Retro Vibes and Good Feels: Backstage with Snoh Aalegra
With pink-shaded spotlights beaming on the fog-filled stage, Snoh Aalegra emerges front and center at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles cloaked in a cloud of intriguing mystery. Her signature cinematic-soul sound takes over the room, causing a "Wait, who is this?" stir in the crowd that happens when a relatively unknown singer's skills make you want to know her. She’s dressed in a sheer nylon top, the same color as the smoke. Behind her is a neon sign with the title of her debut album, Feels.
Snoh’s the opening act for R&B singer Daniel Caesar. Her 30-minute set includes her single "Time" (a track Drake sampled on his song "Do Not Disturb"), emotional and personal. It’s clear she’s working the crowd into a frenzy with her exotic features, sultry moves and powerful voice. As her performance comes to an end, I make my way backstage for our interview. I enter the green room where her makeup artist informs me that she’s ready.
Growing up in Sweden and of Persian descent, Aalegra knew early on that she wanted to be a singer. “I was just so touched by music," she recalls. "You can say I was a very sensitive child, extremely emotional. I wrote my first song when I was nine. But it didn’t make any sense because I spoke three different languages and, really, what did I know about love? So my mom told me if I still wanted to be a singer at 13 we’d do something about it."
When she turned 13 her passion for music was still very much alive. And true to her word, her mother began reaching out to different labels and Aalegra was signed at 14. “All of the labels we called kept telling me no but this one sweet man who worked for Sony gave me a shot," she says. "It was more of a development period for me. I didn’t release any music I just learned the business.”
It wasn’t until Snoh moved to Los Angeles that her music career really began. “I knew I had to come to the United States to be the type of artist I wanted to be," she says. "Soul music is rooted here so it was a no-brainer. I really wouldn’t have become the artist I am today if I would have stayed in Sweden, especially with the help of all the talented musicians I’ve been able to learn from."
She has since released multiple projects including EPs: Don't Explain, There Will Be Sunshine and her latest, Feels, (Produced by No ID) which was released in October.
Aalegra is inspired by musical greats: Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and Prince. “MJ is for sure my hero," she reveals. Touching her heart, she locks in on another. "Those artists really shaped my career, but Prince in particular. He discovered me three years before his passing. He was a mentor to me. We had a strong teacher student relationship and he always sent me things to study and practice. Prince really believed in me and I am forever grateful.”
In addition to soul, Aalegra is influenced by movie soundtracks--specifically that of James Bond and it is evident in her album and style. She has a retro vibe about her and so does Feels, which easily could be plucked from 2017 and set to scenes in a film noir detective flick from the '50s. Listening to the album you are immediately transported into Aalegra’s sphere, one filled with both whimsy and a yearning for love. With Persian references, relatable lyrics and timely features (Logic, Vince Staples, Vic Mensa and Swedish rapper Timbuktu), it awakens a consciousness pushing you to ultimately, well, feel. “The album is a reflection of my dramatic personal life,” she says with a laugh.
“I really wanted people to know where I’m from and what I love," she explains. "I use a lot of dramatic horns and Swedish visuals. I’m also very into the retro era so that was carried out through the cover art as well.” Aalegra partnered with Pop Art Artist Joe Mcdermott to create the look of her album. “I’ve worked with him before on artwork for previous projects. It felt right to use him again. I also used an illustration rather than a photo so people would press play and hear the music before they know what the artist looks like. I listen with my ears not my eyes. I want fans to do the same.”
Snoh is in no hurry to slow down. “I have a lot of visuals for the album that are going to come out," she notes. "I want my fans to know there’s going to be a lot of music. I'm going to stay consistent.”
Snoh’s makeup artist comes into the dressing room to tell me our time is up. “You want to take some selfies?” she asks? Sure would! It's hard not to root for her. She's upbeat and sweet, not to mention the heap of talent she's got. Her eclectic, old-soul persona may bring times long gone to mind. But make no mistake about it: Snoh Aalegra's sound is one that will be heard for years to come.
Written by Robyn Merrett
Photos by Jose Cervantes