FIRST AID KIT INTERVIEW "Swedish mania continues"

November 19, 2019 8:10 PM

Swedish mania continues - be prepare to be awestruck by the folksy sounds of this angelic duo by Gary Canino 

A little after 11 p.m. last week, Johanna and Klara Söderberg, the two sisters known collectively as First Aid Kit, come out for their encore at their sold out Webster Hall show. They begin to play “King of the World,” harmoniz- ing perfectly, and the room, a packed house of 1500 fans, erupts. It’s been quite a ride for the Swedish duo, and a surprising one too. Their second studio album, The Lion’s Roar, went to #1 in Sweden in January, a far cry from the sisters’ humble debut on YouTube (their cover of Fleet Foxes’, “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” is what first brought them attention back in 2008). And when I spoke to Klara, the younger of the two sisters, last week, even she remarked that their music isn’t the sort that tops the charts anywhere.

Their last show in NYC wasn’t too far from Webster Hall, but the difference in size was certainly more dramatic. In 2011, the band sold out Mercury Lounge, a club on the Lower East Side with a capacity of only 250. Only a few months later, they’ve increased their audience more than ten-fold, not to mention their recent collaborations with Jack White, James Felice, and Conor Oberst. Klara and I discussed their increasing popularity, the merits of recording in a studio versus a bedroom, and First Aid Kit’s experience recording with one of their idols.

I was lucky enough to be at your Webster Hall show last week. It was unbelievable. What has your experience been playing in NYC?
Thank you! We’ve played New York a couple of times, at the Mercury Lounge twice, and also CMJ in 2010. We’ve had great shows at Mercury Lounge too, but [Webster Hall] was special because it was obviously a lot bigger! But it still felt intimate. I like that.

What is it like touring in a country that’s not your home? Do you have a favorite place to play?

Well, since I’m talking to you, I have to say America (laughs)! No, it’s so hard to say, because so much depends on the day that you’re playing: the day of the week it is, what the weather is like. We’ve had good and bad shows in every country. We always enjoy doing our U.S. tours, though. It’s a good adventure traveling around. [Playing in different countries] isn’t something we really think too much about. Obviously we’re extremely hap- py that we get to travel around and do these amazing tours, but we don’t really look at the shows differently if they’re in Sweden or anywhere else.

I wanted to ask about the recording sessions for The Lion’s Roar with Bright Eyes member, Mike Mogis. It must have been very dif- ferent than creating your first record?

Yes, we produced our first album with our dad in our home, in Johanna’s bedroom, basically. So it was different coming to a big studio, as amazing as [Presto! Recording Studios] is in Omaha. Working with Mike was a big step for us, but because we record- ed at home, we knew how everything worked. We’ve had the time to really figure out everything for ourselves, so even though we were in a big studio, it didn’t feel intimidating. But it was great because we had a lot more freedom to bring in musicians and do what we wanted, whereas when we were recording in a bedroom, we sort of had our limitations.

I was very interested by the role of Conor Oberst’s verse on “King of the World.” His line “Screaming ‘fire!’ in a theater, people tak- ing their seats,” seems to nicely parallel what you and Johanna sing in the first two verses of the song. How did you both go about writing the song?

“King of the World” had three verses originally, and the last verse is about not looking inwards, but outwards. When we decided Conor was going to sing on the song, we decided to take out the third verse and have Conor write his own. It turned out to be a great idea, because although he brought something new [to the song], he also very much shared his own personal view about what we were singing about. He wrote his verse while we were away for one weekend, and I remember coming back and reading his lyrics for the first time, and just being blown away. Bright Eyes were the band that got us into folk and country music. I heard Bright Eyes when I was twelve, and it was just a revelation for me. They have meant so much to us, so working with them was such a dream, and having Conor sing on a song and Mike work on this album...I don’t really know if I have the words to describe it.

I read that you were born in ‘93, and your sister was born in ’90. Do you feel like that decade influenced your music?
I don’t really know. Was there any good music in the ‘90s? (laughs) Well, Elliott Smith is one of our favorites, and we grew up listen- ing to his music. But I was still very young: I was seven in 2000, so it’s still kind of a blur for me. Maybe Johanna would have a better answer; I know I was just watching Jennifer Lopez on MTV then. (laughs)

The theme of this issue is “Love,” and I wanted to ask if any songs on The Lion’s Roar could be viewed as purely love songs?

They often seem to be a bit more complicated than that.I don’t think there are any songs that are pure love songs. The record is, in a lot of ways, about emptiness and loneliness, but there’s defi- nitely a lot of longing and love. I think people would say “Em- mylou” is a song that could work towards that, and people could interpret it as a sad song as well. “To A Poet” is the closest thing to a love song, though there’s definitely a lot of sorrow in that one.

I was reading the lyrics to “The Lion’s Roar” on Songmeanings. net and found people arguing over the specific meaning of the song in the comments section. Are you a fan of ambiguous lyrics? 

I’ve read that Thom Yorke prefers to leave the meanings of songs am- biguous so they can mean different things to different people. Definitely! I love that people are arguing about it, because we want our lyrics to be personal and for people to see themselves in our lyrics. I like the fact that it’s not all written out, and you can make your own interpretations. I’m not going to say who is right or wrong. That would just ruin everything!


Photography CHEK WU

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