Swedish sis­ter act First Aid Kit

Now firmly es­tab­lished as part of a long lin­eage of Swedish acts who have en­joyed in­ter­na­tional ac­claim, First Aid Kit tell JOHN MEAGHER they now feel em­bold­ened to move in a new di­rec­tion, away from their pure folk roots

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

For a duo who first made a name for them­selves when they were teenagers, the Söder­berg sis­ters, Jo­hanna and Klara, are re­mark­ably grounded. Not for them the clichéd busi­ness of go­ing off the rails, of suc­cumb­ing to alcohol and drugs and all the other trap­pings of mu­si­cians thrust into the lime­light while still so young.

Klara was just 15 when First Aid Kit got no­ticed out­side their na­tive Swe­den thanks to their mar­vel­lously raw and har­mony-drenched cover of Fleet Foxes’ ‘Tiger Moun­tain Peas­ant Song’ — which they had posted on YouTube — and Jo­hanna was hardly a worldly fig­ure at 18. But they laugh good-na­turedly when Re­view won­ders how they have man­aged to stay grounded.

“I don’t think it’s dif­fi­cult to be grounded,” Jo­hanna says. “Partly, it’s be­cause we are sis­ters and we know each other so well. I mean, when I’m look­ing at Klara, I don’t think ‘I’m sit­ting next to a rock star’. She’s my silly lit­tle sis­ter — she’s still the same.

“And we’re not very cocky or braggy peo­ple. We don’t con­sider our­selves to be above oth­ers and we never have. It’s a Swedish men­tal­ity as well, this idea that you shouldn’t walk around and think that you’re bet­ter than any­one else. It’s very in­grained in our culture — and it’s very dif­fer­ent to Amer­ica, for ex­am­ple. They’re very proud there, and they talk about how much money they have — that’s the ugli­est thing you can do if you’re a Swedish per­son.”

Klara pipes up: “But that men­tal­ity [known as the Law of Jante across Scan­di­navia] is both good and bad… you should be proud of what you ac­com­plish in life. It shouldn’t be some­thing you’re ashamed of.”

First Aid Kit have a lot to be proud of. They have en­joyed in­ter­na­tional ac­claim over the past decade — ever since Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pec­knold of­fered his seal of ap­proval to their bril­liant cover — and at the be­gin­ning of the year they re­leased their fourth al­bum, Ru­ins, which also hap­pens to be their most am­bi­tious.

“When we made this record we talked to Tucker Mar­tine, our pro­ducer, and we told him that we wanted him to sur­prise us,” Jo­hanna says. “We gave him com­pletely free rein to do what­ever he wanted.” And what Mar­tine wanted was to ex­pand First Aid Kit’s sounds sig­nif­i­cantly, to shift their think­ing away from folk ex­clu­sively.

“We def­i­nitely wanted to do new things,” Klara says. “We’re a lot more open to the cre­ative process. We’re open to try­ing dif­fer­ent things. I re­mem­ber when we were do­ing The Lion’s Roar tour in 2011 and I was like” — here she adopts a mock-au­thor­i­tar­ian voice — “‘There shall not be any elec­tric gui­tar on any of these tracks!’. We had this idea of pure folk mu­sic. For this, it was ev­ery­thing and any­thing — 80s synths? Cool. Elec­tric gui­tar? Why not? Back then, I think we had to pro­tect what we wanted to be, whereas now we trust our own abil­ity and our songs, and if the songs are good enough, we can do what we want with them. We don’t have rules any more — we just fol­low our own gut.”

Jo­hanna says it’s some­times a tricky bal­anc­ing act be­tween try­ing new things and not alien­at­ing an ex­ist­ing fan­base, but she be­lieves it’s not wise for mu­si­cians to dwell on such is­sues for too long.

“To be an artist for a long time and to have a long ca­reer is to fig­ure out how much to change and how much to stay the same, but the key is not to over­anal­yse what you’re do­ing, but to trust your in­stincts.

“It’s worked for us so far and I don’t think this was a huge de­par­ture for us com­pared to what we had been do­ing be­fore. Luck­ily, we have our voices and our har­monies and they sort of gel ev­ery­thing to­gether. There’s no way you can sat­isfy ev­ery­one. Some peo­ple are go­ing to be dis­ap­pointed if you don’t change and oth­ers will be if you do change.”

Ru­ins fea­tures the gui­tar work of Peter Buck, who’s been com­par­a­tively quiet since R.E.M. called it a day ear­lier this decade.

“Tucker [Mar­tine] is friends with Peter and he lives in Port­land and he con­ve­niently dropped by the stu­dio for a few days and played,” Jo­hanna says. “We had met him be­fore when we had done a cover of an R.E.M. song called ‘Walk Un­afraid’ for the film Wild [star­ring Reese Wither­spoon].”

Buck had played gui­tar on that ver­sion. “We knew he was a great guy, but we didn’t know he would end up play­ing on our al­bum. And he played on vir­tu­ally ev­ery song.”

Klara says one of the great ben­e­fits of be­ing in a re­spected band is the op­por­tu­nity to meet and to play with some of their mu­si­cal he­roes. The sis­ters speak to Re­view from the fam­ily home in Stock­holm, but me­mories of their fi­nal US show from a fort­night ago are still fresh. They played the famed out­door venue — Red Rocks Am­phithe­atre in Colorado — in sup­port of Ryan Adams.

“Since I was 12 years old, I’ve been lis­ten­ing to him,” Klara says. “And we got to sing with him too, which was a dream come true. We’ve both been sing­ing along to his records — as fans — for a long time and to be able to do it at that par­tic­u­lar place was in­cred­i­ble.”

She says she some­times has to pinch her­self to know that the stun­ning ca­reer First Aid Kit have built up over the past 10 years is not a dream.

“We never thought that we’d ever play out­side of Swe­den. Or out­side Stock­holm, even. Ev­ery sin­gle one of those shows in the be­gin­ning was re­mark­able in that some­one had come to them. We couldn’t get our heads around that!

“And it’s grown so grad­u­ally, in a re­ally nice way. It’s not like ev­ery­thing hap­pened overnight. We’re very ap­pre­cia­tive of all the things that we do have — and we’ve had to work for it. And that was hard at times. But now it feels like a nice reward — to play a fes­ti­val in Ire­land, for in­stance. We

It’s not like ev­ery­thing hap­pened overnight... We’ve had to work for it — and that was hard at times. Now it feels like a nice reward — to play a fes­ti­val in Ire­land, for in­stance. We couldn’t have even dreamed that when we started off

couldn’t have even dreamed that when we started off.”

Although both sis­ters speak English per­fectly — and Klara, in par­tic­u­lar, sounds like she’s Amer­i­can — they say their na­tive land strongly in­forms their mu­sic and their out­look, and they are proud to be part of a long lin­eage of Swedish acts who have en­joyed in­ter­na­tional ac­claim.

“There have been so many bands from here, like Rox­ette, Ace of Base and so on,” Klara says, “so when you’re grow­ing up and you love mu­sic, and you want to play mu­sic, you re­alise that be­ing from this tiny, lit­tle coun­try is not a set­back; it’s a good thing — you can have big in­ter­na­tional suc­cess even if you are a lit­tle Swede.

“And there’s a culture of mu­sic in schools — you get lessons and you’re en­cour­aged to de­velop your tal­ent. You get grants from the gov­ern­ment to be an artist — and we got a lot of money from the gov­ern­ment too so we could make our first record. And that sort of helps re­ally makes a dif­fer­ence, y’know.”

First Aid Kit play at the in­au­gu­ral All To­gether Now fes­ti­val at Cur­ragh­more House, Co Water­ford, on the Au­gust bank hol­i­day week­end. Fleet Foxes and Róisín Mur­phy are among the head­lin­ers

Sis­ter act: Jo­hanna and Klara Söder­berg

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