Kandace Springs

by Carl Wiser

On crafting songs, recording with a live band, and telling the stories of Billie, Ella, and Nina with her intriguing covers album.

Prince famously said that Kandace Springs has "a voice that could melt snow," but it was another endorsement that caught our ear. Daryl Hall - an impeccable tastemaker - is a big fan; he's had her on Live From Daryl's House and has brought her on tour to open for Hall & Oates.

Signed to Blue Note, Springs is a young singer with an old soul. Her first EP, released in 2014, earned her appearances on Letterman, Kimmel, and Fallon, and a spot on Bonnaroo. She was heading in a contemporary R&B direction, but when she played jazz standards for Prince at Paisley Park, he encouraged her to follow that path, keeping the focus on her voice with minimal production.

Over her next two albums - Soul Eyes in 2016 and Indigo in 2018 - Springs developed as a singer, songwriter and bandleader, finding her voice in classic jazz stylings. In 2020 she released The Women Who Raised Me, her distinctive take on songs made famous by the singers she grew up listening to: Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Roberta Flack. Springs is hoping not just to share their songs but to tell their stories - she did extensive research on the singers leading up to it.

Here, Kandace gives her take on some of the classic songs she covered and some from her previous albums she had a hand in writing.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): When we asked Daryl Hall what was the hardest part about writing a song, he said it was living through the experience that causes the song to be written - the writing is easy for him. What's the hardest part about writing a song for you?

Kandace Springs: Well, my lyrics come second when I write a song, and they just seem to flow out. The hardest part is just getting started! I just wait until I hear a piano riff running around in my head, then I sit down and play it and the rest starts to flow. I never make myself sit down and write.

Songfacts: Of the songs you've had a hand in writing, which is most meaningful to you?

Springs: I would probably say "Simple Things," which is on my second album, Indigo, but I actually wrote it almost 10 years earlier. My dad1 helped with it, and then he sang on an early demo of it. He's a great singer, but he had a stroke a couple of years ago, so his voice is still coming back. But we used his vocal from the demo on the record, and I was really glad that we were able to do that.

Songfacts: What's your approach when you do a cover song?

Springs: I always try to find a different way to do it than anybody else has. I figure if I just do it like the original, then people would rather go listen to the original. I mean, I'll never be a better Nina Simone than Nina Simone! I just have to find a way to be me.

I have a jazzier style than most R&B and pop singers, and a more R&B style than most jazz singers, so somehow it usually just comes out like only me!

It's not just a prop: Springs loves working on cars, especially hot rods.

Songfacts: "Killing Me Softly With His Song" was made famous by Roberta Flack and later by Fugees. How did you create your own unique rendition?

Springs: I knew there was no way I should do a "straight" version similar to the original, or one that sounded like the Fugees - that would just sound like a ripoff. So we searched for something new. It has a double-time beat, but the chorus actually goes twice as slow as the verse. My band had a hard time understanding what to do! But it felt great when we finally got it.

Songfacts: You close out The Women Who Raised Me with "Strange Fruit," a very visceral song popularized by Billie Holiday. Please tell us why you took on this song and what it's like performing it.

Springs: I've actually been performing it for years live, but only occasionally - it's got to be the right kind of show and the right moment. It's always an emotional experience doing it, but I'm always glad afterward that I did. On the album, we tried it a number of ways with the band, but we ended up going back to me doing it solo like I always do.

Songfacts: What drew you to "I Can't Make You Love Me"?

Springs: Oh man, I've been doing that song since I used to play at the lounge at the Marriott in downtown Nashville as a teenager. I heard it as a kid driving around in the car with my mom, and it's always been one of my absolute favorite songs. I don't think there's a more emotional lyric anywhere. It moves me every time.

Songfacts: "Forbidden Fruit" is a classic heartbreaker. What inspired that song?

Springs: We wanted to write a song with a minor Brazilian feel, like "Manhã de Carnaval." We started playing a groove, and the words to the title just came out, they seemed to fit. And then we filled in the storyline.

Songfacts: What's the story behind the song "Novocaine Heart"?

Springs: We wrote it at a time when there was a lot of turmoil in the country, and we wanted to express how we felt. We were remembering songs like "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" by Gil Scott-Heron, and that got us inspired. It's really about staying aware of what's going on, and not just being complacent.

Songfacts: Some of your best work comes from recording live with your band, but these days music is often made on computers and assembled in pieces. How are you adapting?

Springs: Through the years we've made music in a lot of different ways, experimented with drum loops and stuff. It can be a fun way to do things. But when I went out and started playing the music live with my band, I knew that's how I really wanted to hear it. And ever since, we've been making the records with a live band. That's the real me.

Songfacts: What was the most important part of your musical upbringing?

Springs: My dad is a great singer. He's sung behind Garth Brooks and tons of artists in Nashville. So when I was 10, I told him I wanted a piano, and he got one for me and really encouraged me to play, and then to sing as well. I simply wouldn't be here today doing what I do without him.

Songfacts: It feels like we're at a crossroads in history of the sort many of the Women Who Raised You faced when they recorded these classic songs. What's your strategy moving forward with your music?

Springs: I really learned a lot about the lives of all these women - Billie, Ella, Nina, and all of them - when I made this album, and it's really inspired me to keep their stories alive. I want to keep reminding people of the greats, and how hard their lives were compared to today. They paved the way for me, and I'll always be grateful for that. So playing their music will always be a part of what I do.

November 18, 2020

More at kandacesprings.com

More interviews:
Tanita Tikaram
Kate Davis
Laura Mvula

photos: Robby Klein

Footnotes:

  • 1] Scat Springs, a renowned session singer in Nashville who led The Scat Springs Band (back)

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