Interview: First Aid Kit on childhood harmonies, country music & ‘Palomino’

Starting, as many sibling acts have done, simply singing together as kids, Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg came to realize their voices worked together in a way that was more than just a fun pastime. Others heard it, too, and by the time they were in their mid-teens they were working under the band name First Aid Kit and getting their music on Swedish radio. Soon they had a recording contract and were embarking on their first tour.

It wasn’t long before they were working with their heroes Bright Eyes and playing high-profile events like the Polar Music Prize banquet, where their music brought Emmylou Harris to tears.

This month, the Söderberg singers have released their fifth album, Palomino, and announced an international tour, one that will bring them to Denver in May of 2023.

Ben recently spoke with Johanna and Klara about their album, what it was like recording during the pandemic, and their influences, including an artist they’d drive 105.5 miles (or more) to see.

Ben: You released you new album this month, Palomino. How did you prepare for this album? How was the preparation different than for your previous albums?

Klara: The pandemic made everything different for us. We had to make [the album] in Sweden, but it turned out to be a very lucky thing, because we made it with producer Daniel Benson, and we had just the best time. We had a lot of time to write and to process, and we didn’t rush anything, which is a really great thing for us. We’re really so excited about this record. We really love it.

Ben: You guys grew up in a musical family. Your father Benkt Söderberg was a musician. How did you develop your own unique sound?

Johanna: We were always singing together. We started harmonizing as teenagers, and I don’t think we really understood that we had a special thing with being siblings. We just loved singing together all the time. And I think that’s when we started developing the First Aid Kit sound.

And then we discovered country music, and that was a revelation to us. That was something completely different to anything we’d ever heard before. We fell in love, and we just wanted to know more and more about it. And yeah, it was like Bright Eyes has started it. And then we found the Carter Family, Johnny Cash, Paul Simon, and Townes Van Zandt, and I don’t know, we just fell in love.

Klara: Obsessed.

Ben: You just mentioned a bunch of artists who influence you, and you’ve had a chance to work with some of those influential artists. What moments have stuck with you the most?

Johanna: I think when we made our second record that was just insane to us. We got to work with Bright Eyes. We flew to Omaha, Nebraska and recorded in Mike Mogis’ studio and collaborated with them. And that was just….

Klara: Connor wrote a verse on our song and sang on that. Just going from mega fans to then all of a sudden, “Oh, now we’re just making a record together.”

Ben: You guys are young, but you’ve been in the music industry for a while now. You’re veterans at this point. When did you realize that you were….professional?

Johanna: I don’t really understand that this is what we do. It’s still mind-boggling to me. But I think it was around that time when we went to the U.S. and made the record. That for us was like, ‘we’ve made it.’ Because that was always our dream as kids. We were just obsessed with American music and culture, and getting to do that was just…that was it.

Ben: What was it about American music that was so special?

Johanna: It’s so darn good…especially the country music and folk music. What do you think, Klara? What’s the secret?

Klara: I think for us… We love lyrics and we love storytelling. As kids, we were always writing and wanted to be authors and stuff. So, I think that was a huge thing about [country and folk] music. I’m the kind of person, Johanna is as well, when you hear a song, the first thing you hear are the lyrics. And if you don’t like them, it’s not a good song. If I’m intrigued or if I’m moved by the lyrics, that’s it. And I think that this kind of music, like spoken country, it’s so important that you’re telling a story. And that was what was so alluring about it. Especially, being that young and just finding music that felt so sincere and real. It was very insane.

Ben: You’re both very open about your politics, your worldviews, particularly from a feminist standpoint. How does that affect your creative process?

Klara: I think it’s something that you carry with yourself that you have it with you always in the way that you view the world, and you see injustice. But I don’t know. In some ways the songs are…it’s very hard to write a political song. And we have one song called “You Are the Problem Here,” which is about rape culture. It’s a very emotional song for us. It was written in the heat of the moment of just being very angry reading about a specific rape case. But we don’t sit down and we’re like, ‘Now, let’s write a feminist anthem.’ We wouldn’t do that. It’s usually, it’s more about escaping something.

Johanna: But I do think when we started so young, and being female, we felt we had to prove ourselves in a sense that maybe a male musician wouldn’t have to. And we really read up on all our favorite artists, so we knew everything about them and really had to prove. We know this kind of music. It’s real. We wrote these songs, and that was definitely something that was quite tough.

Ben: Since we’re 105.5 the Colorado Sound, I like to ask which artist you would drive 105.5 miles to see. But since you are in Sweden, I have to ask, what band or artist would you drive 169.5 kilometers to see? They can be dead or alive.

Klara: Gram Parsons. I would drive very, very long, very, very far. Oh, my god. Leonard Cohen. And we really love Big Thief, we’ve only seen them live once, they’re one of our favorites. When you see them play, you can tell they’re so into it – they’re playing for themselves, and it’s just a joyous thing to watch. I’m also really into Madison Cunningham’s new record. I’d love to see her play live as well.

Palomino is available now. First Aid Kit embarks on a major international tour this month and plays the Fillmore in Denver, Colo. on May 19, 2023.