Swedish sisters First Aid Kit’s “Happy 10th Birthday Wichita” show at The Garage proved the pair, still under 20 years old, to be growing masters of the narrative driven story songs they grew up listening to.
We caught up with Klara and Johanna Söderberg before their show for a brief chat about Swedish folk music, their influences and plans to expand their line up:
Discovering an alternative to the mainstream Swedish pop they were listening to in their hometown Enskede, near Stockholm, younger sister Klara states that it all began with Bright Eyes: “The initial thing that started [our interest in folk music] was when I started listening to [them] when I was 12. A friend of mine told me that I could do without the mainstream music I was listening to at that time and I just fell in love with [Bright Eyes’] music and the honesty of that music. Through that we found Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and through them kept going back through all of their influences.” While twelve years old may seem a little early to be delving into the back catalogue of Conor Oberst’s testimony of teen traumas it proved as good a touchstone as any for opening up the door to troubadour folk, onto blues, bluegrass, appalachian and so on, working back from Oberst through a tangled musical family tree of influence.
As two Swedish girls who studied at an English school and who are so heavily inspired by American and English folk music it is no surprise that their songs too are penned in the English language. Furthermore being fans of the likes of Joanna Newsom and Fleet Foxes, the latter whom they famously covered in a Youtube video filmed in woodlands, the tendency for their songs to develop into a folk refrain is something that they don’t think about, instead just letting the song writing process follow its natural course: “When we write songs we write them more ‘in the moment’. It kind of always ends up being folk music, and if it’s not [of that style] then we’re not going to use it because it probably won’t be very good.” Johanna states: “Sometimes you write something and you think ‘this isn’t going to fit,” either scrapping the effort or saving it for a future style or project.
While the sisters find Sweden to be an exciting musical country producing the likes of Jens Lekman and Stina Nordenstam, they state that while “there is definitely great Swedish music, it’s more Swedish pop and indie pop like The Shout Out Louds and Lykke Li. Nothing particularly inspiring to our music. There’s not really a big folk scene, not like American folk. There’s The Tallest Man on Earth…he’s one of the few.”
For the moment in any case it certainly seems they’ve found their niche. Their onstage shows are growing in confidence, with powerful harmonies quite ahead of their years, with lyricisms to match as they challenge adopted personas of a runaway wife in “Your Not Coming Home Tonight” and the disillusionment of religion in “Hard Believer”. It’s the kind of story telling they’ve learned from The Carter Family and Dylan that they so deftly incorporate and re-employ into their own style. That said they appear to shy away from any notion that their lyrics are both highly insightful and mature considering their young age.
Opening with “Tangerine” the generous set worked its way through old favourites from EP Drunken Trees, which Wichita re-released last year, splicing these with tracks from this year’s debut long player The Big Blue and the Black. Their sound as a two piece has grown from the stripped down acoustic guitar and vocals setup to include keyboards, autoharp, and also a drummer, while vocally they have found their point of perfect harmonisation where they now meet. Even their live rendition of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” has somehow grown in perfection (if that were even possible), with neither vocal overpowering the other, as was occasionally the case in very early performances, perhaps due to them still finding their voices, figuring out how to mesh them together. Today’s shows however find their intonations excelling by merely complimenting the other. They hope to eventually expand the band, adding a richer instrumentation: “[We] have this dream of having a stand up bass player but it’s kind of hard – they’re so big…and someone to play mandolin and banjo. If only we could just find one person who plays all those instruments!”
As live performers their sets possess the ability to neither exclude the new listener or old fan: old tracks bloom to life and new ears are easily drawn in by the stories of meetings with kings and leaving fictitious husbands. They closed with Gram Parson’s “Still Feeling Blue”, after a somewhat indie pop idol set interlude in which they invited four fans on stage to win tickets to Latitude festival where the sisters performed last weekend. The forfeit for the fans was singing along to their favourite First Aid Kit track; this probably all sounds awfully twee but it was actually highly entertaining and let us not forget they are young, just having fun – a lot of artists could learn from the light-hearted approach they take.
Over the past couple of years they have played both London’s Field Day Festival and End of the Road in Dorset, as well as countless European festivals. Extending the touring circuit this year, we caught up with them having played Glastonbury, though they showed some disappointment in not being able to explore more of it and with Wales’ Green Man festival coming up, Klara “hop[es] we can convince everyone to stay [longer than our performance slot], I’m really hoping to see Joanna Newsom.” After the tour the girls are planning to head back home to work on new songs and “hang out with [their] brother, who’s only six…he’ll be our drummer in ten years!”
With their poppy vibes and roots influences First Aid Kit span both markets, tapping into commercial appeal with catchy tunes and infectious vocals, while offering something much more long standing! And I’m sure for many young music fans Klara and Johanna will prove themselves to be a starting point for their history lesson in the birth of home grown music and its recent rebirth into popular culture.
All Photos by Michael Farrant (All rights reserved)