Coinciding with a wave of Scandinavian artists crossing over onto the international music scene is one export Snoh Aalegra. Whilst compatriots Robyn and Tove Lo brought an icy soundscape of club-inflected dance to mainstream pop, Aalegra’s soundboard finds home in vintage, throwback retro-soul, Aalegra committed to transporting the listener to a bygone era of illicit love affairs and Casanova romances. It’s as if her music is the accompanying score and soundtrack to an MGM-produced film noir. “Outside my musical influences like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, from a young age I was drawn to Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg movie soundtracks. The use of grand production and strings has definitely seeped into my own creations.”
Influenced by the hip-hop diaspora of LA, “almost all of the producers I collaborate with are hip-hop rooted”, Aalegra also pledges allegiance to Swedish pop pioneers and the impact they have had on her own approach to song craft. “Growing up I was the biggest fan of Max Martin and the late Denniz Pop, I still dream of working with Max Martin to this day! They serve as inspiration to me in the way they crafted melodies, and actually I think Swedish musicians have a knack for creating pop melodies.”
Look no further than Snoh’s very own ‘FEELS’ the title track off her just released eponymous mini-album. Featuring ear-worm hooks and a dose of nostalgia pop, it’s a track that has radio appeal without conforming to the overwrought, homogenous sounds that have dominated airwaves for so long. According to Aalegra, simplicity is the key reason as to why the Swedes have pervaded the industry for so long, “we like to keep things simple and to the point, that relates to design and melody, just look at ABBA and Ace of Base.”
It’s evident Aalegra owes her musical proclivities in some part to her Swedish roots. Yet it’s not all cut and dry for her, referencing her Persian heritage and the aesthetic differences as alienating. “I grew up in a small town in Sweden called Enköping and I was the only non-Swedish person in my class. I looked different to the other kids with my darker skin and darker hair and I always felt like an outsider.”
To Aalegra the notions of where home really is an endless paradox, “I’m currently living somewhere (LA) where I may not even be welcome. I’m living somewhere where the President is trying to enforce a Middle Eastern ban and that is a horrible feeling.” Tackling this theme of multicultural identity on one of her most listened to tracks, ‘Home’, Aalegra dissolves barriers of distance and individual difference into one of love and acceptance, “I’m learning that home is not about a place but the people you love and are connected to”.
Aalegra’s first foray into miasmic soul was through her her EP ‘There Will Be Sunshine’ in 2014 but it was her independently released ‘Don’t Explain’ mini-album that beautifully captured romance as a springtime blossom, the suffocating feeling when your consumed with desire, and the impending come-down when heartbreak looms. The songs exist in a vortex of wistful cinematics, yet the lyrics are all painstakingly personal. “It's all my own experiences. I've had a very dramatic rollercoaster ride where the highs have been high and the lows have been low. Thankfully I could write about it.”
What would have fallen flat with a lesser singer, soars through Aalegra’s smoky overtones, her voice multi-faceted in its sheer reach and versatility. Comparisons with late Amy Winehouse will probably crop up as her star ascends, but where Amy revelled in her own maelstrom of sorrow and despair, Aalegra is expectant of a change that may or may not come.
Owing her progression as an artist to the LA music scene and her mentor Prince, Aalegra credits both as necessities in reaching her full creative potential. “’Don't Explain’ was the first project I released independently and it was my dear late friend and hero Prince who suggested that I leave my major label and do my own thing. It was the best decision I made.” It was also Prince that instilled in Aalegra the need to be surrounded by a creative collective of producers and artists that would hone her own classic sound. “USA is the motherland of soul, jazz and blues. I needed to be here and since arriving I’ve collaborated with some of the most talented artists and producers in the world.”
Indeed. ‘Don’t Explain’ was produced by the likes of hip-hop pioneer NO I.D., James Fauntleroy and DJ Dahi. It was Aalegra’s work with the right-hand man (Boi1DA) to none other than Champagne Papi, that poetically culminated in a sampling of Aalegra’s newly released ‘Time’ on his ‘More Life’ closer ‘Do Not Disturb’. A crowning moment for an artist on the up, it ushers in a new era for Aalegra, where her brand of nebulous nostalgia meets the futurism of modern day hip-hop. “It’s refreshing to mesh together my world with theirs, and create something unique. I love big drums and significant bass lines, so that mixed with strings and pads is my ultimate combination.”
‘FEELS’ is the new offering from the songstress, the remaining two projects that was conceived as a trilogy with ‘Don’t Explain’. Flitting from the sanguine, pop overture of the title track, which Aalegra denotes as “one of the most loving and positive songs I've ever written”, to the Vince Staples-assisted ‘Nothing Burns Like The Cold’, a foreboding number brimming with horns and scratches, it’s clear ‘FEELS’ will be anything but derivative. “It’s a mix of classic meets contemporary, feminine meets street. By no means did I come here in a time machine, but it is important to invoke and recreate the eras between the 60s to the early 90s which mean the most to me.”
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Words: Shahzaib Hussain