Singer Kandace Springs on How a Tweet From Prince Changed Her Life

She performs from her debut LP, Soul Eyes, in Philly this weekend.

Photo by Mathieu Bitton

Photo by Mathieu Bitton

Usually when Kandace Springs talks about her friendship with Prince, she focuses on how he influenced her music, encouraging her to be true to herself and her sound. But there’s also the time they watched The Notebook.

“He would kick people out of the movie theater and just keep one employee there, to make popcorn. It would just be us two, with the entire movie theater to ourselves,” Springs says. “We saw Ride Along 2. Lucy. One time we watched The Notebook. He loved to watch movies.”

The sultry-voiced singer from Nashville reminisced about Prince on the phone from a hotel room in Japan, where she was just back from performing three songs on a TV show with 15 million viewers. It was the tail end of 40 days of touring for her debut LP, Soul Eyes, a jazz-infused mix of original songs and covers that you should be listening to right now in preparation for seeing her perform in Philly at South this weekend. Springs says she was on the path to becoming another overproduced R&B singer before Prince stepped in.

“Prince would harass me,” Springs says with a laugh. “He’d say, ‘Kandace, you play jazz. You are a jazz musician. You are the Roberta Flack of your generation.’ He would call my producers and harass them and tell them to stop making tracks like that.”

Soul Eyes is a return to the beginning for Springs, 27, who grew up playing piano and singing, guided by her father, the musician Scat Springs.

“I listened to Nina Simone, Eva Cassidy, Roberta Flack, Luther Vandross, Billie Holiday — all these really great musicians. I started playing piano when I was 10 years old. My dad said I should sing — he said if you sing you can make a career. But I didn’t want to,” Springs recalls. “My dad would make me and my sisters all get in the living and sing together like a little community choir. We would cry and throw fits.”

A few years later Scat gave her a copy of Norah Jones’s first record, Come Away with Me, and Springs changed her mind about singing. But instead of the jazz she’d been drawn to all along, Springs’s 2014 self-titled EP feels more R&B/hip-hop. And even though it led to appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman, the Tonight Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live, she wasn’t satisfied.

“I always wanted to make this record that just came out. It’s more organic. But people along the way told me that jazz music doesn’t sell anymore,” she says. “So I thought the only way I have a chance is if I do stuff with inorganic production. But Prince, and my father, convinced me to go back to jazz and soul and all live instruments. To capture the tone and texture of my voice, with minimal production.”

Prince had first reached out to Springs after hearing her cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” extending an invitation to perform with him at his home and recording studio, Paisley Park, for the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain.

“He messaged me directly on Twitter and I was like, ‘Is this really happening?’ He was saying ‘all your dreams are about to come true’ and then he asked me to come play with his band. It was unbelievable. But we became really good friends,” Springs says.

She last saw Prince in January, for her birthday. In the car on the way from the airport, he asked to hear Soul Eyes. “So I played it for him,” Springs says. “And he said, ‘Man, you did it.’”

Kandace Springs performs at South (600 North Broad Street) on August 5th and 6th.

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