First Aid Kit
First Aid Kit will be playing End Of The Road Festival 2012.
Bittersweet is the word the Söderberg sisters prefer. “We like bittersweet songs, songs that affect you differently depending on how you interpret them,” says Klara, the younger of the Swedish siblings that make up First Aid Kit. “Making the melodies and lyrics head in different directions is very deliberate,” adds big sister Johanna. “A song like ‘Emmylou’ sounds cheerful, but the lyrics are the saddest thing you ever heard.”
First Aid Kit’s first US-recorded album, The Lion’s Roar, juxtaposes sadness and beauty in the best traditions of folk and country music. They even cite the Louvin Brothers’ cheerfully brutal version of the old murder ballad “Knoxville Girl” as the perfect example of the sweet and sour they adore. And this new carefully constructed collection deftly succeeds in setting references to their hometown of Stockholm and long, dark Scandinavian winters against a backdrop of country-rock swing.
Initially signed in 2008 by The Knife-owned label Rabid Records (they are now signed to Wichita), First Aid Kit have gone from faraway teenage fans covering Fleet Foxes for fun to recording a Blue Series 7-Inch single of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier” with Jack White at his request in his Nashville, TN Third Man Studios. “I think of it now as like a dream, too good to be true,” says Johanna of the session, happily and hurriedly squeezed into last autumn’s tour schedule.
Where 2010’s debut The Big Black and the Blue was starkly intimate, The Lion’s Roar, recorded in Omaha by Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, millions more), is a full band record. The girls’ father Benkt takes the bass, Mattias Bergqvist drums, while Mogis and Nate Walcott of Bright Eyes, and a cast of Omaha-based musicians round out the sound. From the dynamic title track onwards, the album is a rich and stirring affair that expands upon the keen and sophisticated country-tinged pop of their debut.
“Emmylou” name-checks such greats as Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash, June Carter, and of course Ms. Harris, yet for all its upbeat appeal, it recognizes the sadness in the lives and art of these heroes. “We’ve listened to those people for a very long time. We hadn’t even toured America when we started writing that song,” confesses Johanna. “We actually finished it in Australia,” adds Klara. The gorgeous, timeless “In The Hearts Of Men” adds mellotron alongside more expected textures.
“My duality awakes,” sings Klara in the lush, knowing “I Found a Way”. The exquisite “Dance to Another Tune” perfectly conjures a haunting sense of unease, while the lovely, steady cadence of “This Old Routine” tells a plaintive, yet redemptive, tale of loves lost and re-found. “To A Poet” opens side two, so to speak, and its elegant coda, featuring a string quartet arranged by Walcott, particularly impressed the Söderbergs. “We recorded our last record at home. We couldn’t even have fit them all in,” says Klara.
Despite its lonesome sound, “New Year’s Eve” – all distant reverb and atmospherics – is “actually very hopeful”. Finally the exuberant hoedown of ‘King of the World’ features The Felice Brothers, just passing through town during the session, and local hero Conor Oberst, who sings the last verse.
“We’d never worked with a producer before,” says Johanna. “Yet we never disagreed with Mike about anything.” The resulting record is serious fun, yet First Aid Kit are only starting. “We want to work in music forever. Our voices and songs could work in many genres,” says Johanna, “We don’t know how we’ll sound in ten years time.” But which do they prefer singing, sad or happy songs? They roar with laughter. “We only sing sad songs.” There will never be a shortage of those, and in First Aid Kit’s hands, they will always sound nothing short of glorious.