Originally published in The Irish Times, January 15th 2010
WHEN Johanna and Klara Soderberg decided to film themselves singing a song by a band they both loved, they couldn’t have known that it would change their lives. As they uploaded their home-filmed video to YouTube, the young Swedish sisters – 19 and 17, respectively – were on the verge of becoming sensations in the indie-folk world. Now that their version of Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Peasant Song has clocked over one million views, however, they’re starting to believe that the little people can still hold their own in this cynical world of sales-obsessed record companies.
Having signed to The Knife’s Rabid Records for their debut EP, Drunken Trees , the commotion over their YouTube success led to First Aid Kit being picked up by Wichita Recordings.
“It’s such a great thing, what happened with that,” says Klara, an American twang to her Stockholm accent. “We were really excited about the whole thing; we had no idea it was gonna be that big. It’s just the fact that it’s a cover that there’s a certain amount of stigma attached to it. But I think it’s such a great song that I’m really happy that people like our interpretation of it.”
If it wasn’t already clear from their haunting harmonies, crystal-clear voices and deft guitar and piano-playing, music has been in the Soderbergs’ blood since birth. Their father, Benkt Soderberg, played guitar in Swedish rock band Lolita Pop in the 1980s, and was also the producer of their impressive full-length debut album The Big Black and the Blue .
“Our parents are very supportive,” says Klara. “Obviously it’s our thing and we make all the songs and everything, but it’s great to have them involved. Our dad comes with us on tour, and because he was in a band himself, he’s been in studios a lot, so that was really helpful. He hasn’t really influenced us – I mean, our parents would never tell us that we have to learn to play guitar and write songs, or whatever – but knowing that he had been a musician, that it was possible to have that as a job … I don’t know whether consciously or not, but that gave us the idea that we could do it, too.”
Further inspiration for the duo came in the unlikely form of one Conor Oberst, aka Bright Eyes. Discovering hisI’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning album opened the door to a new world of Americana, folk and country music that has proved influential to the First Aid Kit songbook.
“We’ve been singing our whole lives. When we were younger, we just sang pop songs – that’s what we were interested in. We’d have groups with our friends where we’d sing and make up songs, and sing them a capella and stuff, and have choreography and stuff,” she laughs. “Then when I was 12, I heard Bright Eyes for the first time, and it was like the opening of a door to this musical universe. I just found something in it that I couldn’t find in any other music. I just liked the sincerity of it; it feels very real. And I also liked that it was pretty simplistic. And I thought, ‘If Conor Oberst can just sit down with his guitar and sing these simple songs, and make me feel so much by listening to them, then maybe I can do that as well.’”
There are similarities between Oberst’s albums and First Aid Kit’s material, but The Big Black and the Blue certainly sees the sisters take a confident step forward after their somewhat tentative mini-album, Drunken Trees .
“I definitely think we’ve evolved and become more comfortable in our own sound,” says Klara. “The EP was more of an experiment for us – this time, we knew exactly what we were going for. Our vocals and harmonies have come together a lot better too. They feel more secure. I guess we wanted to make it sound like how we sound when we’re playing live, like we’re in the room. When we’re playing live, we don’t have a big band, it’s just the two of us right now. I like it when music is scaled-down, and is not stuffed with arrangements and stuff, and it’s just simple and you understand everything you’re hearing.”
That clarity is an intrinsic element of the album; the pair may be young, but their lyrical intelligence is striking. Many of their songs are imbued with a darkness that’s more suited to a British kitchen-sink drama from the 1950s, yet others still are heart-bursting pleasantries that are almost childlike in their simplicity. The episodic nature of each song makes the album odd, yet appealing.
“I don’t really know why that is,” she smiles. “I mean, we are the age that we are. We can’t really ignore it. I understand that people think if it’s strange or whatever, but for us, it’s natural to just do what we do. When we’re writing songs, of course we’re not thinking ‘OK, now we’re gonna sound really mature.’ I think people can generalise and think that teenagers are a certain way. I dunno if we’re different to most teenagers or not, but I think people can be very prejudicial, maybe. We just do what we do.”
And when First Aid Kit take to the road this year for their first headline tour, it’ll be with a quiet confidence that “doing what they do” is almost certain to harvest them a new legion of fans.
“We didn’t think it would be as big as it is,” Klara reiterates with a soft laugh. “It was really just a case of ‘Let’s just try this and see how it goes’. And it seems to be going OK so far.”