Standing on the precipice of mainstream acclaim, the sisters comprising the Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit are among an emerging generation of musical disciples of bands like Bright Eyes and Fleet Foxes, whose own sound is a modern twist on traditional American country. It's a little bit of an unlikely story, given that Klara and Johanna Söderberg, ages 19 and 21, respectively, were raised in a Stockholm suburb by rocker parents who didn't play Emmylou Harris, June Carter, or any of the country legends they sing about. Yet these sisters harmonize like only two people who shared a womb can. And their melodic, vocally-driven sound lends itself more as a tribute to than an imitation of American folk singers.
As children, Klara and Johanna discovered Bright Eyes, which they have since supported on tour, and which they list as their greatest musical influence. And this week, after playing Coachella for the first time, they will make their U.S. television debut on Conan. The vintage-loving sisters are hitting their bittersweet spot on their fifth North American tour. Joining the droves of Coachella musicians who are gracing San Francisco stages between festival weekends, they make their way here Wednesday, April 18, to play a sold out show at Slim's. We caught up with First Aid Kit in the midst of promoting their sophomore album The Lion's Roar to talk about talent, touring, and tuning into another country's musical heritage.
Your songs reference an era of music that's really part of American history. When did you get exposed to traditional country or folk, as opposed to Bright Eyes, and who inspired you to pursue this kind of sound?
Klara: It all connected because we found Bright Eyes, and through Bright Eyes we found Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and Townes Van Zandt, and through them we sort of found this older [music] like The Carter Family and Louvin Brothers and all these amazing old country singers. So it really comes back to Bright Eyes, but I think they were the first band we heard who were influenced by that kind of music and they were sort of a good starting point.
Johanna: The film O Brother, Where Art Thou? was one of our earliest exposures to that kind of music and that was around the same time that we heard Bright Eyes, too, so it was all one special point in our lives that we heard this.
How do you describe your genre of music, or do you even think about it?
Johanna: I wouldn't say it's something that we think about a lot. I don't know, we're inspired by country and folk music - pop, or something like that. It's a mix of different genres but it has a very strong country and folk feel to it. You'll see that when we play live, we like to headbang, so we're definitely a little punk-country. We're not trying to sound pretty all the time.
Klara: We're not afraid to be angry in our music.
There is a narrative quality to your songs -- how much of what you write is autobiographical vs. a story that you've thought of?
Johanna: A lot of our songs are actually a mix of autobiographical elements and fictional elements. It's hard for someone to tell what's experience for us or what's a story, but we always sing about emotions that we've gone through or things we think are important and can relate to. We just sometimes write it from a different person's perspective. It would be kind of repetitive to sing about yourself all the time. We've always been writing stories since we were kids, and we've listened so much to country and folk that it feels like a natural thing to do for us.
You're both still young, and you've talked about being influenced by artists that you came across when you were 11 or 12 years old. A lot of people don't come into their adult tastes that early. Do you think in five years your music and style will have changed a lot?
Johanna: I think that's hard to say, that kind of music is really what we're passionate about right now. But I'm sure we're developing and will probably take our music in different directions. I don't think it's going to be like a drastic change, like in five years we'll do hip-hop, or whatever. I definitely think we will do some interesting experiments in the studio because it's fun to do that. We'll see, this genre is very good because it's timeless, and when we're 60 people will still be interested, it's not like pop music where it's a trend, or in 10 years your tour could be over. That's the good thing -- it gets better with age.
Your parents are musical, what kind of impact does that have on you?
Klara: Our dad was a guitarist, so we always had a guitar around the house. If I wanted to know how to play a song I'd ask him and then I'd go up to my room and play and play and play. It was very important to me that I was doing my own things and playing the songs I wanted to play.
Johanna: They listened to Television, Patti Smith, Velvet Underground, David Bowie, Pixies, stuff like that, so they were a bit more rock- and punk-oriented in their interests and I think that inspired us in some way. I think we have that with us because that was all we heard when we were kids. For example, we love Patti Smith so much, we do a cover of her song in our set ("Dancing Barefoot"). She won the Polar Music Prize in Sweden last year and she came to the awards ceremony and we got to play that song for her while she was in the audience. It was the most magical evening of our lives so far. I think because we grew up listening to her we have this special almost nostalgic feeling toward her music.
What do you admire about each other musically?
Klara: First off, Johanna's harmonies, the way she can always magically sing these perfect harmonies, is such a big part of our music and she always does it so beautifully. She's really great with production and she has a very strong will but she always knows what she wants, which is great when we're working together and she can hear things that I can't hear.
Johanna: Well Klara is just a fantastic singer. She has one of the most beautiful voices in the world. I'm honored to get to harmonize with her. Klara's brilliant, she has a way with words that I sometimes can't understand how she comes up with those phrases. It's poetry really, and she just does it so effortlessly, it comes so naturally to her and I really admire that.