Kandace Springs Motors Forward

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Composer, keyboardist and singer Kandace Springs enlists trumpeter Roy Hargrove to play on her latest album, Indigo.

(Photo: Jeff Forney)

Kandace Springs isn’t the kind of performer most fans think of when they hear the phrase “Nashville-based artist.”

At a typical concert, decked out in elegant attire that complements the sophistication of her jazz-meets-soul aesthetic, she offers a vocal intonation rich and sultry on ballads, playful and improvisational at more sprightly tempos. Her singing is impeccable. Accompanying herself on piano, she sprinkles in sly quotes from the American Songbook, as well as elements from the classical repertoire.

The 29-year-old daughter of vocalist Scat Springs has been building an international fan base for a few years, and the release of Kandace’s new album, Indigo (Blue Note), is certain to expand her following.

Kandace’s house sits on a rural road, near a tiny, white-framed Apostolic church outside of Nashville. On this August afternoon, her neighbor’s donkey occasionally brays. Keyboards dominate her living room: vintage Rhodes and Wurlitzer suitcase-model electric pianos, a spinet and a nine-foot Baldwin concert grand. But model cars define the decor. These, too, are vintage, the kind of Revell products her dad might have collected when he was young.

A door opens from the kitchen into her garage, where her Corvette Stingray and MG, a replica of a ’52, are parked. “And over here,” she says, leading the way outside and to the backyard, “is a Jeep I just bought from Tanya Tucker. It’s got a four-inch TeraFlex lift, 37-inch tires, all the bells and whistles. It can go anywhere; I could drive it up a wall.”

Kandace is in her element, beaming as she shows off her fleet. Yet her love for music, particularly classic jazz, runs just as deep. How do her two passions coexist? Do they fulfill different needs in her life or somehow run parallel to each other?

“They’re both art projects,” she answers. “Cars are art on wheels. My dad gave me a Hot Wheels car when I was 3. My mom gave me a Barbie. I played with it a little bit and then I was like, ‘Do I really have to?’ So I set the Barbie aside—but I still have that little Matchbox car.

“Cars are like music, too, in the way they sound,” Kandace continues. “I love exhaust systems. They sound so good. And when I’m cruising down the road, it’s like therapy for me. Say I’m working on a new song. I’m looking at something that maybe wasn’t there a while ago. I’m building on it. Then I have another artist come in to produce. We put it out on iTunes or a CD. When I hear it playing back on the radio for the first time, it’s like hearing a car I’ve been working on run for the first time. Watching how people react when they hear me perform a song I wrote is like watching people turn their heads when I drive by in a car that really looks different to them.”

Her father gave her a lot more than that fateful toy car. He instilled in her an awareness of music and of her gift for being able to express herself through it. When Kandace was growing up, Scat worked in the studio as a backup vocalist for Aretha Franklin, Brian McKnight, Chaka Khan and other headliners, and he did voice-over work for radio spots. At night, he rocked Nashville clubs with his own band as one of the city’s most energetic and entertaining performers.

Still, it took awhile for the lesson to sink in. “I wasn’t dreaming of music as I was growing up,” Kandace recalls. “But I certainly knew what it was. My dad started taking me to gigs and to the studio when I was maybe 5 years old. He’d do a jingle session or a festival or kill it at someone’s wedding, which was just normal for me, like, ‘That’s my dad. This is what he does.’”

But cars, sports and drawing were her priorities until the day that Scat decided to do a favor for a friend who had fallen into hard times and had to move his family out of their place. “They had an upright piano, probably a hundred years old,” Kandace recalls. “My dad offered to keep it for a while. He helped move it in. It was dusty and had keys missing. My mom was like, ‘Get this thing out of our house!’ But I remember the first time I saw it, after waking up and coming downstairs. To me, it was beautiful.”

A precocious child, Kandace immediately began picking out tunes. “One day, this commercial came on with Moonlight Sonata playing in the background,” she says. “My dad has a really strong ear; he has perfect pitch. So, when he overheard me using my ears to try to find the key and play it back, he came over and started playing it in his ghetto way.”

Kandace laughs at the memory. “He made stuff up because he didn’t know the whole piece. I played it back really quick and he said, ‘This ain’t normal! Baby girl, you want lessons?’ I said, ‘Uh, I guess so.’”

So, he called one of his good friends, guitarist Regi Wooten of the Wooten Brothers, who played keys as well. “I went to his apartment,” Kandace says. “He had all these old guitars, posters and stuff from all over the world. He also had a beatbox and this little-ass Casio with 64 keys or something like that. The first song he showed me was ‘Soul Train’; I didn’t read music yet, so I played by listening. Regi called my dad and I played it over the phone. Pops was so happy—he started laughing his ass off!”

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September 2019
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