Rising alt-pop singer / songwriter Theo Kandel has just released his brand new single 'Anaconda Hearts', following 'i don't wanna think about that' earlier in the month.
Photo: Nathaniel Clayton
Both tracks are taken from his forthcoming concept album 'Spin Cycle' - a six-track collection which is equally vulnerable as it is highly unique. Penned about the emotional aftermath of a relationship, it traces the storyline of a breakup. Out June 18th, 'Spin Cycle' is musically complex, layered, and blends a variety of instrumentation that creates a special alchemy; a sonic fingerprint that directly identifies Kandel. Accompanying each song from the EP will be a companion music video to further elevate the senses.
Currently engaging nearly 107k followers across social media platforms, Theo Kandel is an eclectic and introspective artist of the modern age.
We had the opportunity to get to know more about Theo and chat with him about the new releases...
Tell us a little about yourself!
"I'm Theo Kandel - the best way to describe me is an alt-pop singer-songwriter; a genre bender of sorts. I grew up in New York City and moved to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt – I stuck around Nashville for two years since graduating in 2019, and now I'm moving to Los Angeles this summer. I think my story is kind of like throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. I'm always experimenting with genres, and in the last two years I've released anything from pop to rock to electro-folk to Americana, with as many micro-genres as you can think of filling in the gaps. I never really wanted to get tied down to one genre. The best artists and songwriters can't ever be pigeonholed, and that's a good thing – then people just appreciate their work as just good music. That's what it's all about for me at the end of the day – making plain old good music that people can find a little bit of themselves in."
When did you start making music?
"I actually started playing violin when I was 5; for a long time, I was one of those little orchestra boys (I probably still am), and violin has probably been the basis for my musical ear. You’ve gotta be so precise when playing the violin, and I think that meticulousness translated well into my songwriting. Once I started playing the guitar at 12, the songwriting just kind of happened. Not in a prodigious way or anything like that, but it just made sense to me to write down what I was feeling and make songs out of it. I’m definitely not the best at always saying to people exactly what I mean (re: 'Good Guy' from the EP) and writing songs has always been the best way for me to convey my emotions."
Where are you from and do you feel like your surroundings inspire your sound in any way?
"I’m from New York City originally, but I lived in Nashville for a bit before moving to Los Angeles (about a month ago actually!) I think my surroundings impact my music in super specific ways, but it ends up actually being the people I’m around that influence the music I make more than anything else. I treated my creative process for so long as a solo thing, and that kind of isolation can be like an echo chamber sometimes – I ended up getting frustrated and disappointed in the music I was making, rather than feeling inspired. Bringing my friends into the equation was the best thing I’ve done for my music – Justin Johnson and Ben Pleasant (the producers on the project) pushed me to expand not only the music I was making, but how I was making it. Plus, it’s just way more fun."
Who or what inspires you to make music?
"At risk of sounding like a pretentious artist, everything inspires me, from books I’m reading to visiting my grandparents, from sitting on airplanes to traveling around the world. The key – the extremely narcissistic, selfish key – is how I can translate that into my own experiences to say something that feels true to myself. It’s not that I think I have more to say, or better things to say than other artists and writers, but more so that I have no other way to say it than through my own music. I always have this nagging feeling in the back of my head that I should be writing a song about something, and often I don’t know what that something is until it comes out. It’s an ugly feeling sometimes, like I’m procrastinating a homework assignment and I’m behind, but a lot of the time it’s the impetus I need to get down to work."
Have you had a particular stand out moment in your career so far?
"I feel obligated to mention my mediocre level of Tik Tok success here – I had a few friends stay with me in Nashville last year, and we ended up making a bunch of bluegrass covers of pop punk songs. Our cover of 'Mr. Brightside' by The Killers popped off on Tik Tok, and Barstool actually ended up reposting it. I think a lot of people feel weird attributing some part of their success to a social media platform, but it’s really been the most helpful part of my career so far. There’s a whole world of people just waiting for something new, and hopefully our little dinky bluegrass covers gave people something they hadn’t heard before, or at least something fun."
You recently released your single ‘i don’t wanna think about that’! How has the reaction been so far?
"It’s been awesome! 'i don’t wanna think about that' is kind of the culmination of a lot of different music styles I’ve been incorporating into my music for some time, and it was sweet to see it all come together in a (hopefully) engaging track and music video. While it is a sad song (most of mine are), it’s a fun one – I’ve started referring to my music as “sad music with a smile,” and I think the music video reflects that too in some ways."
Tell us a little about your newest release 'Anaconda Hearts'!
'Anaconda Hearts' is definitely up there with some of my most experimental songs. I wrote it in 5/4 (for all the music nerds out there) and the goal that Ben Pleasant and I set out with was to make it an easy 5/4, something that you wouldn’t necessarily notice on the first listen but if you dig deeper it hits a bit harder. It was definitely a patchwork of a production process – we started with the chugging acoustic guitar and built it out from there. Our good friend Knowledge Brown recorded some saxophone for the track, and we chopped that up and harmonized it to make a kind of Bon Iver-type texture in the first post-chorus. From there, it was just a matter of weaving the right sonic tapestry (a bit pretentious, I know) to convey the message of the song and give people something that they hopefully haven’t heard before.
The song itself was inspired by a quote from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon – the line I drew inspiration from mentions an “anaconda love” – suffocating, mutually detrimental – and that was such an insane, vivid way to describe a relationship that I wrote it down and molded it from there. I had never written a song in 5/4 before, but one of my favorite artists, Shakey Graves, uses the meter in a bunch of his songs in an effortless way. I wanted to mirror that slightly off-kilter feeling in a relationship with the music but keep it something that people can really sink their teeth into. I got my good friend Shaan Ramaprasad to record the strings – he’s an incredible string player and has worked with Chance the Rapper and Mac Ayres – and that really added an extra level to the emotion of the track that we were missing before."
Was there an inspiration behind the accompanying visuals?
"I made all the videos with Trent Millspaugh and Gabe Drechsler – two unbelievably talented filmmakers in Nashville – and our goal was to create a visual companion to the EP that didn’t just recreate what the songs are about. Some of them are a little on the nose, namely 'I’m Not Happy (Either)' and 'Spin Cycle,' which I think works for those songs, but as a whole, the Spin Cycle Visual EP is an amalgamation of moments, kind of like how the songs are but with different moments. Most of the videos have some of my best friends in them, and I like that energy. So much of the EP is about feeling alone, but the videos are the counter to that in some ways – even if you feel alone, you’ve always got your friends when you need them.
Trent and Gabe really headed up the aesthetic of the visual project. Gabe has this real VHS cam, so most of the videos cut back and forth between the super crisp, high-quality digital shots and the grainier, more raw VHS footage. They’re really masters at what they do, so if you have the chance, check out more of their work!"
The single is taken from your upcoming concept album ‘Spin Cycle’ which is due out in June! Can you give us any hints about what we can expect from the release?
"Well, the whole EP is a visual EP, so there’s a music video for each song. I wanted the visual aspect to reflect the music, but not necessarily in a literal way. The EP is about heartbreak, about the cyclical, banging-your-head-against-the-wall aftermath of a split with someone you really care about, and while it’s definitely sad music, it’s a little hopeful. In a solidarity way, in an “oh, we’re all in this together, feeling the same s**t” kind of way. A lot of people have asked me if I’m okay after listening to the EP, and I am! It’s a diary in some ways, something to exorcize the demons running around in my mind."
Finally, what are your plans for the rest of 2021?
"I wanna tour! I wanna play some shows again for people, hopefully more people than pre-pandemic. I just moved to Los Angeles, so I’m trying to find where I fit into the music scene out here as well – Nashville was my home for six years, and I fell into a nice groove there, but you gotta keep moving, changing, exploring what else the world has to offer. Now that more and more people are getting vaccinated, it feels like this is the year to meet new people and reconnect with the ones I haven’t seen in a while."
'Anaconda Hearts' is out now.
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