In the rapidly growing music climate of the 2010s, Snoh Aalegra might never have imagined that she’d be one of Sweden’s leading voices of R&B, and certainly not a mentored student of the legendary Prince. “That’s a time I look back on and I feel I have to pinch myself. I can’t believe that actually happened. He discovered me about three years before he passed away. We were very close the whole time,” she shared.
The multifaceted music great discovered her three years before his passing. Much like how Prince navigated his art with an air of mysteriousness, it’s still a mystery for Snoh as to how he discovered her. She recalls his team reaching out to her via Facebook, although she missed the initial message. “They reached out through mutual friends in the industry. They were like ‘Prince is trying to get a hold of you.’ I was like ‘you guys are joking, right?’ He emailed me first and asked if he could call me. I’m like ‘Yeah, you can call me,’” Snoh remembers while sharing the story with BET from the other end of the phone. That moment is still vividly surreal to Snoh even years after his passing.
In August of 2019, Snoh released her sophomore album, Ugh, those feels again, an introspective sequel to her 2017 debut, Feels. While Snoh keeps her personal life enshrouded in secrecy, she likened the 14-track record to her diary on it’s most personal chapter yet. “I’m so bad at songs that I don’t feel,” she admits. Despite this sentiment, Ugh, those feels again is a motley of feelings, as heartbreak carves out space beside the highs of falling in love again.
Her self-described “cinematic soul” sound has garnered comparisons to the likes of R&B legend Sade and the late Amy Winehouse. Lately, the 32-year-old shared that she’s been in the studio cooking up her not-yet-titled follow-up project. But for now, she is busy preparing to hit the road later this month for the 2020 leg of her tour, Ugh, A Tour Again. If there was ever a sign that Snoh’ star is on the rise, our interview was followed by the announcement that Snoh has officially inked a deal with Roc Nation.
Ahead of her tour, BET caught up with the Iranian-Swedish songbird about practicing self-love, the inspiration behind “I Want You Around,” reveling in singlehood, and what she has in store for 2020.
“That’s a time I look back on and I feel I have to pinch myself. I can’t believe that actually happened. He discovered me about three years before he passed away. We were very close the whole time. He discovered me online. To keep the story short, he flew me to Minneapolis. He told me he thought I have an analogue voice, and that it is very different. He wanted to do a whole album with me. At the time, I was working on my Don’t Explain EP, and I was kind of ready to put that one out. So, I promised to do the next project with him. Unfortunately, he passed away.”
“It was very crazy to be mentored by him. He would call me sometimes, too, but he would email me links to things he felt I should study, artists that inspired him, or certain performances, and I really just tried to take that in. Since he’s not with us anymore in physical form, I just want to make him proud. I think about him every time I perform and it feels so empty not having his presence in my life.”
“I don’t think much when I’m making music. It’s more, ‘How does this make me feel?’ To be honest, I’m kind of old-school when it comes to what I’m into. Things that give me those same feelings is when I know it feels right. My language is more modern when I’m writing but still applies now and it’s about my life. [As for] cinematics, I feel like because I’m so inspired by movie soundtracks, and movies in general, it’s almost like I’m scoring my own life. That’s what ‘cinematic soul’ means.”
“I think my personal favorite song from this album is ‘You.’ It embodies all of my influences in one. I am very influenced by Prince, Whitney [Houston], and Michael [Jackson]. It’s something about that song where I feel like I’m me all the way and I love the production. The production just gives me that ‘80s vibe. I think that’s my favorite song that I’ve made and recorded.”
“‘Nothing to Me.’ [Laughs]. I’m very single [and] it’s a lot easier. I just feel like I always end up in these situations where they kind of understand they took me for granted and then they realize that they f***ed up and try to get me back, and I’m just like, ‘Nope.’ So, ‘Nothing to Me’ is the vibe right now. [Laughs].”
“Honestly, I don’t know how to write for myself any other way than this honest way because I feel that’s the only way I can give people something that’s real. You can’t really fake the truth. People are going to know what’s up. I live life and then I write about it. That’s the only way I know how to move on and it’s therapeutic for me as well. I’m super private. When it comes to my feelings, I’m very [transparent] with them so that person would know the song is about them. It’s crazy how you can write a song and people can relate to it their own way and it can help them. You’re in your own little bubble and you think you’re so alone with your emotions and feelings. But there’s a whole world that can relate to you, which is a beautiful thing.”
“Everything inspires everything [Laughs]. But I noticed there’s one line in ‘I Want You Around’ that people kind of get wrong: ‘I don't want to kiss you yet / I just want to feel you.’ People think I’m saying ‘I don’t want to kiss you / Yeah, I just want to feel you.’ The truth is I was kind of seeing somebody I hadn’t kissed yet and we were out…I think we were in a club or something…and he was about to kiss me. I was like ‘Not yet. I’m not ready,’ and then I said that exact line to him. The next day, he actually texted me and said, ‘You should put that in a song.’ And then, I wrote, ‘I Want You Around.’ It was like within a few weeks. Literally, all my songs are very accurate and close to the truth of what I’ve been through. That was the first song I wrote for this album.”
“First of all, I thought it just worked. [It’s] almost like a ‘peace out.’ At the end of the day, I almost feel like it’s a whole mood. Something I struggle with is I have night-time anxiety. I don’t have a lot of peace of mind a lot [of times]. I don’t sleep well. I have panic attacks, which come from some things I went through in the past.”
“They all started intensely when my father passed away 10 years ago. That’s when I experienced my first one and they kind of haven’t stopped. I experience a lot of anxiety and ‘Peace’ is about that peace of mind. If you don’t have piece of mind you really don’t have anything. That’s why I put it at the end of the album.”
“I haven’t been so good at it before in the past. I’ve gotten way better at it and I’m proud of myself. In the past, I would get into toxic relationships or friendships and hold on to them for so long. I would ignore all of the warning signs and give it chance after chance. Now, I don’t give people more than two chances. When they show you who they are, you got to believe it. I think I’ve gotten way better at cutting off toxic people. I worked so hard to get to this point. It’s so crazy how one person can ruin your whole confidence and then everything you’ve built for yourself is down the drain because this one person’s opinion can just crush you. I don’t have time for that at this point in my career.”
“For me, it’s really important. There are a few people that are real like that. There’s a lot of girls that don’t want to show me love and would secretly message me, and tell me I’m dope. Which is fine, but I really notice a difference in who’s confident and who’s not. I show everybody that I admire love. I’m very open about that. I shout out people all the time if I think they’re dope, and I don’t see why not.”
“We can all exist at the same time. There’s space for all of us. I think it’s stupid when you try to be too competitive like that. Unfortunately, girls can get too catty like that with each other. It’s become better but women could really rule the world if they would stick together. It seems like they think there can only be one. I noticed guys hang out in groups more and they have this brotherhood and I wish more girls had this kind of sisterhood with each other for real. I’ve seen a lot of fakeness and it can be draining. I try to surround myself with real a**s, dope a** women that inspire me like JoJo and Teyana [Taylor].”
“[The Neptunes] were working on new music for me that they produced. ‘Whoa’ was like a side thing that I had [Pharrel] jump on. It was so dope. Pharrell is a beast and so magical. He’s everything that you think he is. He really lives up to this image that you have of Pharrell. I was so blown away by him. I was explaining to him what ‘Whoa’ means to me. [The song] has this double meaning: my love for music and how euphoric that feels, and then the highest state of love when everything just feels right. So, I love how he described that in his verse. I have some other music with The Neptunes in the works that I’ve very excited about.”
“Yes! [Laughs]. It’s still the dream. I’ll keep shouting it out until it happens. Nobody knows who his people are. He’s so mysterious. With all of my collaborations, I’ve never had my people reach out to anyone’s people. I don’t really believe in that kind of way of working. I think it’s too forced. Everybody I’ve collaborated with, they’ve reached out on their own. I think that’s more organic. This year has been kind of crazy so far. I’ve worked with some of my favorite artists, except Frank Ocean [Laughs].”
“I’ve been working with a lot of other artists. I’ve been writing for their projects. I’m also working on a new album. I’m just taking my time with it but I think I’m going to drop something maybe later this year. Right now, I’m just focusing on Ugh, those feels again. I have a lot to write about I feel, again. It feels good. I’m working with people I love and respect, and some new people I’ve never worked with. It’s all good vibes.”
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.]
(Photo: BET/Evans Alexandre)