“We couldn’t believe what was happening to us. We just kept going’ – The Irish Times
Early in his career, First Aid Kit felt he had to be the best at everything he did. “As women, we thought we had a lot to prove,” says Johanna Söderberg, who formed the acclaimed folk duo with her younger sister Klara in high school in Stockholm.
“Our genre – Americana, country-folk – was for bearded old men. Going into this sphere, we felt that we had to be very serious. Prove that we know this music. That it comes from the heart.
More than a decade later, Johanna (32) and Klara (29) have come to terms with their impostor syndrome. With a string of hit albums and over three million monthly music streams, they know their worth. This explains the confidence and breeze that emanates from their fantastic fifth album, Palomino. Created in the silence of confinement, it’s a record that sees them looking to their thirties and the next phase of their lives and careers with serene confidence.
“We were accepted. We are older, more sure of ourselves,” says Johanna. “Where we started, we were grateful to anyone who wanted to come to our shows. We couldn’t believe what was happening to us. We just kept going.
We were 14 and 16 when we started. I don’t think we realized how young we were
Palomino takes its name from a class of horses with auburn coats, as often seen in classic westerns. True to that title, the project has a galloping quality that contrasts sharply with their latest studio album, 2018’s Ruins.
It was a bitter breakup album in which Klara struggled with her guilt at the end of a long-term relationship. It was furious and heartbreaking – and the boredom-riddled recording process was not an experience the sisters were looking forward to repeating.
“I felt like I did something – that I hurt someone really bad and it was all my fault,” Klara says. “Now I’m older and I can see that there are always two people in a relationship. On Ruins there was a lot of self-mockery. That’s something I don’t think is present on this record – because it is not present in our lives.
Romantic angst is still one of the defining themes of their writing. “I’ll love you even if you don’t love me,” they sing on Angel, a harmonic meditation on low self-esteem that combines exuberant melody with brutal wordplay. However, Palomino also runs with genuine joy.
The extent to which the sisters have reset is explained with the single Out Of My Head. The lyrics are a declaration of loyalty to a loved one: “But look at me, I’m always happy / If I turn to you”. It’s happiness in a heart-shaped box.
This sense of peace stemmed in part from the great silence that fell during the lockdown. Filming since adolescence, they relished the opportunity for a break (while Sweden remained wide open, their international itinerary dried up overnight).
“It gave us a lot of time,” Klara says. “With that, there was a lot of hindsight on everything we went through. It made us appreciate [their success] much more. When you’re in the eye of the storm, it’s hard to see all the good things. You’re just very, very tired, that’s what we were. Or at least I was. With a pandemic, it was a good chance to no longer take it for granted. There were no people to visit. In a way, it’s a nostalgic album that looks back on everything we’ve been through. Because nothing was happening. »
First Aid Kit is one of the great country rock institutions of the last decade, even though it hails from suburban Stockholm rather than downtown Nashville. With their first two albums, released right out of school, they were hailed as the heirs of Dusty Springfield, Stevie Nicks and Emmylou Harris, while winning over a new generation of fans in the ethereal Americana scene.
Additionally, they had an old-school hit with 2014’s My Silver Lining, which featured in TV commercials and was the closing music for Sharon Horgan’s recent Apple TV hit Bad Sisters. It was met with lavish praise – like everything else they shared with the world.
I was a workaholic. I lived and breathed the first aid kit for years. Now I can’t be in this role all the time
“Vocals transcend gender distinctions – you may not hear a more beautifully sung record this year,” Rolling Stone said of their second LP, The Lion’s Roar, from 2012. best Americana record of the year would come from two Swedish siblings?, wondered the NME
Despite all the acclaim, overnight success was a challenge for these quiet-voiced siblings. Within months, they grew from small venues around Stockholm to being celebrated by the international music press and heralded as the second coming of Dolly Parton. They were delighted with the attention – but slightly impressed too. Above all, they were determined to seize the opportunity presented to them and not let go.
“We were 14 and 16 when we started. I don’t think we realized how young we were,” Klara says. “We have a brother who is now 18 and we have some perspective. At 18, you’re not very old.
They were women in a male-dominated industry, traveling the world years before the #MeToo movement. “When we were touring as kids, we had our dad with us. That definitely helped. It would have been a lot scarier to be together,” Klara says. only after #MeToo. We talk about a lot more things now. At the time, you sort of swept it under the rug – comments or something. We are fortunate that we had not experienced anything too serious.
They also feel they have been denied a normal youth. By the time they reached their twenties, they were veterans of the road. In the decade that followed, recording and touring was all they knew. And though venues were getting bigger and bigger – they were selling out Dublin’s Olympia by their third LP – they recognize there were aspects of a ‘normal’ young adult that they never got to taste. Their lifestyles did not allow it.
“We missed some things. It was the hardest part. It was difficult for our friends too. Thank God we always got along. But it was hard to come home. Our friends were studying and we couldn’t quite understand what they were going through. And they certainly couldn’t understand what we were going through – what our daily life looked like to them.
This busy schedule put an emphasis on their relationship as sisters. They had gone from siblings to musical collaborators. At times, the pressure to succeed as the artists strained their sibling bonds (in 2015, they needed time for each other and didn’t talk to each other for months).
“There’s a lot of pressure on our relationship, because we were the only ones,” Klara says. “It’s something we have to work on – to bring our relationship to a nice place.”
The lockdown was crucial in more ways than one. Johanna had a daughter in June 2020. With Palomino, she must reconcile her responsibilities as an artist with those of a parent. Everything is very new. But, as with so much else with First Aid Kit, she steps into this challenge with a big heart and a determination to push forward.
“I was a workaholic. I lived and breathed the first aid kit for years,” she says. “Now I can’t be in this role all the time. It’s like, ‘Okay, today I’m a rock star. And then, ‘today I am a mother’. You juggle these very different lifestyles. It’s nice – and quite healthy, I think.
Palomino releases Friday, November 4