First Aid Kit
First Aid Kit, comprised of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, are a band of contradictions. They’re young, but their music sounds like it could only come from a lifetime’s worth of agony and heartbreak. They’re Swedish, but their albums – 2009’s The Big Black And The Blue and 2012’s The Lion’s Roar – overflow with the spirit of Americana and country music. Their lyrics are sad and poignant – full of loss and yearning, heartache and tragedy – while the music itself is often uplifting and upbeat. It’s those contradictions that drive and propel them, contradictions that are buried deep within their blood and the blood of the music they create. “Bittersweet” is the word they use to describe their songs – that ever-powerful clash of opposites torn between two extremes – and it’s precisely that friction that lends their compositions such stirring, beautiful power.
A case in point – at the 2011 Polar Music Prize year, they performed Patti Smith’s ‘Dancing Barefoot’ and made the legendary punk-poet priestess, who was watching from the front row, cry. There aren’t, surely, too many musicians who can lay claim to that. But then, cover versions are a big part of First Aid Kit’s success to date. In 2008, they uploaded their stunning and moving rendition of Fleet Foxes’ ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’, which soon garnered them a huge amount of attention, helped turn floods of people onto the pair’s own songs. It has since been viewed over 3 million times. It wasn’t a one-off, either. In Sweden, The Lion’s Roar has achieved gold status and was in the Swedish Top 10 for 15 consecutive weeks, while its title track and other album cut ‘Emmylou’ have both been A-listed on radio stations P3 and P4.
Worldwide, The Lion’s Roar album has sold in excess of 125,000. Moreover, the band were asked to support Jack White on his European tour, have played Glastonbury, Field Day, End of The Road and numerous other festivals and even collaborated with one of their biggest influences – Conor Oberst – at Bright Eyes’ February 2011 headline show in Stockholm. In the US, they’ve toured with Bright Eyes and fellow Swede Lykke Li, and recently completed a month-long sold out headline run of their own, which finished with them performing at both Coachella weekends. Those shows were widely praised, and were then followed with an appearance on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. Those are incredibly impressive statistics, especially considering their young age – already, they’ve enjoyed success that it takes some a whole lifetime to achieve. Most importantly, it’s all been entirely natural and organic – those facts and figures and incredible successes are the result of the powerful impact of their music. That’s what really matters – the songs, the albums, the heart and soul that the pair pour into their moving, marvelous songs. And ever since the beginning, the acclaim those songs have garnered has been universal and exceptional. In 2008, their debut EP, ‘Drunken Trees’, was released by Rabid Records, the label run by Karin Andersson of The Knife/Fever Ray. Soon after, First Aid Kit, signed to Wichita, with whom they’ve released both full-length albums. Both are beautifully crafted bodies of work – each rewarded with a plethora of 4- and 5-star reviews – full of a tender, fragile passion and a clear understanding of and love for the artists that have inspired them, whether it’s Bright Eyes or Fleet Foxes, Johnny and June Carter Cash or Emmylou Harris.
Yet while those influences are present in their songs, the sisters have a style all to their own, as well as a natural flair for spinning those bittersweet, tragic but hopeful stories of theirs. The Lion’s Roar marks a step forward sonically, for them, too. Previously, their songs had been intimate affairs, home recordings of just the two of them that revealed a vulnerability and loneliness that was hard to shake off once heard. This latest record, however, is a full band affair. Recorded in Omaha, Nebraska by producer/engineer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Cursive, Rilo Kiley – and now full-time Bright Eyes band member), they’re joined by their father Benkt on bass, Mattias Berqvist on drums and Mogis and fellow Bright Eyesian Nate Walcott, as well as a host of other Omaha-based musicians, including Bright Eyes mainman himself, Conor Oberst, who co-wrote and sings on album closer ‘King of the World’. It means that the sisters are even closer to their influences, and to the country whose music has so inspired them. Not that they needed any extra authenticity, mind – their songs are about as true and real as they come. Rather, this is just the next in a series of extraordinary chapters that have seen Klara and Johanna Söderberg emerge from their relatively small home country of Sweden and – somehow – together create some of the finest American music that the USA has ever produced. Or, rather, never produced. Scarily, this is only the beginning…