(This article was written for Montreal Rampage)
I was driving back from work the first time I heard Kandle Osborne’s voice. Her song “Not Up to Me” was played on CHOM-FM, and I was drawn to her rich, soulful voice that seemed to belong to someone who’s lived life to the fullest, and has tales of wisdom to sing about. Little did I know that voice belonged to a sweet 24-year old girl, for whom music was a relatively late calling in life.
And that in itself is more than little surprising. As the daughter of 54-40 frontman Neil Osborne, you’d expect her to grow up with a guitar in her hands. “It actually happened pretty late”, she told me on the phone, in a perky voice that conceals the power with which she belts out her music. “I didn’t start playing guitar until I was about 15, and it wasn’t even my full passion at the time; I just enjoyed it. And when I was around 16 or 17, I started a band with my sister and a friend of ours (singer/songwriter Louise Burns), where I was mostly just writing and playing guitar. I didn’t feel like singing: I wasn’t a very confident singer, I wasn’t a very good singer; I was just playing. But I became more and more into it, and attached to music, and when our band didn’t work out, I told myself that is what I want to do. So at that point I became very determined to make it on my own, and I started working very hard at finding my voice and singing my own songs.”
It was around that time that she recorded an EP, enlisting the help of guitarist Sam Goldberg (Broken Social Scene). “I brought Sam to play on the EP because I really liked his style. And it wasn’t even until after the EP came out that I thought I could do this for real.”
Goldberg, who resides in Montreal, told the singer that if she ever found herself in town, they could play some shows together. “So I was like “Ok!” and then I moved to Montreal and formed the band. (laughs) So he didn’t really know what was coming!”
Starting a new band with her at centre stage meant that she also had to overcome a major case of stagefright. “With my first band, I wasn’t fronting the band, I just played guitar and sang a few harmonies. Being able to play kind of in the shadows on stage for years really helped, so I got comfortable on stage with the pressure of everyone watching me. That really helped, and then when I started the band with Sam, when we did our first show, I didn’t tell anybody that I’d never done this before! So I tried to convince myself and other people that I’d done it a million times, and faked it until I made it. Every show is easier, and after a year of doing it, I was like “OK, it’s not so scary, and it’s kind of fun!”
Playing guitar may have been a late calling in life for Kandle, but I was able to gauge just how important it is to her now. When I asked her if she played guitar on the album, she answered with a boisterous “Oh yeah!” She’s often seen on stage playing her favourite 60’s Harmony Stratotone but it’s not the one on which she learned to play. “I actually had (it) stolen last year at one of my shows. It was just heartbreaking! The police wouldn’t even help; I found it on Ebay, and it had my name carved into it, and a blood splatter from when I cut my hand during a show: I could completely prove it was mine! But they wouldn’t help me and said it was all circumstantial. The guy sold it to someone and I never saw it again. I did buy another one of the same model… but it’s not the same! It’s not, but it’s close.” (laughs)
The songs on her first full length album “In Flames” are dark and brooding, and seem to come from a place of sorrow and pain, so I wondered what inspires her. “You may have noticed I never write when I’m happy!” she says, laughing. “Every song is usually sad or angry. For me, writing is therapeutic, so if I’m worried about someone, for example, that’s when a song like “Not Up to Me” gets written, or if I’m just angry or sad or distressed in any way, I usually find myself picking up a guitar and writing about it. I find myself writing about people a lot.”
Those feelings don’t last until the studio, but Kandle says they live on in the songs. “I’m no longer angry or upset when I’m recording it, but I still feel it,” she explains. “I love that I can turn something negative into something positive in the creation of music, and that I can make a song out of it that people like and want to listen to, and they can relate to it. The feelings of anger or whatever aren’t really there anymore, but the overall feeling and the message of the song is.”
There’s also a vintage vibe in her music, like a cross between noir and 60’s psychedelia, that would make it feel at home in a Quentin Tarantino movie. “Obviously, growing up in a musical family I was always listening to different things. All the classic rock ‘n roll from the Beatles to the Stones, Neil Young. I love Tom Waits and Nick Cave. I really love movie soundtracks too; I have all the old western soundtracks like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, all the Bond theme songs, and all that kind of stuff. You never know exactly where your influences fit into your music.”
The “Demon” video, with its black and white look and strange imagery, seems also inspired at least in part by Tarantino’s movies, so I wondered if that was intentional. “Absolutely! Big one! But believe it or not, that video wasn’t my idea. The director and I just really agreed, and we were on the same page.”
When composing, she’ll sit down with her guitar, write down her songs with pen and paper, or even dictate ideas into her iPhone to pick up on later. She’ll later demo the ideas on her computer so she can share them with Sam Goldberg and the rest of the band. “When I was making demos I would just record them in GarageBand, but you can only take it so far. If I wanted to bring them to Sam so he could work on his parts, we couldn’t do it because it was crappy GarageBand! So I finally just started learning Pro Tools and, oh my god, it’s amazing! I can record properly, and send it to the band; oh, it’s nice. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m learning!”
I hear “Not Up to Me” and her second single “Demon” regularly on CHOM-FM, but that’s not to say that she’s finding an easy path to success. “If it wasn’t for CHOM I’d be probably living on the streets!” she blurts out. “Quebec is like its own country, isn’t it? And it’s really great that you can succeed here, and feel the support of the people and the community, but then you go even just to Toronto and they have no idea what we’re doing here. They have no idea who Jean Leloup is or Coeur de Pirate (who made a guest appearance on Kandle’s album); it’s like a completely different world here. And it’s just hard to translate the success of one place to another.”
In that context, is she thinking about her follow up album? “Yeah, I think about my next album all the time, and I’m always writing but I’m so broke and I don’t even want to consider it until this one’s paid off”, she candidly admits. “I’m in a bit of a weird place right now where we’re struggling to get any shows outside of Quebec. I don’t have a manager, don’t have money, I’m just trying to work through all of this, and take any opportunity I can. We’re nominated for a Juno now for best video, that’ll hopefully really help to get noticed in the rest of the country. I’m just going to take any opportunity that comes my way and keep fighting for a place in this horrible industry.” Could she use crowdfunding to make her second album happen? “I don’t know if the record company would approve,” she says. “But stranger things have happened.”
The Juno Awards will take place on March 15. Let’s hope that Canada (and the world) will take notice of Kandle, the sweet girl with the big voice.