Angel Snow just released her second album, but so much has changed since her first that, for all intents and purposes, the fetching self-titled project serves as a proper introduction. Her co-writer and producer is Viktor Krauss, the multi-instrumentalist brother of Alison Krauss. It was Alison who suggested the two of them try writing together and who included their material on Paper Airplane, her most recent album with Union Station.
The whole process helped Snow venture outside her creative comfort zone and find more articulate ways to describe her inner emotional landscape. In that spirit of self-disclosure, the Georgia-born Nashville transplant allowed CMT Edge a glimpse into what it’s like to start the singer-songwriter journey alone with your natural proclivities and insecurities, stumble upon sympathetic collaborators and experience those first tastes of success.
CMT Edge: Are you sensing that people are seeking out your album after hearing your songwriting on Alison Krauss’ album? I mean, the kind of people who read liner notes.
Snow: I’m not really sure how it’s going, you know? I think that I’m gaining some of her fans but also starting to develop my own following. That’s really helped out, for sure. You can’t deny that. When you have somebody like her, her name attached to yours, that definitely speeds things up a little bit.
The album is the fruit of a collaboration you’ve had with Viktor Krauss over the past several years. What difference did it make to the creative process that you weren’t partnering with just anybody but with somebody so musically accomplished?
I honestly felt like it was the right time. I really felt a sense of peace about it when he and I first met — when I met Alison, even. It was such a comfortable, friendly meeting between she and I. It was really good to meet her on a personal level, as opposed to a musical level. We met as friends: “Hey, this is Alison. Alison, this is Angel.” “Hi. How’s it going?” We had a conversation about random other things, and then music made its way into the conversation. It all worked out very naturally. Viktor and I, when we first met, we seemed to go really well together as songwriters. And we also became friends. It was a kindred spirit kind of a thing, between the three of us. It really was.
Songwriting used to be an introspective solo endeavor for you. Then you started doing all this co-writing with Viktor Krauss, and now you’re also co-writing with several others. You mentioned during your album release show that you’ve been writing with Matraca Berg. What did it take for you to get comfortable with letting somebody else into that process?
I’m somebody that it usually takes me a while to warm up to anyone, whether that be through a musical collaboration or on a personal level. I feel like this was a way for me to open up that part of myself to somebody, and Viktor definitely made me feel comfortable.
Has it been easier to co-write with others since then?
It definitely has. Matraca and I, the first time we wrote together, it was kind of a similar chemistry. She ended up putting a song on her new record, this new song that we wrote.
I think that we [writers] need each other. I think that you can’t go it on your own with anything that we do in life. It freed me up. I always felt like I needed to continue to write my own things and stick to what I know. But writing with Viktor allowed me to explore all these different parts of myself. The song “As You Are” kind of has a more rock-oriented sound to it with the resonator guitar and electric. I’d love to move into more of that with my writing. He opened that way for me. As opposed to the singer-songwriter, sweet, sad, girly songs that I was used to writing.
With Viktor, he and I had similar tastes in Trent Reznor or Led Zeppelin. My brother Jonas was a big influence with my rock preferences and heavy metal, Metallica and all of those different bands. Viktor has an appreciation for them, as well. I’m a rocker at heart, for sure. It was really exciting for me to feel like, “Wow, I can actually have this freedom to do this? To write this kind of stuff?”
There’s something about your melodies and vocal phrasing that stand out from the straight-ahead delivery you’d expect from an indie folk singer-songwriter. The melodies are hypnotic and the phrasing is so fluent. Sometimes it’s surprising the way a line you’re singing spills over into the next measure. So where does that come from?
Well, I don’t know. I guess it’s more of an abstract way of writing music. I feel like this kind of writing has more of an art form to it, and I kind of splattered the paint all over the canvas here.
It doesn’t feel haphazard. It feels channeled.
Channeled, yeah. That definitely makes sense. It’s like channeled splatter. [laughs]
There are subtle elements of blues, soul and jazz to it.
Yeah. And I didn’t even really know that that was part of my makeup, and then I kind of found these things, listening to the way [Viktor] was playing guitar. I was like, “Oh! Oh, I like that. What are you doing there?” Then I would grab something out of the air. And then we’d have a song. That’s the kind of chemistry that happens sometimes.
I listened to your version and Alison Krauss’ version of “Lie Awake” back to back and realized that yours is in a significantly lower key.
I had a guy say recently, “Is that a guy singing?” I was like, “That’s me. I’m singing that song.” He got confused. I’ve had a couple of people say, “Wow, you can really hit those low ranges.” That song is definitely very low.
Have you always thought of yourself as having a lower voice? Or is that something you’ve become conscious of when people have, say, made mistaken gender assumptions about your singing?
Well, I think that I was even a little insecure about it in the beginning.
I was even insecure about my name growing up. I’ve always had an issue with being over-concerned about what people think. Over these last few years, I’ve been able to really, fully accept all these little details about myself and really embrace them, to be honest with you. It’s never been like, “Oh, that dude used to make fun of you in third grade.” It was never like that. But I thought, “That’s not normal — to have a voice like that. I should have a real high and beautiful angelic thing. I’m Angel. I need to have something more feminine and much more acceptable to society.” … And now it’s interesting that when you do finally accept these parts of yourself, other people will accept them.
I think some of the most interesting women singers have had rich lower tones to their voice. Like Shelby Lynne.
Because you carried the added burden of having a name that made people expect you to sound a certain way?
Maybe that’s what it was. I have no idea.
Was part of it that you were afraid people would assume that you’d taken your name as a performing name?
Oh, my God. I get that all the time. They’re like, “Is that really your name? Let me see your driver’s license.” …They don’t believe me in the beginning that it’s actually my real name. It’s funny to me because growing up in elementary school with all the same kids and graduating from a really small school, that was just what my name was.
Your older brothers named you that, right?
Right. So, I mean, it’s been my name my entire life. But when I moved to Nashville to try to pursue a music career, people were like [in a patronizing tone], “That just goes so well with what you’re doing.”
So you don’t think your brothers had any idea it would be a good stage name?
No! Jonas was 5. I don’t think that was what he was thinking at all.