The Nashville songwriter speaks of her search and discovery of self confidence, a new sound, and lyrical strength
Angel Snow lives in Nashville, she’s a singer songwriter, and she rose to notoriety with broader audiences when Alison Krauss sang one of her songs. Despite sounding like she’s all Country, this artist isn’t as easy to categorize as first impressions may lead you to think. A fan of experimentation and ambient instrumentation, Snow is as interested in the pursuit of inner self through art as she is in gatekeeping the purity of tradition. Her new album Magnetic is the bravest from the artist to date.
This collection is the product of Snow’s journey through personal troubles, strengths of self-growth, and a new confidence that drove her through a new approach to craft. The result is the most interesting, and fully realized of any work that we’ve heard from the artist so far.
ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with Angel Snow on a particularly sunny and optimistic morning in Nashville. Talk soon turned to the essential need of keeping things real, Snow’s new confidence to believe in her own voices, and the courage to move beyond all expectations into a unifying sound.
Christopher Friedmann: We are talking because you are about to release your new album Magnetic. Just to start, how is the mood in camp?
Angel Snow: I’m in a great mood! I’m just feeling optimistic and excited today. I mean, we’ll see how tomorrow goes but today I’m doing really well. I’m in a great mood!
Christopher Friedmann: Magnetic is a step in a new direction from you first album. Why did it feel like the right time to make this shift?
AS: Well, it’s always been… this genre of music has always been what I’ve been drawn to, I guess since I was a kid. My brother Jonas introduced me to some bands like Aphex Twin, and some of Trent Reznor’s stuff a long time ago, and I got very interested in the electronic, drum machine kind of thing. Brian Eno was a huge influence in my life, so I was always drawn to it, but I started playing guitar when I was fifteen, and obviously learned to that.
I learned to write poetry and started putting poetry to music. Then I moved to Nashville and started a band but I always wanted it, the music, to turn into something more than this acoustic singer songwriter type of thing, but it wasn’t the right time.
I guess everything just sort of fell into place. I figured out what I was seeking for so long and the sound that I was after. I really love to create and it’s not just that having a full band with a bass player and a drummer and a guitar player just doing their thing, I wasn’t necessarily bored by that – I just wanted to add more color. I wanted to add different sounds and layering, and harmonies. I find it so interesting how we can change our vocals around “Oh – this is interesting, let’s throw this on there!” I just think the experiment it what I’m most drawn to… to experiment with different sounds.
CF: I read that you have always been a fan of ambient music, but it was hard for you to take the step towards this new sound. Nashville isn’t known as being a land of creative freedom…
AS: No! No! So, it’s such a long and winding road that I’ve been on here! I started playing music with my friend Jason Goforth, I guess it’s been ten years ago when I met him. He was also… we had the same taste in music. He started playing with me on lap steel guitar. He’s always just been interested in old telephones and singing through them, and adding… he experiments a lot, and that’s always been good for me. He brought this instrument on tour one time… it’s an omnichord…. You can get it at Toys’R’us or somewhere where like that, it’s a toy, and it just inspired me so much. There was such a variety of sounds you could get out of that toy, and I was playing with it so much, and I realized “This is the direction that I’m going in – this is what I want to do, right here!”
It took years of evolving, where I was confident enough in my own skin where I gained the confidence to say “You know what, I don’t know if many people are going to be into around here, but THIS is what I have to do.” You know, being in the whole Americana world, and I had songs cut by Alison Krauss, and that happened… And I don’t want to say that’s a negative thing, it absolutely wasn’t, I gained some recognition through that. Playing some shows from her, and gaining recognition from her crowd in that Bluegrass and Americana world… I knew in my heart i felt “Alright, I’m going to do this… Alison can have the songs, she can go ahead and make that happen” I went ahead and had a great time with hit.
Victor Krauss, Alison’s brother, he produced my record. He’s an upright bass player and he was also interested in some of the same music that I was and adding in some weird electric guitar sounds on the last record. So he… Victor and Jason were inspirations for me. They heard my ideas, they embraced them and were advocates for me. It was a slow and steady process. I apologize if I ramble… it’s just there’s so much that’s taken place over the years!
CF: Do you find there is something different about making ambient music from folk music or is it all just music making to you?
AS: It’s all just making music to me! It’s all just art. It’s just so fun, I get so much more from it. I learned from band practice now that we just sit around and make up stuff. We make up drum beats, and say “Add that in there! Add that weird pipe sound! Add that weird chamber-in-the-middle-of-nowhere sound!” It’s just so fun to put things together and just mess with different sounds. It’s so much more fun, I get so much joy from just creating. It’s not just coming and saying “Here’s a song boys” It all feels so predictable, and I don’t like that… I’m not very predictable, I’ve learned that from going in this direction… it’s an expression of who I am, for sure.
CF: How is the release of this record different from your self-titled debut?
AS: I think that with the last record I feel that lyrically I was being true to who I was at the time. I’ve always been true to I who I am with the words, whether it’s something personal, or if I’m going through some kind of depression, or anxiety-driven or a death in the family, or something along those lines – I’ll always tap into that. Writing is never an issue. Of course, I get writer’s block occasionally, but I always try and be as real as I can, lyrically.
Musically I have so much more freedom now, I feel like I can step into it. Back then, I wasn’t secure in it enough to step into my own individuality. It’s been a personal process to step into my own psyche and to look at my life experience and to recognize that it’s really not as hard or complicated as we make it. I’ve come to a place where I’ve accepted my full and present self. I’m not afraid anymore. I think I lived in a lot of fear before, and I guess I was afraid of rejection and all of those normal human feelings that we have. I was very insecure when I was partying too much, and using drugs recreationally… I wasn’t in my right mind. Now I’m much clearer, and I have an understanding of who I am. So, I guess that’s the difference now… I can speak up now, I can say what I need to. “We need to take this out, and try this here.” I can take charge and listen to myself much, much better than I could.
CF: You worked with Lee Groves on the new record. What did he bring to the studio that made you know he was the man for the job?
AS: He just had a way of taking our songs and wrapping them up like little gifts to get the story across. It’s like he knew exactly what sounds to use to let the stories empathise. I don’t know, there’s just something about him as a person and the way he hears music. We just connected, on a personal and spiritual level and it was just very refreshing. He knows how to act in that open space. He knew I wanted space, and he knew how to tap into that. He knew how to get that emotional and theatrical thing that I was after.
CF: You are also a sought after songwriter. What different about writing songs for someone else other than yourself, and how do you step into someone else’s shoes?
AS: Here’s the deal… So I didn’t move to Nashville to be a songwriter for someone else, I moved here to be my own artist. I moved here in 2006. I met a person at an open mic, he was a producer and we became friends immediately and I was just like “Let’s do this… let’s make a record.” and it was called Fortune Tellers and it was a more of an acoustic-driven record. It had a few ambient elements in there where I felt that I had no choice but to go with what I knew. I mean, I was new to Nashville, I knew nobody, I had no connections, I had zero people that I could reach out to, I was thinking “Well, it’s up to me, I suppose.”
Those songs came straight from my heart and soul. I’d just gotten over a terrible break-up. My first cousin had just committed suicide. There were just all kinds of things happening, so also going from an atheistic period to a more spiritually-driven thing… so when I met Alison Krauss, who I met through a mutual friend, I ended up giving her a CD and she loved it. She listened to it and called me up and said “I love these songs” and so she introduced me to her brother, Victor, and then he and I got together and on our first meeting, our first time of interacting he pulled out a piece of music that he’d written on his guitar – I listened to it and lyrics emerged, so that song “Lie Awake” happened on our first meeting. That was the song that Alison ended up covering on record.
It wasn’t even a plan to co write… he just shared music, the lyrics came. His music spoke to me, the imagery was a woman in an abusive relationship that she was trying to get out of and leave, and so she would lie awake at night and try and figure out how to get away from him. I had just got away from a relationship that wasn’t a good one. And other people’s stories have also just inspired me.
I’m not really the kind of person who goes to Music Row and have writing spots five days a week, that’s just not the person that I’ll ever be. It’s just not what I was attracted to.
CF: In the other direction, we recently heard a cover version of Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms” that you had rearranged. Can you speak a little about that song – of all Cave’s songs – what about this one resonated with you, and how did you go about making it your own?
AS: Well, the song resonated because he’s just such an innovative writer, and the darkness that hovers of his… that he’s able to capture in his writing… when I heard that song for the first time; it’s just so simple and timeless. I thought it was so cool that he allowed himself to go that vulnerable place. When it comes to our spirituality he’s open about his non-belief in god, and then being with a girl that he was in love with who obviously had a relationship with god. That interaction must have been difficult, if he really loved her, if that was an actual. If that was a true story between two people. I’m drawn to that… I love the Bad Seeds, I love his music… I can’t wait to see them in June when they come to Nashville. Their new record is just incredible, and I feel the way they experiment with instrumentation is also inspiring to me, but essentially just the simplicity and the beauty that he tapped into. He was fearless, he’s not so precious as to what the sound he and his band have. I mean, he might be, but that song totally stands out.
CF: Over the course of your career you’ve have had a fair breadth of experiences, but I was wondering if you could tell us of the most grounding moment that you’ve had so far, a moment that reminds you why you do all this?
AS: Well, I think that in the beginning before I really knew who I was…. I think we’re all on a journey getting to know who we are as individuals, and I don’t think we’re ever going to have a full idea of who we are until the day we die… but it has been, over these last four years that I have really understood that I needed to figure out my issues and get to the core of them. I needed to get to an understanding of myself, and I think that going through issues with social anxiety and depression… and every single one of the songs on this album touches on a personal battle… I mean, I battle with so many different conditions, and each song deals with that.
There’s a song called “I remember” and that represents what it means to deal with shame and coming to terms with it. I think so many of us have that… we try to hide who we are as people, and we hide to try and keep people that we think we love in our lives… We’re not true to ourselves, so I had to dig deep and figure out that I had to face that demon head on. So it’s basically, the haze of musical alchemy… there’s a song called “I need you”… my brother is an addict, he deals with addiction, and I have family members that I’m surrounded by that struggle with addiction, so going to ALANON meetings, and AA meetings – not that I’m an alcoholic, but I think it’s great to go to and be around people who are dealing with the same thing. Basically, it’s just touching on those issues that I think that all of us, as humans, deal with… and being honest with ourselves, and learning to sit in the dark with other people and their issues and hearing them.
I’m hoping that the songs resonate with some people who have experienced the same problems that I’ve had. I want to provide hope for people who need this. I want them to feel understood, I can empathize with them. I basically want people to feel loved when they listen to this record. And that’s what’s grounding… this record isn’t about me, it’s about them, it’s about all of us. We need each other, especially in a time like this and where we are as a society… Jesus! I just hope it resonates… I just hope it resonates!
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