Persian-Swedish recording artist Snoh Aalegra’s favorite sound is rain. “I love melancholy,” says the 29-year old artist. “I got that from being in Sweden a lot and being in London where it rains a lot. I love that vibe.”
Aalegra’s voice reflects so much more than just the Swedish gloom, however. It embodies a soulful sound reminiscent of Michael Jackson, Nina Simone, and Lauryn Hill yet finds its own power, and connectivity, through Aalegra's signature croon. So it's no wonder she's the protégé of luminary hip hop producer No I.D., who's produced hit singles for the likes of Kanye, Common and Big Sean.
For Aalegra, though, her own talent's as undeniable as her drive. At age 14, she signed to Sony’s Swedish label, though it wasn't till 2014 when things really picked up. That year, she released a 5-track EP called There Will Be Sunshine with notable single “Bad Things” (feat. Common). She's since collaborated with Wu Tang Clan’s RZA on the single “Emotional." And now she's dropping her latest EP Don’t Explain (feat. John Mayer on the addictive single, “Under the Influence”).
Not only does Aalegra's most recent effort open up like an outstretched hand in your heart, it harkens back to a cooler time, fitting into a speakeasy from 1940’s American Noir, perhaps a classic film starring Cary Grant.
Inspired by her early 20th century timelessness, and propensity for high profile collaboration, I catch up with Snoh Aalegra over the phone.
What was your childhood like growing up in Sweden?
I was born in Sweden in a town called Uupsala, it’s about 40 minutes outside of Stockholm. Then I grew up in a city called Enköping. It is a super small city. It is like 40,000 people living there. I have Persian parents but I don’t look Swedish, I’m not blue eyed and blonde. It was really cool to have a Persian background. It’s cool to be speaking three languages, I really appreciate that aspect of it. I’ve been doing music my whole life. I started out in Sweden professionally. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I always chose the hard way. I never wanted to take any shortcuts. I’ve never tried to be on a singing contest show like [American] Idol. I think because I was signed at such a young age I got to be in a real environment so I felt like that was just the way I wanted to go, even if I was going to take a long time. I don’t know if you know, I got signed here in the states at a major label, then I left them at the beginning of this year, so I’m indie again, which is a really, really nice feeling. I feel like I’ve tried it all. It’s been tough.
The music scene in Sweden at the moment is compelling. Why did you decide to come to L.A. to pursue your career?
Sweden has always been the Mecca of pop music and you have incredible producers and DJs as well, and now there’s a really interesting indie scene coming from Sweden with a lot of great artists. I think the music I am doing is rooted here in America, so the soul and the experience and the energy that I do is born over here, so it would have never have happened if I was in Sweden still. There are certain things that have happened here. Just being in the studio with people like Q-tip or being around Prince, for me, would never have happened if I was in Sweden. I respect and love music coming out from Sweden but when it comes to soul and R&B, I’ve grown so much. Certain singers, certain techniques of how people sing over here, you can’t find that in Sweden. So I’ve been super inspired just to be around all these people here and I’ve really changed a lot. The way I sing now, it has really developed a lot.
What was difficult to adjust to immigrating to the U.S.?
We don’t have the American dream big mentality in Sweden. We have a mentality in Sweden; it is almost an unspoken rule. It is called Jantelagen. In all of Scandinavia, it is an ideology that we’re all the same. We’re not to think we’re better than anyone else. You have to downplay yourself and be super, super humble all the time. It worked against me when I came here to the States. I’m walking into labels or whatever, wherever I was singed, and they’re like, “Why is she not loud and owning it when she walks into the room?” But I’m from Sweden! That was not how I grew up. That was not what I was allowed to do. Obviously, I’ve been here enough for a few years and I’ve adjusted. I’ve gotten louder, but I’m never going to be as loud as Americans.
Tell us about your new EP, Don’t Explain.
The album is basically based on a romance that I had that was very intense. The highs were really high and the lows were low. The album is called, Don’t Explain. What I mean by that is that sometimes you are in a situation where it feels good for you and maybe you can’t explain it to other people. Its just a feeling that you know and that you feel is right and there’s no reason that you always have to explain yourself...Just like the relationship, [the EP] is very dramatic. I feel like the strings represent all of the drama and ups and downs.
What inspired the lyrics for the song “Charleville 9200” on your new EP?
We were just out on a walk, very late at night in that neighborhood and the person I was with was very tipsy, and I wasn’t. You know, I’m from Sweden and I grew up watching all these American movies, the American culture, that’s how I got introduced into America. Everything that was happening that night, and in general relationships, I always joke around that this is like an American cheesy movie. As I was explaining this, we were laying on the grass in that neighborhood, looking at the sky, and the people are walking by with their dogs. It was just weird but it made me laugh so hard, but I just had to write a song about it...It is funny because if you look at the artwork for my EP, it’s almost like a movie poster because the music is very cinematic. I wanted to bring that feeling into the artwork. [The artist] is actually a really amazing artist from New York. I told him certain elements I wanted, obviously the blue thing in the middle is for “In Your River,” her face, you know just elements from each song.
After recording the album did you feel a sense of catharsis from the heartbreak you felt?
It’s not only been heartbreak, it’s been ups too It’s been a very intense romance that each relationship is unique in itself, in my opinion. Every time you fall in love its different, you can’t compare one love to another. They’re all unique to me. Somebody asked me before how it ended and I said “to be continued...”
And like a great American noir unfolding scene by scene, Don’t Explain will unlock on iTunes one track at a time. In the meantime, pre-order the EP here.
Don’t Explain EP by Snoh Aalegra drops in entirety on April 8 (Artium Entertainment/Empire Distribution).
1. It’s Just A Fever (Intro)
2. In Your River
3. Charleville 9200 feat. James Fauntleroy
5. Don’t Explain
6. Under The Influence
7. Under The Influence pt II
8. It’s All On Me (Outro)