Snoh Aalegra
NR Magazine, Vol. 11

There was a moment last summer when it felt as though one song in particular was seeping from every open window on a warm day; it seemed to be the backing music to Instagram story capturing a stream of sunlight falling upon the interior of an airy apartment. ‘I want you around’, Snoh Aalegra sings on the song of the same name – velvety lyrics dabbling in the simultaneous thrill and uncertainty of a new love, above a pared-back beat. In fact, the entirety of her most recent album, Ugh, Those Feels Again, felt like the soundtrack to the summer. And for Snoh, her music provides the soundtrack to her life; each album or project is a ‘mini movie’ of encounters, experiences and feelings. That Snoh speaks about her music through references to movie soundtracks is testament to a childhood spent watching, and falling in love with, the film scores of Walt Disney movies. ‘The big strings, the orchestras and the choirs,’ she enthuses, ‘they feel so grand; all these instruments and sounds that I love.’ Similarly, the layers and theatrics in the oeuvre of Michael Jackson had a significant impact of Snoh’s taste. It’s clear from the influences she has cited – Lauryn Hill; Nina Simone; Whitney Houston; Stevie Wonder – that Snoh follows in a long tradition of R&B icons. Somewhat fittingly, the album cover for Ugh, Those Feels Again has a touch of Sade about it – something Snoh’s been hearing a lot of. The artistic direction behind the covers of her releases prior to this album, 2017’s Feels and 2016’s mini album Don’t Explain, took a different direction, however. Both covers were designed by the artist Joe McDermott; the pop art illustrations making reference to the movies of old Hollywood. When I first heard Don’t Explain, the combination of McDermott’s album art with Snoh’s smoky vocals over grand orchestral compositions felt timeless. In many respects, it’s only upon hearing features from rappers Logic, Vic Mensa and Vince Staples on Feels that bring Snoh’s music into the present day. It’s fitting, then, that she walked for Thierry Mugler’s A/W 2020 show in Paris earlier this year. ‘It’s a class brand that I’ve always loved, you know; it’s timeless and contemporary at the same time,’ she explains: ‘that’s what I relate to a lot.’ It’s something that she tries to do with her music, but progression is important too. In fact, the day before I spoke to Snoh on the phone, it was announced that she’d signed onto Jay-Z’s Roc Nation – a huge step forward if ever there was one. 

NR MAGAZINE: First of all, it’s just been announced that you’ve signed with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation; how does that feel, and what does this mean for your music?

SNOH AALEGRA: Yeah, I mean, I’m very happy about it all. Me and my team, we’ve been working our asses off, doing everything ourselves for so many years. And I have a really small team of like three people, and at some point, we were like, ‘Ok, it’s time to expand.’ I mean, we work around the clock and we needed to delegate some of this insane workload. Talking to labels was a natural next step in my journey, and our journey as a team. I think choosing Roc Nation was just the most organic way to go; there’s a pre-existing relationship and respect there already, you know. No I.D. [Snoh’s producer] is close with Jay-Z, TY TY, Jay Brown and everybody, and I feel like no matter how big their company gets, they still operate like one big family. And I think that’s something that’s very important to have for me, in contrast to other cutthroat, hype-driven labels. I look at Jay-Z, his close circle of people and see the insane careers they’ve built for themselves and the help they’ve given so many other artists. And as far as my creative process goes, that will stay the same. I mean, I always strive to evolve and learn, but I definitely have a particular way of how I like things to be done and that will probably never change.

NR: Something that interests a lot of people is that Prince was your mentor when he was alive; what do you think he’d say knowing where you’ve got to today?

SA: Yeah, it’s interesting cos he really told me to never sign with a major label, and when I met him, I was with a major label. He was like, ‘Get out of this deal!’ and I did; I went indie. But, funny enough, I know one person that he really respected and trusted, even with his own catalogue, was Jay-Z. So, I feel like I’ve made the right decision and he probably would have supported this too.

NR: How do you find the space to create new music, and is having a certain space to work in important to you?

SA: I think it’s important to live and to have something to write about; to take your time and have space. Like, I thought I needed more time to start making music again after this album, but I’ve already started making music and I think that’s because I naturally have things to write about. If I don’t, I’m not gonna force it, you know? I’m very real with what I say,  and not say, before I get into the studio. I go in with that mindset like, ‘Ok I want to write about this.’

NR: When it comes to the composition, where do you begin? Do you start with the lyrics, an idea or a sound?

SA: It really begins with me, walking into the room, knowing the mood – there’s always a mood. Sometimes, it’s just only me and an engineer, and I’m there writing the whole thing myself, either to a beat, or I make up melodies and lyrics – and then I have somebody come play for me. Sometimes I like to bounce off ideas with a co-writer or with a producer and work that way. I’m all for either ways. It’s really about myself and my life, so it’s super important that it’s all authentic to me. And if I bounce off with somebody, they need to know that it’s really personal to me. And that’s why I don’t really write with a lot of people. So, sometimes, I already have a lyric idea; sometimes it’s like, I’m jamming to a beat. My favourite is probably jamming to live music where I’m just jamming with live musicians. That’s probably my favourite way to work.

NR: Ugh, Those Feels Again was a year or so in the making: How do you know when something’s complete and ready to go?

SA: I think it’s just a feeling you have. Like, I’m ready to put this out; I’m ready for people to hear this. And it’s not always that it’s perfect, or that you feel like, ‘Oh I have a hit, I have this, I have that’. I had no idea how people would react to the album. All I knew was how it made me feel and that it was, you know, a good feeling. For me, it’s about what I want to have said on a project, and if I expressed these emotions. My projects are like time capsules of my life. So, this album that’s out right now, was the sum up of what happened after a break up and what I was going through – reminiscing back on why we broke up, how we broke up. Songs like Charleville 9200, Pt. II, songs like Love Live That and You, reflect on the break up. And then, I was single for a whole year making the album, experiencing new love or situations, so songs like Situationship and I Want You Around describe that feeling when you just met somebody new, and you want them to be around them, but you don’t really know where it’s gonna go. So, that’s a mix of a whole year for me.

NR: Once you’ve put an album out there, do you move on, or do you look back at that period and remember how you felt?

SA: Well, in real life I move on. I’ve moved on from those relationships and stuff, but I can never escape it all the way because I have to perform! But sometimes, I’ll channel another feeling, or I’ll think about something else. Every time I’m performing certain songs, I’m not standing there thinking about my ex, do you know what I mean? But some songs, like Time, every time I’m thinking about my dad. So, it can be hard because I’m always thinking about something – cos I really get into the vibe when I’m performing.

NR: Your lyrics are very personal to you, but I think people connect to them because you really capture emotion. How does it feel that people might listen to your songs and put their own experiences and feelings onto them? 

SA: And they do, and I notice that they do, which is really surreal. I grew up listening to music as a fan, and I know what music does to me so, to be able to do that for other people as an artist is kind of unreal. But, I think that was a part of why I wanted to become an artist, you know. I want to inspire; that’s why we do music I think. But it’s kind of crazy; there’s been people come up to me saying I’ve saved their life, and that listening to my album has stopped them from doing something. That’s feels crazy to me – that that’s helped even one person. It just shows how powerful music can be, and how it can connect people at the same time.

NR: In a similar way, you’ve previously mentioned some of the musicians that inspired you growing up. But, for you now, how does it feel that your music could inspire a young generation?

SA: I mean, it’s surreal because I just know how I was feeling as a little kid listening to artists I looked up to. I was inspired by Whitney Houston; when I heard her voice, that’s when I knew that I wanted to be an artist. So, it’s crazy if somebody feels that way hearing me. At the same time, I would feel nervous for them because I know how tough this industry can be, and what a tough journey I’ve had to get this far. It’s all been worth it, but I don’t know how much I would advise somebody else to get into this industry! But, you know, if I can inspire somebody to do their own thing- no matter what it is – if they want to be an artist, a lawyer, or a nurse, whatever they want to be; if I can inspire that, that’s a beautiful thing.

NR: Being able to look back on the journey you’ve taken, is there anything you would have done differently – or something that you’ve really learned from that’s shaped who you are today?

SA: I’ve learned to not be a people pleaser; I used to be a people pleaser because, you know, I was signed for the first time when I was thirteen. And, I had a lot of respect for authority, listening to people telling me what to do, and what not to do. I didn’t have my own voice. Things were really different when I was thirteen, or even when I was eighteen, to being a teenager now. We’re way more educated, smarter, we have more access to information, to make music and to have a reach. When I was a growing up, there was no SoundCloud or Instagram. So, for me, I had to go through labels –that was the only option. I put a lot of trust in other people around me and I didn’t know what I was doing; I was a kid. So, I think yeah: that’s something I’ve learned – stop being a people pleaser. Do your own thing. Life’s too short to do something you don’t want to do. And, I stand up for myself more than ever and I don’t take things personal. It’s a whole big game for everybody in the industry; it’s not just about the artists – there’s a whole political game. For artists, nothing is set for us, basically. It’s crazy how it’s a whole world of politics, and artists get really affected by this. And now I work with family so I know that they would never fuck me over.

NR: Finally then, if you were to work on a film score of your own, what would be the ideal project for that?

SA: James Bond. 007. That’s always something that’s been on the bucket list; if that were ever to happen, that would be super crazy. It’s been a goal of mine cos I’m a big fan of the James Bond soundtracks. License to Kill - Gladys Knight, Golden Eye - Tina Turner, or like, Gold Finger - Shirley Bassey: they’re some of my favourite songs and compositions. So yeah, that would be a dream cos I would want to make a song like that.

April 2020

Kevin Parker
NR Magazine, Vol. 11

Kevin Parker’s shoot for NR Magazine came merely a few days before Los Angeles was locked down in response to the coronavirus pandemic that has, slowly but surely, turned everything we know on its head. ‘It was great to do something normal, something that I have been doing a lot of in the last few months; doing photoshoots and having fun,’ Kevin explains – now back in his native Perth, WA. ‘It took the attention away from everything that was going on. It was nice to spend three hours, just doing a photoshoot with wicked clothes.’ As the force behind the powerhouse band Tame Impala, Kevin is confident that the band has the resources it needs to weather the blow that the pandemic will have on the music industry; people still listen to his music online, ‘apparently’. When it comes to making music, it’s a well-known fact that Kevin  works alone – so in that sense, business continues as usual. Yet, like many other artists who have had to abandon plans for the foreseeable future, the release of Tame Impala’s fourth album, The Slow Rush, in February has been overshadowed by this unprecedented upheaval. The band were due to play a number of shows in the US and Mexico in March, with an Australian tour following in April. ‘We’d spent so long preparing for the tour, and were at this absolute crescendo of getting ready for the shows – and as soon as we had played the first show, it was like, ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen? For now, the dates have been postponed – which undoubtedly comes as a blow to the Tame Impala fans who have been waiting five years for a new album (though a number of fans turned to punning The Slow Rush’s exploration of ‘time’ in response to Kevin’s announcements of the postponed shows on social media; ‘it’s a slow rush’.)

In its entirety, The Slow Rush is an infectiously funky record – and the influence of 70s disco and the current mainstream that has welcomed Kevin into its arms, are clear.  Much of the heavy fuzz and reverb found on earlier Tame Impala albums have been slickened and given a shiny polish. Looking into the past may preoccupy some of Kevin’s lyrical reflections on the album, but there’s no reason for why Tame Impala’s sound shouldn’t move forward. It’s somewhat bittersweet that an album that unpicks the strangeness of time should come at a moment when, across the planet, we will have more time to contemplate the past and the future. It’s a heavy weight to place upon the shoulders of The Slow Rush, and if there was any kind of global crisis that was on Kevin’s mind at the time of writing the album, it would have been the climate crisis. Tame Impala partnered with Reverb, an organisation that works with artists to counterbalance the carbon emissions that are created through touring – something Kevin explains as a ‘no brainer’. Touring, especially on the level that the band are, has a huge carbon footprint, and trying to restructure the way world tours have been done for years would be a daunting task for Tame Impala to undertake themselves. But, it’s Tame Impala’s responsibility ‘first and foremost’ to ensure that the band is setting the right example, especially for a band that performs to thousands of people at every show (though, he hopes, the people that listen to Tame Impala are ‘probably not the kind of people going around denying climate change.’) During our Skype call, I ask Kevin about the prerequisites for listening to music; he says he has come to realise that his appreciation of music is shaped by ‘not necessarily the space, but who I was with when I heard it first, or what I was feeling.’ There’s a ‘helplessness’ to this reality; a ‘lack of control, from the songwriter’s point of view’ over how their music will be received. No doubt, Kevin could not have anticipated that The Slow Rush would come at the time it did; all that’s left to do now is listen to the album in solitude and await the moment when the music world comes back to life.

NR MAGAZINE: The Slow Rush was a long time in the making – how do you feel listening to it now that it’s out there? Is it a relief to be done?

KEVIN PARKER: Absolutely, yeah. It’s funny because the moment I’m finished with the album, and the moment it comes out, I expect this huge sense of relief and a weight off my shoulders , but it never comes. That might just be because I have trouble appreciating things once they’re done; on release day, I didn’t get to enjoy it because I just can’t enjoy these things. I still enjoy the album, but it’s not always easy to enjoy the music when you’re aware of so many other people listening to it for the first time, and invariably judging it. When I look back, I remember thinking to myself, ‘Shit, am I ever going to finish this?’ Now, I am able to appreciate being on the other side of that. I was listening to the album yesterday; if I’m ever on Spotify for whatever reason, I’ll probably slowly make my way to the album and give it a listen – just to see what it sounds like now after a month. (It only came out a month ago, that’s crazy; it feels like a life time ago!)  

NR: What were your reasons for making an album that explores the concept of time?

KP: It’s always been something that fascinates me – not time itself as a weird existential force – but the way it affects us. The way you can smell something, you know, if you walk past someone in the street who’s wearing cologne that someone that you were in a relationship with ten years ago was wearing, and you haven’t smelled it since then, it just sends you into an absolute time warp. The way these experiences shape our lives intrigues me. At the same time, I didn’t consciously go about making songs about all these things but, when it comes to an album, the kind of music that I’m making subconsciously informs what I start singing about. Like, when I made Lonerism, the chords and instruments I was using reminded me of times when I felt alone growing up, and so the album ended up being like that. And I feel like The Slow Rush is the same kind of thing, where the music I was making – the rhythms and cords – just made me think about the future, the past and everything in between.

NR: I listened to Innerspeaker again a couple of weeks ago and it transported me back almost ten years back which was, like you say, an emotional time warp. Does the way you listen to your music change with the passage of time, or is the sentiment the same?  

KP: Definitely not, no! It’s funny you know, you’re saying about Innerspeaker – it’s the same for me. I hardly ever listen to the album the whole way through, but if I really pay attention to parts of it, it’s crazy because it so clearly reminds me of where I was and what I was feeling. Like for you, it’s kind of crazy; music is crazy how it can do that. I guess the other thing is, listening to Innerspeaker now, it feels like it was someone else. I just hear this naïve kid, not really knowing what he was doing, which is nice because I don’t judge it anymore. I don’t judge it in the way that I do with The Slow Rush. Innerspeaker was so long ago that any of the mistakes, any of the things that are wrong with it, just sound charming and cute, which feels weird to say…

NR: I guess you’re so disconnected from it, with that amount of time passing?

KP: Yeah totally. That’s also good because it finally allows me to listen to it like someone else, not as me – the person who made it. That’s kind of the dream, to be able to listen to your own work. I don’t know how much money I would pay to be able to listen to the songs I’m working on at the time, you know? To be able to listen to the album, as an outsider… I’d give anything to be able to do that, but it’s something that only time can offer.  

NR: I’ve seen a few people mention that the cover for The Slow Rush was 3D-animated, but it’s a photograph from Kolmanskop, Namibia, right?

KP: Yeah -  I’m not going to lie, I was a little bit disappointed when people asked how I synthesised the image. I was like, ‘Man, I flew half way across the world to take that picture!’

NR: I can see why people don’t believe it’s real. How did you decide on using that as the album cover?

KP: I was a little bit obsessed with abandoned places for a while, and the internet is full of pictures of these abandoned ghost towns; there’s just something so enthralling about them. I mean, probably not coincidentally, it’s like the experience of time passing smacking you in the face. I guess some people find it depressing to look at, but I just see such beauty in it. As soon as I  saw that place, I knew that we had to go there. Kolmanskop is like a ghost town in the desert and it’s super windy, so sand just builds up in these amazing ways. What I love about it, is that it looks like liquid – and if you look at a picture, you can’t tell if it took the sand that’s up to the window a matter of minutes or decades to reach that point, you know? You can’t tell which it is and that’s kind of what I love about it.

NR: You’ve previously spoken a lot about how you make music, but how important is the space around you during that process?

KP: It’s important – not that I need to be in a particular place to make music, but I think there’s something about being somewhere new. I think the energy of being in a place that you’ve never been in before can make your brain think in different ways. So, with The Slow Rush, I tried to milk that. I was renting Airbnbs, taking music equipment with me and recording there for a week on my own. There’s this nervous tension about being in someone else’s house…

NR: Though I guess, you got more than what you bargained for when you were staying in Malibu [when the worst wildfire season in California in 2018 ravaged the area]?

KP: Well exactly, yeah. And I’d only been there for one night, and the next morning I just had to go. I had stayed there for a week earlier that month recording, and it’s funny because I think about that space – I started a few songs off this album there, and when I listen to something I think about where I was when I working on it. It takes me a while to realise that that space doesn’t exist anymore; it was completely burned to the ground, it was just rubble. When I listen to a song, or the chorus of a song I wrote there, I remember the colour of the walls; what the door looked like; what it was like leaning out into the backyard. It’s kind of weird to think it just doesn’t exist anymore because, in terms of memory, we never think of a space as not existing, you know? Our minds think of the space we’re in as these permanent places, not something that can just disappear in one day.

NR: It goes without saying that Tame Impala has seen an unprecedented level of success in the past ten years – what’s next for Tame Impala and for you?

KP: That’s a good question; I don’t know. Well, I want to get making music. One of the things I was looking forward to so much with finishing this album was it just being done with. There was so much stuff that I wanted to do, in terms of Tame Impala and not; there were things that I couldn’t do until I made this album. So now, I’m happy to be on the other side of it so I can do the things that seemed wrong before. I have no shortage of things that I want to do now. I’m kind of excited about it – whatever that ends up being.

April 2020
Daniel Caesar
NR Magazine, Vol. 10

Since the release of his debut album Freudian in 2017, Daniel Caesar has been something of a crooner redefining R&B and soul of the 1990s with elements of gospel, taken from DC’s upbringing, for a new generation. The album racked up a number of Grammy nominations at the 60th Grammy Awards, for Best R&B Album, Best R&B Performance for ‘Get You’ with Kali Uchis, before winning Best R&B Performance earlier this year for ‘Best Part’ with H.E.R. All by the age of 23 (24 now). Following the release of Caesar’s second album, Case Study 01, in June, he has been on tour since August in the US, and now in London ahead of UK tour dates (sell out) before Europe and Canada.

NR MAGAZINE: Earlier this week you reached a billion streams on Spotify which sounds pretty crazy to me. How does that feel?

DANIEL CAESAR: It feels like good, I don’t think it’s something I ever considered. Like, a million, a couple of million, sounds doable, but a billion is outside of my range of perception.

NR: It’s fair to say you’ve achieved quite a lot of commercial success without being signed to a major label. So considering that, have you got any intentions to expand Golden Child Records in the future at all?

DC: Yeah, there’s always more that can be done. I have lots of ideas, who knows exactly what those turn into, but it’s not going to stop here.

NR: Case Study 01 has a pretty distinct vibe to it compared with Freudian. Could you explain the process and the intentions behind the record?

DC: With this one, I made a few beats first, and it was more about trying to get more complete ideas from my head out into the world, as opposed to writing on my guitar. So this time, some of the lyrics came long afterwards, which isn’t how it usually works for me. I had more to say also, so it’s a lot wordier; I was also being less practical in terms of ‘first verse, second verse’, etc. I was saying a lot more and doing a lot more this time around, and then, trying to organise all my thoughts when there’s more going on that usual.

NR: There was one video you posted on Instagram – a behind the scenes of the recording with an open piano…

DC: Yeah, that was for Too Deep To Turn Back. We got to explore a lot more this time. With the last album, we’d go in the studio and block out a week or less because we already knew what we were going to do. Whereas, with Case Study 01, we started creating the songs in the studio, so we had time to play around and discover new things. I liked that so much more because the studio recording process is when I get to do what I want, it’s like my favourite part. So, this time, we were at Abbey Road Studios and just fucking around with all the cool stuff, and we just stumbled across this sound we liked and found a part for it…

NR: You’re commonly referred to as a crooner, a romantic, or like a present-day D’Angelo, is that something you ever anticipated? Or is that a strange thing to be?

DC: I mean, I guess, yeah. Singing was always my thing at school. I was always the crooner guy, that was my shtick or whatever… That was me, I could sing the emotional songs…

NR: Did you always want to pursue singing?

DC: It was always one of the things I wanted to be, not the first thing, but one of. When you’re little and you tell adults, well-meaning adults, what you want to be, they try and help you manage your expectations… It’s like, chances are you’re not going to be able to do it, in the nicest way, and so you try and realign, and pick something more practical. So you try and fit into what you think you’re supposed to be doing, and then you’re just not good at that. And so, it always came back to singing.

NR: Something that is striking about the visuals for your albums and videos is of you as what seems like an isolated figure (especially in the spacesuit). Is there anything in that?

DC: When you say it, it makes sense to me, but I don’t think it was intentional like, ‘let’s do this’. I was just feeling isolated or, trying to connect, but being unable to, you know? I’d say one of the themes is about wanting love, wanting a connection, and it’s always fleeting or unrequited.

NR: There’s a moment in your conversation with Brandy where she remarks that you’re a great storyteller; How important is storytelling to you as a songwriter?

DC: It’s important, but I don’t think it’s the only tool necessary. I think the most important thing is conveying the feeling, whether or not you’re being descriptive and articulate, whether you’re retelling a story, or you’re just saying what’s need to be said to convey the idea or the feeling. I think storytelling is important; it helps make things more rhythmic. But the feeling is the most important thing, however it is you get that across.

NR: You mentioned that, with this album you didn’t write some of the lyrics until afterwards but, with songwriting, where do you start and what’s your process?

DC: It usually doesn’t come ‘til I’m in a really good mood or really bad mood. Or, say, I have a conversation and I hear a phrase that I like, it’s usually something that sounds paradoxical. Just something clever. Then, chords might come and surround it. It always come through extreme emotion, energy and excitement. Usually, honestly, I’ll be in the shower and I’ll like, drop everything and do the voice note. Sometimes it turns into a song, sometimes it’s just a short little note and I’ll send it over to Jordan [Evans, Caesar’s manager] and, he puts it in a folder with thousands of others…

NR: What does ‘reinvention’ mean to you?

DC: Reinvention is death and rebirth. No one is really one thing, no one has a fixed identity. I think growing is moving from identity to identity. I mean like, what I’m doing is the extreme art version, where I’m an astronaut [for Case Study 01]. But, it’s about growing through your life, finding new parts about yourself and taking it on fully.

NR: How would you relate reinvention to something that you’ve gone through or that’s happened to you specifically?

DC: I think everybody is the way they are because of things that have happened to them, so there’s no one moment I can think of… But, through trauma, through the good things and the bad, these things chip away at the sculpture that becomes the final ‘thing’.

October 2019