R&b songwriter and vocalist Snoh Aalegra‘s native Sweden is a world of extremes: snowcapped mountains and white sand beaches; long, lightless winters as much as summers of perpetual sun. Fittingly, Snoh’s childhood there was filled with both joy and heartache and the extremes of her past have given her rich material to draw from. On her newest EP There Will Be Sunshine, Aalegra pours her heart out onto the page, delivering lyrics that go beyond the hackneyed r&b subjects of love and longing. “I find good things in bad versions of me / I do bad things to good versions of me” she coos on her lead-off single “Bad Things,” a track that features none other than Common and has gone on to be remixed with new bars from Killer Mike. In a later verse, she admits “Something undefined is now taking over me / Who am I to fight me for my own soul?” digging into the kind of fragile first-person paydirt that has made Frank Ocean and The Weeknd superstars.
While Aalegra has been in and out of the music business since she was 14, There Will Be Sunshine has proven to be the breakthrough she’d been hoping for. The entire EP was produced and co-written with the help of hip-hop legend No I.D., whose keen ear for taut drums and stately pianos helped create the perfect foundation for the Swede to bring out her inner muse. Okayplayer caught up with Aalegra on an icy cold New York afternoon for a photoshoot and interview as she prepared to jet back to her adopted (and much sunnier) home of Los Angeles. Snoh spoke to her about her difficult past, her exciting present, and a future that’s been years in the making. Read on to learn more about why the hip-hop world is so in love with Snoh, and what the singer has planned for 2015.
Okayplayer: Please introduce yourself to the nice people…
Snoh Aalegra: My name is Snoh Aalegra, I’m from Sweden. I grew up in a town of about 40,000 people about 40 minutes away from Stockholm. I went to high school and stuff in Stockholm, so I used to take the train everyday for about 40, 50 minutes there and then back to go to this musical high school there.
When I was younger–when I was about 14–I got signed to my first major deal in Sweden, so also then I was going back and forth to Stockholm. So I lived on the trains, that’s what feels like home to me.
OKP: Did you get that deal based off of what you were doing in school, or was it related to something else?
SA: No, actually. I started singing and writing songs when I was 9. I was determined to be a singer. And then my mom told me–she was fully supporting me, and I was a kid–that if I still thought I wanted to be a singer when I was 14 that she would help me pursue it in some way or another. And when I was 13 I told her “Mom, I’m ready. I want to be a singer.”
So right before I turned 14 she was calling around to labels in the yellow pages–there was no internet and no easy access to labels. She would call around and say “How can my daughter come see you and sing for you, do you have five minutes?” And she heard back “No, you have to send a demo.” And I didn’t have access to a studio to record or anything, and she was calling around and eventually one person said “Sure, come by.” I found out later that he owned a studio with Sony.
I went there and I kind of auditioned for him, and he said “Wow, you’re amazing. I would like to take you to Sony and introduce you to them, I think they would want to sign you.” So that’s how all of that happened.
OKP: So the first deal was with Sony Sweden?
SA: Yeah. I have contact with him to this day still, he’s been supporting me. I had a publishing deal with them then, in Sweden. A development deal. I did my thing and after a while we went our separate ways. I was in school, stuff like that. And then I’ve been in bad deals–I really have done the long industry thing. I learned a lot, and it’s really shaped me and prepared me for what i’m doing right now. It sounds like a cliché but it’s really the truth. It’s the only way to learn.
OKP: So would you say that your artistic persona has always been the same, or has it changed?
SA: It’s changed a lot.
OKP: Were you signed under Snoh Aalegra, then?