Snoh Aalegra learned a vital lesson from her mentor, the late Prince: “[Don’t] change myself for anybody,” she says. Over the years, the singer-songwriter has done just that: from standing strong against bullies in her home country of Sweden to making music independently of labels.
The Iranian singer-songwriter breathes a breath of fresh air into the R&B game, consistently releasing heartfelt, transparent records for her ever-growing fanbase. If you had a chance to listen to her 2017 debut album, Feels, you quickly fell in love with the fact that she’s honest, open and relatable — and one hell of a singer.
Now, almost two years after her debut, Snoh unleashes her highly anticipated sophomore album Ugh, those feels again.Lead singles “I Want You Around,” “Situationship” and “Find Someone Like You” have teased fans long enough, as we welcome a much more confident, mature, happy Snoh Aalegra.
Aelegra (attempted) to write her first song at age nine, and, at 13, she signed a deal with Sony Music Sweden. In 2016, she migrated to the States and eventually signed with No I.D.’s ARTium Recordings, unleashing her Don’t Explain EP with some of the best producers in the game (James Fauntleroy, No I.D., Boi-1da).
One year later, Feels arrived, featuring appearances by Logic, Vince Staples and Vic Mensa. The 13-track project saw Aalegra processing the aftermath of a three-year relationship. Drake ended up sampling her song “Time” on his 2017 More Life track “Do Not Disturb.” Real recognize real.
Beyond the accolades and music stardom, Aalegra hopes to be a voice for the people, standing up for all those who have fallen victim to bullying. She tells TIDAL, “Hurt people hurt people,” emphasizing the importance of mental health. Her goals and aspirations stretch far beyond her own artistry; she wants to touch humanity as a whole.
TIDAL caught up with Aalegra to discuss mental health, relationships, her recording process and her new album Ugh, those feels again.
How would you describe your sound now?
I don’t think my sound has changed too much from the past — since Don’t Explain three projects ago. It’s a little bit more open, more airy, a hint happier than the last album.
This album has a little bit more tempo. Not up-tempo, still mid-tempo. But a bit happier vibes, because I’m a happier person. I’m in a better place right now than I was when I did Feels.
What was going through your head when you were recording Feels?
We all grow and evolve. Life happens. I was in a relationship then that I’m not in anymore. I had to find and heal myself after that. There was a lot of self-healing and self-discovery.
I feel very different as a person. I used to be super depressed, now I’m not as depressed. I’m way more content with my life. It’s still not how I want it to be, but I’m in a much better place.
How has music been a form of therapy?
Well, it’s like an open diary. I’m telling people my whole life in a way. I’m still peeling off layers. There’s so much more to me people that don’t know about that I’ll slowly reveal.
It is therapy in a way where I get reminded I’m not alone in what I’m going through. So many people hit me up like, ‘Yo, this is my life.’ It’s a constant reminder that there are other people out there feeling the same.
‘I Want You Around’ is such a vibe. What or who inspired the record?
That record is about when you just met someone and it’s exciting, but you don’t really know where it’s going to lead. You just want to be around that person. You know, I’ve been single. I’ve met some people. That first butterfly feeling is always the best vibe.
The whole thing was really fun, but it was funny because he had never been on a mountain. It was a hike-type of mountain. We were in San Diego; he’s like ‘Whoaaa.’ He was so scared of heights.
We were both a bit scared because we were on this really high mountain overlooking the water. I remember that; it was funny for me to put him in an environment he’s not used to.
What exactly is a ‘situationship’?
I feel like everybody knows; it’s 2019. But it’s an unlabeled relationship where you haven’t established what you guys are. It works for a lot of people.
I know a lot of people who are in situationships, but it doesn’t work for me. It’s too confusing. I want either a relationship or nothing.
Does it scare guys that you want either a relationship or nothing?
I haven’t put myself in that position too much. I don’t really date many people like that. I should, I’m just drowned with work. I don’t know, I think it scares me as well.
If I’m with somebody, I’m committed. It has to be a good commitment. When you’re with somebody, they need to add positivity to your life. They can’t be a burden; I have too much to think about. It’s both ways. It’s scary for everybody coming into a relationship.
Your new album Ugh, those feels again has been in the works for a while, at what point did you realize it was ready?
I was working on this album for over a year, and just recently wrapped it up. I mastered it a month ago, so kind of last minute.
I wasn’t sure at first if I was going to put out the album, but I just felt like, ‘You know what? I love all these songs. It’s an album worth of songs, so let me put it out and stop overthinking it.’
You’re an Iranian woman who grew up in Sweden and long felt like an outsider. Can you talk about representing and being a role model for women of color?
That’s who I am. That’s something I carry with me all the time. It’s cool to be somebody’s role model. I don’t think about it all the time, trying to be a certain way. I stopped being a people-pleaser and started doing whatever I want to do.
Sometimes my family doesn’t agree with it. Sometimes it’s not for everybody, but at least it’s who I am. You only live once. Hopefully I can be a good role model and use my voice for something that’s more important than just me as an artist. That’s the goal, to be able to inspire. I try my best.
What does your family not agree with?
I can post a selfie here and there, maybe not wearing so many items of clothes. I have a brother and a mom. He’s younger; he’s 27.
But he knows his sister is a star, right?
Yeah, but it’s hard for him sometimes. He unfollowed me on Instagram. I told him he should. He’s in school. He’s in university; he studies. He is very proud, but I think it’s hard for him to see his sister in certain outfits or in certain lights when he knows other guys… you know.
My mom loves the music, my dad is not alive; he passed away 10 years ago. Everybody is in Sweden. My mom is very, very, very supportive. She almost wants this for me more than I want it for myself.
Why is it important for you to promote self-love and mental health?
It’s because it’s a part of who I am. It’s real to me. Whatever is real to you is the message you should get out there. Mental health is so important. It breaks my heart hearing about people committing suicide because of things that could’ve been stopped and been changed.
I have an interlude on my new album called ‘Be Careful,’ it’s about hurt people hurting other people. I found that to be the case for somebody like myself who was bullied throughout all of school. Up ‘til the end of high school, I was bullied by people who were hurt. They want to hurt other people.
Unfortunately, there’s traces in us: the victims of bullying. It will forever change the way we carry ourselves, how we walk into a room, our confidence. It will forever be an unfinished project that we’re working on our whole lives, to just love ourselves and learn how to love ourselves.
It’s important for me, it’s something I can really understand. One day if things go as planned, Hopefully I can use my voice in a more extended way for these different causes.
How did the album unlock a positive new chapter in your life?
Leaving that toxic situation and allowing myself to be alone for a while. Just getting to know myself, analyze myself and why I allowed so much bullshit in my life. Why I was trying to be such a people-pleaser.
Realizing that and coming out of that has really unlocked a more positive vibe into my life. I’m attracting more happy people. Everything flows better when you legit feel good.
Bring us back to the days when you were rocking with Prince. What was the greatest piece of advice he gave you?
To not change myself for anybody. To know that I’m good enough the way I am and to try to stay indie as long as I can. I’m still independent. He hated labels. He thought they were the devil. I’ve been independent since the Don’t Explain EP.
And you plan on remaining independent?
I guess so. I have distribution right now, but I will never be on a label again. It would have to be a collab.
What are some goals for yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
I pray that I get to do music forever. There’s nothing else I want to do. … I just pray I can use my voice for something that’s more than just me as an artist. I’d love to be a part of making a change or helping lend my voice out if I can. I just want to make people feel something with my music, honestly.