Theo Kandel’s Spotify bio reads, “post-sadboi singer-songwriter, back with a vengeance.” Though, you wouldn’t really think he was a sadboi by talking to him. He’s upbeat, quick to laugh, and his passion for writing songs permeated our entire conversation. Originally from New York, Theo moved to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt and has since stayed in town, carving out a name for himself within the indie-pop scene in East and beyond. He recently released Love and Other Complaints, Vol. 3 on all streaming platforms. I got on the phone with him to discuss his music, his influences and the pop scene in Nashville.
Your latest release, Love and Other Complaints Vol. 3, came out in early September. Is there any type of throughline that you’re trying to draw between the other two volumes? I kind of got this sadboi self-reflective vibe going across all three, but is there anything else?
Yeah that’s something I’ve been trying to figure out myself honestly. Because even though all of the volumes have the same name and share some common themes, they really each stand on their own musically.
I created the Love and Other Complaints project because I wanted to just have a project where I could make whatever I wanted, if that makes sense. I wanted to try out new sounds and ideas on each volume. The first one was really electro-folk inspired, like Bon Iver or Shakey Graves-type music, while the second one was much more of a traditional folk kind of sound, with a lot more acoustic instruments. This third one is really more of an indie rock vibe.
I guess really what it came down to is that I enjoy making different types of music and wanted to use the project as a space to do that.
I guess if there’s one thing you can draw across all three is I hope you can see the throughline with my writing. Basically, I want people to listen to all three volumes and think, “That’s still a Theo Kandel song.” I can experiment and change around the production aspects, but I really want everything I release to be a thought out and well-written song. I hope my voice comes through, both literally and through the writing.
Is there a story about “Around the Bend?”
I wrote “Around the Bend” during quarantine in March. I’m not a huge fan of quarantine songs to be honest, so I didn’t really try to make it a “quarantine song” but it just kind of came out that way. Basically the song is about finding purpose in the futility of it all.
I started with this idea of maybe I should write a song that shits on people, but I actually ended up writing a song that shits on myself (laughs). A lot of it revolves around trying to juggle feelings of jealousy and respect that I have toward people who might be more along in their musical careers than I am, or might have things more together in their lives than I do. The song is almost me saying to myself, “Look at yourself you idiot” and “you keep telling yourself that good things are right around the bend, but you gotta do better.” I don’t know, it’s almost likeboth songs on the EP are kind of like little journal entries that became songs.
Is “Little Shifts” kind of the same way? Like a little journal entry that became a song?
Kinda, yeah, except this one was a lot less depressing (laughs). That song was inspired when I rearranged my room, called my friends and made this delicious steak for myself and it made my day so much better. So the idea is that those little shifts in your day can really make your day, and even life better. You can still change those small things in your life to really improve how you view the world.
You’re originally from NYC but went to college and have tried to build a music career in Nashville over the past couple years. Is there a huge difference between the music scenes in Nashville and New York? And do you try to draw inspiration from both places?
Yeah, there’s definitely a big difference between the two for sure.
New York, while it can be collaborative, is kind of different. Nashville is special in that you can go to different events and just jump into a co-write and just do stuff with a bunch of different people. Everyone’s cool and open to working with other people so the community of artists is really open while also being super tight. Nashville is good in that way. Everyone really just cares about writing good songs together. It’s about the songwriting part of it, which I really value. You can focus on the song at its rawest and do the other stuff later, and the community really supports that way of thinking about it.
New York is much more a solo, independent-streak type place. I’m super thankful for the time I spent in New York because it really helped shape me as an artist, but you’re definitely more on your own in New York than you are in Nashville.
That being said, New York is probably where most of my musical influence comes from. When I think of New York I think of the folk revival of the 60s. I try to stick to that inspiration I got from New York and keep it with me as I go to Nashville.
Speaking of musical influences, you mentioned folk in the 60s, what are some of your other biggest musical influences?
So yeah, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor were always artists I grew up listening to as a kid and have had a huge influence on my writing and how I approach being an artist.
As I continued to make music, I’ve been more influenced by sonic styles of newer artists, like Bon Iver and even Shakey Graves to an extent. I respect and love Maggie Rogers. I just think it’s so awesome what she does. It’s hard to explain, but she writes her songs in a way that you can play the songs on an acoustic guitar and they have that gravity of being really fucking good songs but they’re also produced in a way that’s accessible to anyone.
Another guy that’s been super influential recently is Ruston Kelly. His music introduced me to kind of a pop punk way of looking at things. Like how simple it is from a songwriting perspective. There’s no frills or bells and whistles on any of his stuff. It’s kind of a mix between Pop Punk and Earnest Hemmingway if that makes any sense (laughs). Recently, I’ve been trying to strip away and be more honest, and that way of looking at songs has been super helpful. I’ve also been trying to write like you’re having a conversation with someone. Phoebe Bridgers is kind of like that too, so she’s definitely up there right now in terms of influences.
Are there any other musicians in the Nashville music scene that you find yourself listening to a lot?
Dylan Rockoff is a super nice guy and awesome artist. Ben Kessler is a great friend of mine. He definitely has a different style than me, but he does it himself and it’s awesome. Tyler Dial. His music is super accessible and super good, and the instrumentation is like… pure. Writing with him has been super fun. Aly Lakhani (Lackhoney) is another guy who’s totally different from me stylistically but I love working with. We actually have a song coming out together in November with Nate Banks and Dirty Rice, so I’m super excited for that. The Brook and the Bluff guys I’ve met only a couple times but are super awesome and make awesome music. Stephen Day, Jordy Searcy, I can keep listing guys (laughs). Justin Johnson is my producer who’s awesome to work with. Oh, and Jarren Blair makes some fuckin’ awesome music. I went out on a mini tour pre-COVID and he played keys for me and it was a great time.
Do you notice any changes in the music scene since you’ve been here?
I think when I first got here in 2015, there wasn’t a ton of Pop. It was there, but it’s not as thriving as it is now for sure. Obviously there was always country, but in some ways I think country has kind of influenced how the pop scene came to be in Nashville. Writers here maintain country songwriting and kind of use Pop production, so you get this unique pop sound that’s coming out of Nashville.
There’s also this alt pop scene that’s growing which is super cool with people like Taylor Noelle and Jordy Searcy.
I think a really cool development with the Nashville scene is that people are realizing that the writers here can be used for more than just country, and because of that they’re making really awesome pop and indie stuff. If you look at songs that are big now that aren’t, I don’t know “Tik Tok big”, there’s this type of confessional pop music that has some substance to it emotionally and lyrically. They might be produced in a typical or mainstream way, but the songwriting is really deep and Nashville is definitely a part of that.
Do you have new music coming out?
[Love and other Complaints] Volume 4 is coming in the next few months. I don’t have a set release date yet, but what I have so far is definitely the best example of how I want my music to sound. The production on that has been super fun to work on. I’m also planning a collaboration project sometime soon, though once again I don’t have a release date. It’s going to be good to work on and release music with other people.