When you hear Kandace Springs sing, you may have the same reaction Prince had: you’ll want to hear more. Twin Cities audiences will have the chance Thursday night at the Dakota Jazz Club, which has a special significance to the Nashville native touring behind her new album Soul Eyes (Blue Note Records).
My first encounter with Springs was at Paisley Park, where she performed in 2014 at the invitation of Prince — on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the release of Purple Rain, no less. On her way to town, Springs called The Current to talk about her music and our hometown hero, who said Soul Eyes captures her spirit perfectly.
I understand your music career started when you took interest in a piano you had in the house — and you were inspired by Norah Jones. Do you think she inspired other singers of your generation?
I think she has, for sure, yeah. I know she did for me, and what really inspired me is that she didn’t have to use a lot of gimmicks or anything to make her sound good. She’s just herself, you know? Very stripped-down. On her first album, it’s not overdone or anything — it’s just about her voice. That was inspiring for me as a young woman: seeing her just be herself, playing piano and sounding great.
Who are your biggest piano influences?
The Wooten Brothers taught me how to play piano. They’re incredible, world-famous musicians. Victor Wooten was rated the number one bassist in the world for several years. They live in Nashville, and they’re funk/soul guys, but they taught me my first jazz chords and got me into listening to jazz: Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson. Oscar Peterson’s probably my favorite jazz pianist. Bill Evans, also. I also play a lot of classical, too, and my favorite classical is definitely Chopin. I always play, in my shows, a couple segments of Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu. I also play an Oscar Peterson piece at the beginning of the show.
You’re coming out of what’s traditionally thought of as a country town, but you came out with a pop/R&B sound.
Yeah. That’s because my father is a singer in Nashville: his name is Scat Springs, and he’s one of the greatest singers you’ll ever hear. I’m not just saying that because he’s my dad — he legit is. He’s sang backup for everyone from Aretha Franklin to Chaka Khan, Brian McKnight, Michael McDonald. Even all the country stars know him, too. Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Faith Hill, the Judds, all of them.
He’s a soul guy, though. He grew up singing in his church — gospel music — [but] in the house, [when I was] growing up, he’d be playing Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, Luther Vandross, Ella Fitzgerald. I was kind of in that world, just automatically. It was a country town, but I was sheltered in a soul world. He was a session singer, big time, so sometimes he’d take me to the sessions to watch him record. “You can do this one day too, baby!” I was like, that’s so cool. I’d go to his shows and seeing him play live.
I grew up not seeing people use [AutoTune] and stuff like they use now — loops and stuff like that. I’ve always seen the more raw stuff, so that’s what appeals to me naturally. More organic music.
After having a more heavily produced pop/R&B sound on your first EP, you’ve moved towards having a jazzier, more soulful sound on your new album.
Yeah, definitely. Prince was actually one of the guys that sort of harassed me to go back to the more organic thing, too!
I understand you first made contact with Prince when he started sharing your music on Twitter, and then sent you a direct message.
He sure did! We posted a clip of me on the piano, doing my little arrangement of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me.” We posted it on YouTube, and the next thing we know, Prince retweets and I see pop up on my notifications that he said, “This is all you need — listen to this.” I was like, whoa! He direct messaged me, saying, “Who are you?” He was saying that all my dreams are going to come true, and he wanted me to come play with his band and invited me to come close his 30th Purple Rain anniversary [performance] back in 2014. I was like, “Hell yeah!”
What was that experience like — playing at Paisley Park?
Mind-blowing. There’s a lot of respect. It was really cool — like family, you know? We got in there and played with 3RDEYEGIRL, then we moved out to the other room with the New Power Generation quartet. I played with them; did my more R&B/hip-hop set. It was cool, but the new music — this is where I’m at. I actually got to play [Prince] my new album before he passed away: on my birthday this year, Jan. 18. He was like, “This is it. This is who you are.”
So this January was the second time you came to visit Paisley Park?
Yeah. He invited me to come out and just chill. We’d been in touch — like, with e-mail — at least a few times a week. Sharing music and stuff like that, jokes. He’s a really funny guy. He was like, hey, let’s hang out this weekend! I’ll pick you up; it’ll be fun. So he flew me out, literally last minute. I get there on the 17th, and he picked me up at the airport with his driver. I played him the album, and he was like, “Oh my god, I love this.” His favorite was the fifth song on the album, “Novocaine Heart.” And he liked “Rain Falling,” which is the last track — it’s one that I wrote when I was 16 years old.
Then on the 18th, he was like, “I love this album. This is great.” We actually got into the studio for a second at Paisley Park and messed around with a few tracks. I played on the Rhodes [synthesizer] a little bit, and he played drums and laid down some [tracks]. Of course, it’s going to be really hard to get that music now, but I have little recordings on my phone.
Maybe some day they’ll emerge from the vault.
I know! That would be cool. He has an analog recording studio, so he was trying to show me how to use that — like old-school. Dope.
I hear you also went biking. That must have been in 2014, since I’m guessing you probably wouldn’t have gone biking in January.
Yeah! We both had our afros out. Right after the show he took me to the back, and there were four bicycles. He had two cruiser bikes and two mountain bikes. I hopped on one and he hopped on the other, and we were passing people while they were walking to their cars. It was awesome. Then we went across the street to a park and then rode back, and everyone was like, “Hey!” Did you ever hear about how he liked to rent the movie theater nearby?
Yeah — and actually, there’s a mural of Prince that’s been painted on the side of that theater, in honor of the fact that he loved going there.
Oh, wow! That’s beautiful. I’m so glad to hear that.
So you went there with Prince…was it just the two of you, or did other people go along?
Yeah, I went a couple times with him. The first time we went there was in 2014, and we went with his band and my manager, with 3RDEYEGIRL and the guys from the New Power Generation Quartet. We saw Lucy, with Scarlett Johansson. This year, we saw Ride Along 2, with Ice Cube and Kevin Hart. It was not a very good movie. It was just me and Prince on that one, and we were sitting in the back. The movie was just so bad, and he turns and looks at me like literally halfway through the movie, like, “Do you want to leave?” I was like, “Yeah, let’s go.” [laughs]
Sounds like a good decision. You only have so much time in Minnesota with Prince.
Yeah. One other thing I was going to share, since I’m playing at the Dakota Club in Minneapolis. That was actually the last place he took me: we went to see Living Colour, the band, play there. That was one of the other things that we did that weekend. It’s kind of crazy that now, eight months later, I’m headlining my own show there.
Was that a deliberate choice, when you were booking the tour?
My agent had no idea that I went there with Prince. He booked that for us, and I was like, “Oh my god, that’s where we went!” We were upstairs, in a little private area — he had that place reserved off and we watched from the upstairs in a little balcony. I’m just like, wow, now my band and I will be there. We’re going to go all-out for him at this show: [I’ll have] the jacket that he gave me, and I’ve got some paintings that some people have been giving me of him. We’ll have a display on the stage.
Are you working on any special musical numbers for the show, given the occasion and the location?
Yeah. One of the songs I’ve done already, but I want to make it richer, is “The Beautiful Ones.” That’s my favorite songs that he’s done, I really want to do that one. That’s going to be one of them, for sure. I draw, too, and in the video I’m drawing him in a time-lapse. It’s one of the videos I showed him before I flew out there — I sent him that video and he said it made him cry, and he’d love to have that drawing. I actually gave him that drawing, and the picture is still hanging in Paisley Park, in his lounge, to this day.
Then you’re heading from Prince’s hometown to your own: your next show will be in Nashville.
Yay! I miss home. Last time we played [in Nashville] we sold it out — and I didn’t expect so much love to show up! People came out of the woodwork to that one, a couple months ago. People were like, “I can’t get in!” They’re calling my phone, calling my dad’s phone, like, “Let us in!” I just didn’t expect that; it was overwhelming.
When this tour wraps up, what’s next for you? Time to start working on new music, or more tour dates?
More tour dates, as of right now. I’m playing a Blue Note club in China, and a Blue Note club in Tokyo. Doing Jools Holland, a TV show in the UK, and we’ll be doing a European tour after that as well.