The sisters of Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit are certifiable old souls. When Johanna and Klara Söderberg sing about loves lost and past regrets, it’s hard to believe they’re just 21 and 19, respectively. But they’ve been playing music together since before most American kids can drive, so it's safe to say that they know what they’re doing. Their sophomore album The Lion’s Roar (Wichita) debuted in January to well-deserved critical acclaim, and this weekend, they’ll appear at the hottest music fest in the west, Coachella. Just before they started their spring tour, BUST spoke to the band on the phone about their love for Bright Eyes, folk music, and Topanga Canyon.
ET: When did the two of you start playing music together?
Klara Söderberg: I was 14 and Johanna was 16. It started with me finding the band Bright Eyes when I was 12, and then finding similar folk music. I just fell in love with that kind of music, that style, so I wanted to write that kind of music myself, which I did.
ET: How did you find out about Bright Eyes when you were so young?
KS: It was just a friend of mine who wrote to me saying, “Hey, listen to Bright Eyes,” so I did. It was a kind of random thing.
Johanna Söderberg: Prior to that discovery we’d mostly listen to what was on the radio and music wasn’t that big a part of our lives, but the simplicity and honesty of folk inspired us to make our own music. We felt like we could just pick up a guitar and play and write songs and that was it. We didn’t need a producer or big machinery around us.
ET: So you must have been pretty excited to work with Conor Oberst on The Lion’s Roar.
JS: I don’t think he knows how important he has been to us.
KS: It’s good that he doesn’t know, because he’d probably run far away. He was there the whole time we were recording the album, because he lives next door to the studio in Omaha. We just asked him if he wanted to sing with us and we never actually thought that he would really say yes, but he did. He wrote his own verse for that song (“King of the World”) and we recorded it. We were just amazed. First off, the lyrics he wrote are just so amazing. When I read it, I had to think about it for a while before I really understood exactly what he was saying, but when I did I was like, “Oh my God, this is so good! How can we put this on the album next to all our other lyrics?” It’s just amazing, really. There are really no words to describe how incredible it felt to get that kind of recognition and to do something creative with someone that we’ve admired for such a long time.
ET: How did you get involved with Mike Mogis, who produced the album?
JS: It’s a long story. Mike Mogis and Conor Oberst play in Monsters of Folk, and they had a show in 2009 in Stockholm. We were able to go backstage and give them our first album The Big Black & the Blue. We were really star-struck and nervous, and we didn’t really know what to say. We just handed it to them and then kind of shyly went away. And we thought, “That was it, they’re never gonna listen to it. That was our moment with them, it’s not gonna happen.” And then a year later we had a show in Austin, TX, and they showed up. We were totally shocked. They had listened to the album and they loved it, and they loved our show and they wanted to work with us, and that was how it happened. Months later we were in Omaha, NE, recording with them. It was like a dream come true. It was incredible.
ET: Do you have any other music idols that you’d like to work with if you got the chance?
KS: Well, we worked with Jack White for his label Third Man Records. We recorded two songs with him in Nashville, and we’d love to do something like that. We loved what he did. We have a love for old things and old folk and blues music in common, so it would be cool to work with him again. Ryan Adams, we love, so if he’s reading this, then yes, we want to work with you, too! Emmylou Harris, if she ever just heard our song “Emmylou,” then that would be amazing. Leonard Cohen. Well, I think we just want to be one of those sisters.
JS: The backup singers.
KS: He has two sisters already, but I think it wouldn’t hurt to have another pair of sisters.
ET: How collaborative is the songwriting process between the two of you?
JS: It’s different for different songs. Some songs Klara writes entirely by herself, and some songs, we sit down and work out things together. The harmonies are obviously the thing for us. I think it’s what we focus on the most. It’s very important that we both feel comfortable with the lyrics, so we do talk and collaborate a lot on the lyrics and on the music in general, especially on arrangements and things like that. We’re very much both involved.
ET: Does the fact that you’re related to each other ever cause any arguments?
JS: Yeah, but I think it’s a good thing, mostly. It’s why our harmonies are special, because we are related. I think it’s good because we can be totally honest with each other in a way that friends or other band members can’t be. We just know that even if the truth hurts, we’ll get over it eventually. That’s just the way we are as sisters. Sometimes we do fight, but mostly over trivial stuff, like what to wear on stage. Like, “I wanna wear that dress tonight!” “No it’s mine!” That’s usually what happens.
ET: How do you decide who sings what?
JS: I mostly do the harmonies. That’s just the way it’s always been. I’m more comfortable with that.
KS: Since I usually start writing the songs, it’s more natural for me to sing them.
JS: But we’re working on splitting it up more so that you can’t tell who’s singing what and we just switch all the time. That’s something for the next record.
KS: Like our heroes the Louvin Brothers. You don’t know which brother is singing when and I think it’s awesome. We’re working on that.
JS: For the next record.
ET: But your new record has only been out a few months!
KS: That’s old.
JS: Yeah, now we’re thinking of the new one!
ET: You get pretty personal in some of your lyrics. Are any of your songs autobiographical at all?
KS: Yes. On this record we aimed to be more direct and personal, and I think all of the songs are about us, even if it’s not a direct experience that we’ve had. There are two songs that really stick out that aren’t our own experience, “Blue” and “This Old Routine.” They’re sort of similar in some ways because they’re about older people, probably middle-aged, who feel like they have failed at something in their lives. They’re regretting things they haven’t done. In “Blue,” it’s this woman who’s given up on love and on herself, and she’s just looking in the mirror and it’s like a stranger there. The person she once was isn’t there anymore. “This Old Routine” is about this man and his family and his wife, and how he’s not really talking to them anymore. It’s sort of just become a routine where they just live their lives but they’re not really communicating. I think for us, writing about those things is sort of us dealing with our own fears of becoming these people and ending up in a family, like we sing about in “King of the World,” where you’re still so lonely and isolated because you’re not really talking to each other, you’re not being honest to yourself and to each other. I think it’s something we deal with a lot because we’re on tour and it’s easy to feel isolated and lonely when you’re always away from your family, your friends, and people you love. It’s hard, so I think that’s sort of why we come back to that so much in the songs on this record.
ET: How do you like the crazy touring schedule that comes with being in a band?
JS: There are both advantages and disadvantages of that. It’s a very special thing. I don’t think you can compare it to anything else. You have to sacrifice a lot. You have to sacrifice your friends and your family, although we don’t really have to because we travel as a family. [Laughs] You just have to give up a lot of things, but I think in the end it’s all worth it. You give a lot but you get so much back in return. There’s so much love from people you meet, and your fans. It’s such a special opportunity and it’s so rare to get to do this, so we’re just glad and very thankful every day that we’ve had so much luck.
ET: What kind of stuff do you do to keep yourselves entertained on the tour bus?
JS: We watch a lot of movies and TV series, and we listen to albums, and we sing and write songs in the car.
KS: Write poetry.
JS: Read. But driving through places, especially in America, is entertaining for me because the scenery and landscapes are so different and interesting. One day we’re driving through the Rocky Mountains, and the next we’re in the desert. Just looking out the window for me can be entertaining in itself. When you’re traveling, there’s kind of a feeling of freedom because you have no obligations. You can just sit there and just focus on yourself and kind of almost meditate. It’s awesome.
ET: What else do you like about touring America, besides the changing landscape?
JS: The shows. I think the American crowds are some of the better crowds in the world. They are incredibly responsive and loud and we like that. They can just randomly scream out things during the show. We like to talk on stage so it’s easy to create a conversation, and it gets me very excited, just hearing their feedback constantly. Some people don’t like that, but we really appreciate that. So yeah, just the people in general. I love how open and outgoing they are.
ET: Are you excited about Coachella?
KS: No. [Laughs]
JS: It’s so hot, we’ll die probably, us Swedes.
KS: It’s been one of those things that we’ve wanted to do for a long time. We’re so, so excited. We can’t wait.
ET: What bands are you looking forward to seeing?
KS: I think my biggest one is Cat Power (Ed. note--Cat Power has since canceled her appearance. Sad faces all around). She’s sort of why I have bangs. She and Feist were my inspiration. Apart from having awesome hair, she’s also incredible. Her bangs are just one of the many reasons I want to see her. Also Mazzy Star and Bon Iver.
JS: Florence + the Machine and Laura Marling. There are lots.
KS: M. Ward. Oh, and the Shins.
JS: And there are two weekends, so if we miss one, we can see them the next time. It’s really good.
KS: I want to see At the Drive-In, too, because they wrote about us on Twitter, which was really awesome. I listened to them when I was 13 so it would be really cool to see them.
ET: Is there anyone else besides Cat Power that you look to for style inspiration?
KS: I can’t think of one person, but we look at a lot of photos from regular people, not just musicians or models. We enjoy looking at pictures from the ’60s and the ’70s, women wearing awesome clothes. Then we go to a vintage store and try to find something similar. I think that’s something that’s inspiring to us style-wise. We’re not really into fashion, but definitely style and clothes.
JS: We’re not interested in shopping per se, but we’re just interested in how people dress and what that says about you. We love dressing up.
ET: Are you planning to stay in Stockholm for a while, or are you thinking of moving anytime soon?
JS: We’re currently touring, but maybe we’ll move to Topanga Canyon one day.
KS: Oh, yeah. That’s my dream. I want to live in Topanga Canyon. I know it’s extremely expensive so it probably won’t ever happen, but that’s the dream for me. We just like being home when we can. It’s nice to hang out with your friends and family.
First Aid Kit is on tour this summer in North America and Europe—click here for dates!