Interview: A Conversation with Snoh Aalegra
The old adage of, “it takes ten years to be an overnight success”, springs to mind when learning about the journey of Snoh Aalegra. Singing from the age of seven years old, her burning desire to be an artist has not wavered in spite of numerous setbacks. From being involved in bad record deals, to losing her father in 2009, amongst other hardships, she has had to fight to keep her dream intact. Moving to Los Angeles to be closer to the hotbed of R&B talent, she found her way to No I.D. at ARTium Recordings, who has provided her with an environment where she can express herself creatively without the constraints of a major label. People may think that by working with him, she has had an easy ride, but such an assumption cannot be further from the truth. You need to be a special talent to work with a man who has consistently remained in the upper echelon of music production for over two decades. Snoh is not only a special talent, but an artist who is consistently in the pursuit of perfection. She has a sophistication and classiness within her music, operating on a higher level of artistry than many of her peer group, which she has been able to achieve from years of honing her craft. Inspired by the likes of Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, she is able to project her voice with a raw power, yet also possesses a soothing, silky falsetto, qualities which are found in abundance on her beautifully constructed debut album, ‘FEELS’. Collaborators on the project range from acclaimed MCs like Logic and Vince Staples, to behemoth beatmaker Boi-1da, and although they primarily have a Hip-hop background, Snoh maintains her ‘Cinematic Soul’ sound throughout the album. An incredible voice, coupled with goddess like features, Snoh is in a position to sing her own praises. However her belief in ‘Jantelagen’ stemming from her Swedish roots, keeps her grounded, an endearing trait for someone who is on the cusp of becoming a global household name in music. We had the chance to speak with her on her journey, inspirations, what she looks for in a producer, the importance of music, and more. Check out the interview below now:
TP: Where does your name come from?
Snoh: Snoh is my real name, but I had to add Aalegra. I was going to just be ‘Snoh’ at first, but because of legal reasons I wasn’t allowed. There’s a rapper in Canada called Snow, he had one song back in the day, (*hums the melody to ‘Informer’*), because of that, I was told it didn’t matter how I spelt my name, I had to change it. It was hard for me to find a name to add, because a name will stick with you forever, so you have to be careful. I chose ‘allegra’, which means joyful in Italian, but I changed the spelling a little bit by adding an extra ‘A’ and removing the ‘L’, because I thought it looked cooler. Believe it or not, a lot of great things have happened after I added Aalegra to my name… it’s part of me now.
Would you say you’re quite superstitious, as you felt good things happened after you added Aalegra to your name?
I’m not superstitious, but I do really believe in the power of worth, and the energy that certain things carry. Even in clothes, if you wear vintage clothes and somebody else has worn that, and that person has gone through a lot, you wear that other person’s energy in a way, even if you wash them. Lady Gaga owns some of Michael Jackson’s clothing she got in an auction, and I’m so jealous, like, imagine the energy in those clothes! (Laughs) but anyway, yeah I definitely believe in that…
Speaking of Michael Jackson, you’ve previously mentioned that, artists with powerful voices like himself, Prince and Whitney Houston have inspired you… where do you feel the power in your own voice came from?
It came naturally because I’ve been singing since the age of seven. I’ve always wanted to sing, there’s nothing else I wanted to do. I knew from such a young age that I wanted to be a singer and I was just so touched by all these artists like Michael (Jackson), Prince, Stevie Wonder, Whitney (Houston), all these people that influenced me. They always made me feel so much when listening to them and I dreamt of being able to do that for other people, and make them feel how I felt when listening to those artists. So it came naturally to me and then I’ve been vocally trained over the years. You need to do the skill training, the warm ups… it’s like going to the gym, you have weights that you lift, you have your warm ups and warm downs, sometimes you have to switch up your routines, to shock the body and help it grow. It’s like a muscle.
You’ve definitely been training hard
You’re Persian originally, but you grew up in Sweden… why did your family choose to move there?
I was born in Sweden, but my parents moved a year before I was born. They moved from Iran, because of the regime that was going on at the time. Then my dad started working in Sweden, and when I was born, we moved with the rest of my family from my mom’s side.
What was it like for you growing up? Was there a big Persian population there?
The city I was born in, Uppsala, has a bigger Persian, and immigrant, population in general, but I actually grew up in a smaller town called Enköping. I was the only immigrant in my class for two years and I remember feeling like I looked different. It’s been a mix of everything, and now, immigration has increased tremendously. Sweden has always been neutral and welcoming to immigrants, but it’s shot up a lot now, so there are all types of different cultures in Sweden now.
I was in Stockholm a couple of years ago and I was shocked, in a good way, at how many different cultures there were…
It’s like London, you have a lot of different cultures there… I used to live in London for three/four years…
What part of London?
Baker Street, Central London… I used to date a guy there…
Ahhh ok… things you do for love (laughs)
I’ve noticed on your Spotify, you have a London playlist… do you follow our music scene and is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with?
I love the whole scene over there… there are so many artists I’d love to collaborate with. I was a fan of Skepta before he blew up, I think he’s super dope… I love Etta Bond also… I’m going to forget now, because I’m on the spot, but I do love a lot of artists over there!
You were signed at the age of fourteen, and I read in a previous interview that you said you had a good experience in that record deal… what made you want to leave that label?
Well it was more of a development deal, I was just so young and they were developing me. They were super nice, it was a good few years of learning but after that, I was in a really bad deal. I was forced to do things against against my will so I had to hire a lawyer and try and get out of that. Eventually I moved to LA, because I felt that was where R&B/Soul was rooted. I wanted to learn from the best, and become the best I could be, and so it made sense to move to LA. It’s been good working in America… but I’m going to come back to Europe a lot at the beginning of next year. I really want to come to UK and Sweden and perform.
How did your find way to ARTium Recordings?
I’m with ARTium but I’m independent… I used to be signed to ARTium and Sony in the US, but I left Sony as it just wasn’t right for me and I felt that the independent lane was the way for me. I wanted to express the music I exactly wanted to do… when I dropped the ‘Don’t Explain – EP’, I was independent, and I still am with this album. But my immediate team is ARTium, No I.D., and my manager. No I.D. oversees everything I do, he is the executive producer on a lot of my music, and it’s been a blessing, honestly. I get to make the music I love to do, so I’m happy at the moment.
You’ve just mentioned your ‘Don’t Explain – EP’, but you released ‘There Will Be Sunshine’ before that project, and you seem to be singing about a lot of painful experiences. On the song ‘Paradise’, you had a lyric: “people around me wasting their time, telling me how to spend mine”… have there ever been people dissuading you from a career in music?
Ummm… when I’ve been in bad deals or situations people have hindered me but other than that, everyone in my family have always been supportive of me doing music. But I’ve been through a lot of shit in my life. Some people think I have it easy because, I have been working with No I.D. and stuff life that. People think, “ah it’s set for her”, but it’s really not, it’s been such a struggle for me to get to the point where I’m at now. I’ve faced so much resistance, and I’ve had to work ten times harder than everybody else to get to where I am for some reason, but I’m never going to give up. Growing up I just went through a lot of shit outside of school and inside of school… I then lost my dad in 2009, that’s what ‘Time’ is about… my parents divorced when I was two… it’s just a lot of deep things that I can’t really get in to, the pain definitely comes from somewhere.
Looking into your background, it’s clear you’ve been through a lot so it’s crazy that people would think that you haven’t got to where you are on merit… coming back to your ‘Don’t Explain – EP’, you worked with an endless number of brilliant producers on that project including No I.D., Boi-1da, BADBADNOTGOOD, DJ Dahi etc.… what do you look for in a producer?
Honestly, for me it’s not about a big name, it’s about chemistry. But I happen to be around a few big name people, and we just happen to have that chemistry. For example Boi-1da, No I.D., Adrian Younge, all these people, but I also love new people. I’ve been working with Atu and DPat from Sonder a lot on the ‘FEELS’ album. They produced ‘Sometimes’, have you heard of them?
Yeah, I’m a big fan of them and also Brent Faiyaz (from Sonder)…
Yeah he’s dope, I love his voice… so yeah we had a great chemistry from the off, and I didn’t even know who they were. Before they had any music out with Sonder, we just had a meeting, and I absolutely loved everything I heard, so I was like, “lets work”. It’s all about chemistry not the name. I guess it can be a mix, because I’m also a fan of some of these big producers, and we have dope chemistry. I’m definitely going to work with Boi-1da some more, it’s going to be fun… I’m excited.
In today’s R&B world, the ‘Trap Soul’ sound is very big, where artists are almost rapping and using more lyrics, but in your music, you seem to say a lot more, with a lot less… for your own creative process, what’s more important to you: lyrics or melody?
Both are very important. Normally when I write, the melody comes first, then the lyrics… but I speak three languages and I think in three languages, so I take my time with lyrics. It may take me a day to finish lyrics but sometimes it takes me an hour, it all depends on the song. Sometimes I’ll write a poem or something, that I all of a sudden do a melody to. For example when I wrote ‘Charleville 9200’ on my previous project, I had all the lyrics down already, and I got the beat from Boi-1da, and I started just putting melody to the words. And I think it’s very different, I think some of the songs that matter more, for example ‘Time’, where it’s just me and the piano, is more about the song. However with some songs you have that significant beat, like when you hear the beat, you know what song it is. So, I’m not taking any sides when it comes to production but I think that a good song should be good on just the piano or the guitar. That’s how I test the song, like, “can I do this with one instrument?”
You seem to work on a deeper level than a lot of artists out there at the moment… you seem cognizant of what it took for greats to achieve their artistry, and I don’t think everyone thinks in that same way… where does that thought process come from?
I think being around No I.D. for a prolonged period of time, you begin to learn about layers. I feel like he can bring out the best in artists, and I’ve always told my team to push me. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I tell my managers to never tell me that I was great, for example when I do a performance, even if she thinks it’s ten out of ten, I tell her to tell me it’s a nine. Like I always want to know what I have to improve and we do the same with the songs. We do these tests in the studio, where we only use one instrument and the vocal to see if it’s a good song in general… I don’t know, I think it’s because I’m a Virgo (laughs). Virgos are perfectionists, so I guess it’s just in me.
I’m an Aquarius, but I’m really bad with star signs, what months are Virgos born in?
Late August, September, and early October…I’m born in September… like Michael Jackson and Beyonce (laughs)
Getting on to the album, it’s a brilliant piece of work… on the actual title track, I feel the instrumental really fits the artwork of the album… if you could have written a soundtrack to any film, what would it be?
OMG (laughs), ummm one thing on my bucket list is to to do a James Bond soundtrack, so that would be cool… I’d like to do a Walt Disney film… I mean anything that brought magic for me as a kid, so Disney movies, and Steven Spielberg films… but yeah I could see myself doing something for Disney one day…
I can imagine you doing a James Bond soundtrack, you have the voice for it… I want to come back to ‘Sometimes’, that was actually one of my favourite songs… I found it to be a very cryptic track, was it about a specific event or are you just talking about your life experiences?
So that was one of those songs that I wrote in the studio. I don’t normally write lyrics in the studio, I’ll go home and think about what to write, but ‘Sometimes’ came straight to me. It’s about life in general, and how we’re all destined for something. We all have our paths but all of a sudden, life shit happens, which is not in your control. You have to will yourself and take control of your life, and sometimes you can accept what is happening to you, or you can change it, as you have the power because it’s your life. So that’s what the song is about…
That’s a deep meaning…when you got Logic on the song, did he know what the meaning was also?
I think it was kind of clear, because I think it’s one of the songs where you can hear what I’m saying… I think he did his own interpretation of what he thought the song was. I really loved his verse and his unfaltering attitude… it’s like saying “whatever is happening to me is happening to me, I’m not bothered, this is who I am I just accept it”. He used to work in No I.D.’s studio, a year ago when I was working there, and he did this remix on my song called ‘Home’, from the previous project, and whilst he was doing it, I also played him ‘Sometimes’, because I really wanted someone conscious to rap on it, so he really did a great job.
In your music, you can feel the emotion but at the same time, the messages are quite abstract… as your music is quite personal, do you prefer that people don’t know the full meaning of your songs?
I think it’s a mix… some of the songs I’m so clear, like on ‘You Keep Me Waiting’, I’m so detailed, I’m really laying it all out and describe what’s going on. Some of the other songs, ‘Like I Used To’ for example, which has a Swedish rapper, Timbuktu, on there, is more metaphorical but it’s still saying the message in a more dreamy way. So I think it’s a mix of my writing, sometimes it’s very poetic, and sometimes it’s like a conversation.
Speaking of Timbuktu… so obviously I don’t speak Swedish, but I actually pasted his verse in Google Translate-
That’s probably not accurate (laughs)
(Laughs) No, but you know what, I was blown away by the translation, it was very poetic-
His verse is so deep, I’m going to ask him to upload a translation! It’s so deep, beautiful and poetic, I was blown away when I heard it. He’s an author too, he’s a best-selling author in Sweden, and he’s a real writer. He’s like our version of Nas and Jay Z. He’s a dream collaborator, and I was so thrilled when he said yes to do the verse
How did that collaboration come about?
I just ‘DMed’ him
(Laughs) you just slid into his DMs
(Laughs) yeah, I mean obviously I was born and raised in Sweden, and he’s one of the best. We were following each other (on social media), and I just asked him if he could do me the honour of doing the verse. He replied, “I’m a fan of you, I’ve been following your journey, I would love to”. He was in New York at the time, so he went to the studio in New York and did his verse.
That’s crazy… speaking of Rap, on ‘Out Of Your Way’, the drums sound so similar to Mobb Deep’s ‘Temperature’s Rising’… where did the production for that one come from in particular?
It’s a super stripped down song for me but we added a bit of 808s which gave it a little bit of bounce… it was one of those very intimate songs I did in the studio with Mic Holden and Brandon Eugene Owens, they play a lot with Terrace Martin… I met them once, because we had a gig together, they were in the band and we all connected.
You’ve brought up ‘Time’ from your album, and that’s probably my favourite song on the project, just because it’s so stripped back, and you can just hear the raw emotion in your voice… take me through the creative process on that particular song, as it’s a very personal subject.
I was working with this guy, Leven Kali, he’s an amazing artist, he sings on all the backing music of my album. We were working on the album whilst he was in LA and I knew that I needed to write a song about losing my dad as an experience, even though it would be hard for me. So we wrote the song, and then Boi-1da reached out to me, asking if I could send him an acappella, so he could sample my voice, and if I could write a hook for Drake. I took the vocal from ‘Time’, pitched myself up, sped the vocal up, and sent it to Boi-1da. He loved it, and that’s how he made the beat for ‘Do Not Disturb’. That’s how that came about, he sent it to Drake, and Drake loved it and that’s how that all happened.
What’s it like for you listening to ‘Time’? What goes through your head and what do you feel when you listen back to it?
I don’t listen to it so much anymore… I mean I don’t listen to my music so much after releasing it. The day after I’ll listen to the song as I’m trying to envision what it’s like for someone else listening for the first time. But ‘Time’ is super emotional, and it’s just a really emotional song to perform. It’s difficult, sometimes I’ll want to start crying and I’ll just have to hold back. I’m definitely one of those people that relive the lyrics when singing them. It’s hard. But I’ve got a lot of people reaching out to me, saying how they’re going through a hard time, and that the song helps them. Someone even said that they were playing it at a funeral. The fact that I can comfort somebody through what they’re going through with a song amazes me, because it’s what music does for me, so it’s kind of unbelievable that I’m doing that now for other people. It’s what I’ve been dreaming about my whole life so, it’s crazy to hear stuff like that… it touches me.
Do you feel that the power of music is understated as a therapy for people?
Yeah that’s what music does, for sure. I think everyone can feel that. I think that everyone has a song that is attached to a strong memory. When we hear a song that we grew up to, we always remember something, for example, where we were, what we were doing, etc. We always have memories attached and music becomes the soundtrack to our lives. I think it’s just so powerful, I mean, music is what connects fashion, film, dance, all of the arts! It’s like the glue between all of these art forms, so it’s very powerful.
Completely agree… you mentioned you connect songs to memories, what song gives you the most emotive reaction and why?
When I hear ‘I Have Nothing’ by Whitney Houston, I immediately always remember the first time I heard it. I know exactly where I was as a kid, I was with my cousin’s dad, who played it to me… it was in the movie ‘The Bodyguard’, and I have a lot of memories of the song. That’s one of the songs, I would always stand in front of the mirror, lip syncing to it and dreaming away…
Snoh, it’s been an absolute pleasure getting to talk to you, and thank you for your time.
Thank you so much, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you.
You can listen to Snoh Aalegra on Spotify here and Apple Music here.
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