Kandace Springs Is Nashville's Soulful Hidden Treasure

18 hours ago

When you think of Nashville, you probably think of country music. Soul and jazz? Not so much. But Kandace Springs is aiming to change that. In 2014, Springs was signed to Blue Note Records, which is known for recording the jazz greats like Herbie Hancock, Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk. Springs owned that warm classic jazz sound on her debut album, 2016's Soul Eyes. But with her latest album Indigo, out now, Springs is mixing it up and adding some lighter contemporary notes.

Growing up in Nashville, Springs was surrounded by more than just country music from the very start. Her father, Scat Springs, who sang back-up for the likes of Aretha Franklin, Donna Summer Chaka Khan and more, always exposed her to a wide spectrum of music.

"He would take me to sessions he would sing around Nashville all the time for a living. And that's how I grew up knowing him as only a musician," Springs says. "He got me into playing piano and singing and pushing me as I go."

Springs remembers when her father gave her CDs by Norah Jones, Roberta Flack and Nina Simone back in the day. She still considers those women her greatest influences.

When she started playing at bars in Nashville, Springs sometimes felt like the odd one out in a sea of country and Americana musicians. "I've made my place in what I do now," she says. And though she's traveled to other cities — most notably New York City — for her music career, no matter how far she roams, Springs asserts that Nashville will always be her home base.

"Nashville is my hometown, girl, my whole family is there," she laughs. "I need my sweet tea ... but I put the soul on it, too."

Springs spoke with NPR's Michel Martin about Indigo, growing into her own in Nashville and her love of classic cars and classical piano. Hear their conversation at the audio link and enjoy live versions of music from Indigo from NPR's studios.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Finally, today, when you think of Nashville, you probably think of country music - soul and jazz, not so much. But our next guest shows us maybe we should think again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOUL EYES")

KANDACE SPRINGS: (Singing) A soul, I'm told, can be both hot and hold.

MARTIN: That's the voice of Kandace Springs. As you can hear, Springs owns that warm, classic jazz sound. But in her latest album, "Indigo," she adds some fresh contemporary flavors.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T NEED THE REAL THING")

SPRINGS: (Singing) Still awake. And I'm feeling your scar start to fade when you're not in my arms every day.

MARTIN: When Kandace Springs came into our studios recently, she told me about the guidance she got from her musician father, Scat Springs.

SPRINGS: He gave me a Norah Jones CD, a Roberta Flack CD and a Nina Simone CD back in the day. And those are my girls right there. (Laughter) I listen to them. I was like, who is this girl? That's Nina Simone, baby - because she has such a raw tone. I was, like, so drawn to her and the way she played the piano. She plays classical and jazz to rock. And, you know, when you hear her, you know it's her. So that drew me in. And I started developing my own sound based off the influences that he gave me.

MARTIN: But growing up in Nashville, though, did you feel - I don't know - did you ever feel kind of odd woman out because of what you love and then what is, you know, all around you in the musical environment? Did you ever feel like odd woman out musically?

SPRINGS: All the time, yeah - still do, kind of, but (laughter) I've made my place in what I do now. But, you know, it's mostly like rock, country, Americana. And here I come playing like these cluster jazz chords or classical - they coming in, who's this girl? You know? Again, they'd be like, who are you? Why are you here? You're not in New York or something like that. And eventually, I did end up moving to New York later (laughter). And that was a good move to get me to where I am now.

MARTIN: But you're still in Nashville.

SPRINGS: I'm still in Nashville. That's my hometown, girl. My whole family's there. I - see, I got all country. I got my sweet tea. (Singing) Got to get my sweet tea, yeah.

But I put the soul on it, too.

MARTIN: (Laughter) See, I'm feeling now you want to sing. So let's just do that. So let's hear something from the new album, "Indigo." I want to mention you're here in studio. You're going to be playing piano. But why don't you introduce us to the folks who are going to be playing with you?

SPRINGS: I would love to. On my bass - my bass player is - his name is Chris Gaskell. And Connor Parks is on the drums.

MARTIN: So I think that you would like to play "Fix Me" first, right?

SPRINGS: We can do that. Sounds good.

MARTIN: OK. So let's play "Fix Me," and then we'll talk about it.

SPRINGS: (Singing) Oh, yeah. I got a problem. I can't let it go. Every time I walk away, I'm running back for more. I need a refill, just another hit. See, the more I drink of you, the thirstier I get knowing that I can't quit you. I can even lie caught up in this riptide, ripping me up inside. Wonder if I'm present. You're the drug I'm craving. Never know, explain it. I'm intoxicated, faded. And I'm so high. I could touch that whole sky when I'm with you, desperate. Killing me so slowly. Only you can fix me, fix me, fix me - fix me. Only you can fix me, fix me, fix me. Yeah. Four in the morning. Can't get you out my brain. I can't sleep. I'm in too deep, the sweetest kind of pain. I got it bad. I got a case of you. I can't quit you. I can't handle the things that we do. Oh, I can' quit you. I can even lie caught up in this riptide, ripping me up inside. Wonder if I'm crazy. You're the drug I'm craving. Never know, explain it. I'm intoxicated, faded. And I'm so high. I could touch the whole sky when I'm with you, desperate. Killing me so slowly. Only you can fix me, fix me, fix me - fix me. Only you can fix me, fix me, fix me. Yeah.

MARTIN: OK. So many things to talk about here. First of all, tell me about the song. Like, what - how did it come to you?

SPRINGS: First off, I love classical piano.

MARTIN: We can hear.

SPRINGS: (Laughter) Well, thank you. Appreciate it. Chopin is one of my favorite composers, and this piece is "Prelude In E-Minor No. 4." And we were just hanging out in the studio one day. And my producers and managers, they were like, hey, let's write a song over that. And we put a dope hip-hop beat over it, and it kind of turned into what it is now. So it's kind of a provocative song, almost like you're addicted to somebody, like you can't get enough of that person.

MARTIN: It is, but it also has like a gospel - 'cause, you know, there's the famous "Fix Me Jesus," too, you know what I mean?

SPRINGS: Yeah. Yep. Yep.

MARTIN: So it has a little sense of that. And also, I was hearing in the lyric, you know, when I miss you, doves cry, which made me think of Prince.

SPRINGS: The purple one.

MARTIN: Right?

SPRINGS: That was definitely a nod.

MARTIN: Was it a nod to him? OK.

SPRINGS: Yes, absolutely.

MARTIN: I understand that he took an interest in your career. Did you ever get a chance to work with him or play with him?

SPRINGS: I did, yeah. Actually, man, the best thing ever. He hit us up and wanted me to close his show at the "Purple Rain" 30th anniversary in 2014. I had just posted a video of my Sam Smith "Stay With Me" on YouTube. After, he's like, who are you? You're so beautiful. I want to make music with you. (Laughter) So next thing I know, I'm on a plane flying out there to Paisley Park in Minneapolis.

MARTIN: Wow. What did you learn from him?

SPRINGS: One of the best things he taught me, and same thing my dad - between him and my dad, I'd say they were like huge mentors growing up, you know - was to be who you are. And I really took that to heart. And one thing he'd always say is like, don't let the music cover up your voice too much 'cause it's all about tone and texture. And sure, you could do all the riffs and stuff in the world or have all the coolest sounds, but when you can just hold it down like Roberta Flack - he's like, you can be the Roberta Flack of your lifetime if you want it.

MARTIN: You know, speaking of being true to yourself, I was looking at the video for the new single "Don't Need The Real Thing." You're driving in a car. I think it's a woman who is playing your love interest. I was just curious about that choice. Is that a big statement? Are you making a big statement? Or is it just like that's who was available that day? Or, like, her hair was cute or whatever.

SPRINGS: We actually knew her pretty well. And she was down to do the shoot with us. So we got her. And I had my '65 Mustang. And yes, I currently have a girlfriend. And if anything, I want to like open up that world for other people that may be, you know, trapped or afraid to come out. Be who you are. Check this video out. It's OK. Love who you love. It's a human being. So love that person for who they are.

MARTIN: Speaking of the car, OK? Excuse me. Excuse me. What is that fabulous car?

SPRINGS: (Laughter) That one was a '65 Mustang.

MARTIN: And I understand - was that your car?

SPRINGS: That was my car, yeah - and several others.

MARTIN: Word is that you are, in fact, a legit gearhead and that you really do restore cars and that you actually do the work yourself.

SPRINGS: I do.

MARTIN: So if the singing thing doesn't work out, there's like a whole other side to Kandace Springs. OK. Well, congratulations on everything.

SPRINGS: Thank you.

MARTIN: Just, you know, just - what an interesting time in your life.

SPRINGS: Thank you. And we appreciate you having us here with you here. We're very grateful.

MARTIN: What would you like to go out on?

SPRINGS: I think we're going to do "Breakdown."

MARTIN: OK. That is Kandace Springs talking to us about her latest album, "Indigo." And we're going to hear Breakdown. Kandace Springs, thank you so much for talking with us. Thank you all so much for coming.

SPRINGS: Absolutely. Thank you, guys.

(Singing) Don't you break down on me. Don't you break down on me. If it's my turn to suffer, if it's my turn to pay, more than ever, you're my saving grace. Whatever it is, whatever it is, I don't need you now. I don't need you now. I don't need you now, baby. If I'm going to do this, if I'm going to do this - I'm going to need you now. I'm going to need you now. I'm going to need you now, baby. (Unintelligible). You don't even know the mess I've made.

MARTIN: If you would like to hear more of Kandace Springs, She performed a cover of Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," and you can hear it at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.