Vanderbilt alumnus and on-the-rise artist Theo Kandel speaks with The Hustler

Theo Kandel spoke with The Hustler about navigating Vanderbilt as an emerging artist and his career post-graduation.


Lydia Kennie

Theo Kandel performing on stage. (Photo courtesy of Lydia Kennie)

Sara West, Deputy Photography Director

It’s not often you find an artist whose music you can shuffle and every song sounds different, but Theo Kandel (‘19) does just that. One of my favorite qualities about Kandel is that he is constantly exploring his creative capabilities and creates a different sound with each release. Some songs, such as “Me & All My Friends Have Got the Blues,” have a slow, dreamy acoustic vibe, but others, such as his top song “Cheerios & Chocolate Milk,” are much more upbeat, folk-pop songs. I sat down with Kandel to learn more about his sound and what he’s been up to since The Hustler last spoke with him in 2019

Kandel shared that his path in music began at a very young age. A self-proclaimed “little orchestra kid,” he began playing violin at 4 and eventually picked up a guitar at age 12. 

“My sister was playing [a guitar], and I was like, ‘I feel like I should do that,’ and that led me to start writing music,” Kandel said. 

When deciding where to apply to college, he chose Vanderbilt to be close to the Nashville music scene. Despite not attending a traditional music school, he loved Vanderbilt because he was passionate about getting a quality education outside of music. While here, he pushed himself to explore all aspects of the industry, frequently doing co-writes with people in town. He shared that being a musician was challenging at Vanderbilt, but it is possible, and he encourages aspiring musicians to build community. 

“There wasn’t a lot of support from Vanderbilt itself for people trying to make it in the industry in a city where [music] is the biggest industry, and that was confusing for me,”  Kandel said. “But my advice is that you kind of have to do everything by yourself. You can’t wait for someone that already exists in the industry to give you help because no one has any incentive to help you unless you help yourself.” 

Kandel has come a long way since his Vanderbilt releases, and we spoke more about his current music. He mentioned his songs vary in style, but folk-style songwriting has always been at his core. His goal has always been to tell a descriptive story that isn’t cliché, with inspiration from artists such as James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Simon & Garfunkel. 

“The way I would want to describe my sound now and the way that I think it’s going is more folk singer-songwriter. Over the years, I’ve just experimented with different genres, which makes it tough to nail it down,” Kandel said. “A lot of the new stuff that’s coming out is way more based in that 1970s and 1980s era of folk.” 

Theo Kandel with a white background. (Photo courtesy of Moriah Ziman)
Theo Kandel with a white background. (Photo courtesy of Moriah Ziman)
(Moriah Ziman)

Kandel is definitely making a name for himself, having opened for the iconic John Oates and played a show at the Bowery Ballroom. He hopes to collaborate with some of his favorite artists in the future, such as Adam Melchor, Noah Kahan and Brandi Carlile. 

Outside of music, Kandel has recently found another passion: bowling. He began his first headlining tour on March 26 in Denver, Colorado, where he sold bowling-themed merchandise related to this newfound hobby. 

Kandel’s upcoming tour stops at The End on April 12, and he said he is extremely excited to return to Nashville.

“Like the recorded music, you can expect a good mix of genres [at the show],” Kandel said.“Some songs will be me and the band and will feel very rock-ish. Others are just me and the guitar and will feel folk and intimate.”