. Conversations with her longtime producers Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers led to soul searching and rethinking her musical direction. Eventually Springs returned to a more spacious, organic sound that channels her earlier jazz influences as well as her Nashville upbringing.
Also during this period, Springs attracted the attention of Prince, who heard her makeover of Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" on the website Okayplayer. The music icon invited her to perform with him at Paisley Park for the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain. "He encouraged me a lot before I recorded this new record, especially during the time in which I was trying to figure out my sound," Springs says. "He told me that I needed to do what comes naturally to me. He was absolutely right."
For Soul Eyes, Springs continued working closely with Rogers and Sturken, but they also recruited Grammy-winning producer Larry Klein (Lizz Wright, Melody Gardot, Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock) to help the singer bring out her distinctive artistic traits. "Larry wanted me to be free in the studio," Springs recalls. "I've been through a lot of other sessions in which the producer tries to take control of your sound. Larry was just like, 'Go in and play what you feel.' That ultimately led to the best outcome; he captured this record perfectly."
Klein praises Springs as a "natural." "In this era, in which flash and hunger for fame is often equated with talent, she's that rare person who sings and plays because that is what she needs to do in life," he says. "When I first heard Kandace, I was sold after hearing one song. Her smoky voice coupled with a sense of phrasing way beyond her years, and her angular way of accompanying herself on piano grabbed me right away."
"This new record is just right where it should be," attests Springs, who draws much of her inspiration from her father, Scat Springs, a respected session singer in Nashville. It was due to him that Springs 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
It wasn't until later that a friend of her father's sparked something deeper in the young musician by giving her 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.'"
Now as Springs continues to develop as singer and songwriter in her own right, she'll surely win over many other hearts. "I would like to be known as one of the younger people that are keeping jazz and soul alive and vibrant, "she says. "I love the realness of jazz and soul."