Candice Hoyes is a vocalist, composer, archivist, and curator of a “chill-inducing range” (Vogue). The prolific singer and songwriter has been dubbed “an artist with the most eclectic and delicious voice ever” by JazzFM (UK) and is poised to “shape the artist-cum-activist role.” (NPR). With passion, grit, and talent, Candice Hoyes is a groundbreaking artist and activist that utilizes the power of her voice to unite people in a way that celebrates timeless stories of resilience.
Born to Jamaican parents, Candice gravitated towards music at a very early age. Influenced by jazz, 70’s and 90’s soul, and feminist icons such as Rochelle Forelle and Billie Holiday, she began penning and performing her own interpretations of these classics. Her powerful five-octave range and storyteller’s wit garnered significant recognition and she graced stages such as the 2020 NYC JazzFest, Detroit Symphony, and the Blue Note, as well as opened for the likes of Chaka Khan, Lalah Hathaway, and Lin-Manuel Miranda to name a few. In 2020, she won the inaugural NYC Women’s Fund for Film, Music, and Media. In addition to singing and songwriting, Candice is an honors graduate of Harvard University, where she studied Sociology and African American Studies, and Columbia Law School.
Candice’s latest EP Blue Lagoon Woman draws inspiration from her roots in Blue Lagoon, Jamaica. It embodies messages from generations past and the future. In 2020, she released “Zora’s Moon,” the first single of Blue Lagoon Woman. This jaunty retro-soul escapade received significant praise and is her response to this moment: an ode to Black girlhood.
In this exclusive interview in honor of Black Music Month, Candice talks about her musical and academic background, her Jamaican heritage, and the inspiration behind the creation of the musical masterpiece that is Blue Lagoon Woman.
Your recent project combines different mediums – in particular, poetry, jazz/r&b vocals, and film. How does weaving together a variety of art forms influence your work?
My recent EP is called Blue Lagoon Woman and it does weave together sampling, songwriting, certainly really rangy vocals, different textures, and even spoken word. I think that’s because I don’t really think always in terms of a format, musically. A lot of the time I’m just thinking about what is the story I want to tell. And making it a cinematic and a totally fully immersive, sensory experience. Sometimes that requires words, samples, beats, or projections. I like to draw from all of those. I think it makes the story more vivid and I don’t like to ever limit myself in how I tell my stories.
You highlight iconic Black literary figures in “Blue Lagoon.” How did you decide that this was the direction you would take your work?
It comes really natural for me to write about characters or passages from books because I love to read. I always have since I was little, whether it’s a book or a film. I’m very sensitive and I think once a character kinda gets under my skin, it feels like as real a person as someone that I might be in a relationship with or might know in real life. I have a very expansive imagination that sometimes absorbs me. It’s natural for me to write about something that I’ve read as something that I’ve actually had experience with in my own person. That’s just how my imagination is set up.
At what age did you first get involved in music, and what drew you to it artistically?
I first became musical as a child around age six. My mom got me piano lessons – thank God – and shortly, I’d say like six years after that, probably around adolescence, I really realized I have a powerful voice that can do lots of things.
I think I started to see myself living as an artist when I became introduced to certain vocalists through my grandfather. I discovered fascinating vocalists, like Sade, Rochelle Forelle, even Billie Holiday. These women were Black women so powerful and so free in their expression in a way that you don’t see much in pop culture. It piqued my curiosity and everything led from there.
“Jamaica has such a rich tradition of being a musical source of great musical innovation. There’s no aspect of pop music that’s not touched by Jamaican music.”
How does your connection to your heritage, and in particular your time spent in Jamaica, influence your evolution as an artist?
I feel like my time spent in Jamaica fills my imagination so much to this day. Even though as a child I grew up going to Jamaica a lot – which was such a gift for me – I never lived there. I’m a first-generation American. And, so, I think there’s a mystery there that I’ve always wanted to explore.
Of course, as a songwriter, that’s like one of the greatest magical powers that we have: we can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. We can depict a whole location, experience, time and place, and explore it with our voice. My heritage is always a source of inspiration and it’s always a source of longing for me that I love to pursue in music.
And of course, Jamaica has such a rich tradition of being a musical source of great musical innovation. There’s no aspect of pop music that’s not touched by Jamaican music. From dub, sampling, DJ culture, and all of those things. In many ways, personal and artistic, it’s just like a really big part of my life, my heritage.
What song are you most excited about from Blue Lagoon and why?
I’m really excited about all of the songs on the EP. Even having to narrow it down to just four already made me really focused on the energy and vibe that I wanted to put out. But, I would say “Waiting for the World (Tired)”. Not only because it has a really experimental feel, there’s a lot of different texture, but there’s a certain tension inside of it even though it has such a super-strong groove.
The lyrics come from a Langston Hughes poem that’s almost a hundred years old. And that’s what I think is a really awesome social experiment/statement. The poem rings as true now as it did a hundred years ago. It’s really about the frustration in the pursuit of social justice in a world where it too often feels like the global majority has been made to feel like a minority. Meaning, the people who have most of the power are not as deeply engaged in the struggle for justice. And it’s just a perfect poem, so I had a really good time making it my own.
If you had to choose one takeaway you hope your fans take from Blue Lagoon Woman, what would it be?
I think if I had to choose one takeaway for anyone listening to Blue Lagoon Woman, or drawing something about me from Blue Lagoon Woman, it would just be to be bold. I was able to tune in deeply to my journey and where I am right now, even with the total stress and trauma of the outside world and the pandemic. I was really able to dig into my roots and express my imagination that way. And I think – I hope – that inspires others who listen to do the same in their life in whatever they create.
Could you talk about some of your favorite female artists that have inspired you over the years?
I’d say historically Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, Lena Horne. All these women, my grandmother’s generation and before, but certainly contemporary women. I look up to Sade, Missy Elliott, Sheila E, Dolly Parton. So many great women who’ve been innovators, not just in front of the mic, or you know, on stage, but behind the scenes producing, writing, curating, and just being bad*ss.
“Any tool that you have as an artist, that makes you more clear and more specific in the way you express yourself, makes you a stronger artist.”
How has your time spent in academia and law affected your music?
Learning has always been in my life. As a student and as an eternal student of life. I’ve always had a sense of wonder and gratitude for everything that I’m learning and has kept me really open and able to look at things with fresh eyes, which is definitely helps as a musician.
Studying law definitely gave me a broader sense of human rights. It gave me a broader sense of the communities that extend across borders and a sensibility about the issues that matter the most to me. And how I can take agency to advocate for those issues, whether I’m volunteering or writing about a subject matter that’s controversial but really important to me. It helped me to have formed the ideas and the language around it to express myself.
Any tool that you have as an artist that makes you more clear and more specific in the way you express yourself makes you a stronger artist. So, I think it’s just helped me to articulate anything – the whole range of things that are on my mind or, like you know, sitting heavy on my heart.
You are involved in a variety of grassroots causes – could you speak a bit more on some of the organizations that matter most to you?
I’m involved in a few organizations. It’s really important for me to not be focused on music 24/7. I’m more interested in living a life as a whole person and having music as a focal part, but not the only thing that I’m cultivating. My community is a lot richer for being a part of these organizations: Lower East Side Girls Club and Mrs. Obama’s When We All Vote. The latter mobilize voting which, especially in the Black community and other communities disaffected, is political disenfranchisement.
Black Sanctuary Garden is an incredible Black feminist organization that I’m honored to be a part of. It gives me a lot more than I’m able to give. It pours into me. I’ve learned a lot that way through volunteering and organizing.
What can fans expect from you on future projects?
Fans can expect to see me always touring – I love playing live. I also love recording – I’m going into the studio again next month. I love releasing music and feeling the excitement, energy, and reaction around that. That communication with my audiences is really inspiring.
Also, always having these eclectic collaborations really moves me and just makes me feel like anything is possible. So, look out for more music, look out for an album, look out for more videos, and definitely, you know, follow me and connect with me online in any way that you choose. I always love to hear from you and hear how the music makes you feel.