Towards the back of last year I went to see FIRST AID KIT at Bush Hall. It was a grimy kind of day. I didn’t really want to be going to Shepherd’s Bush. I was tired, a bit grumpy and not really in the mood. One song was pulling me there though – the glorious Hard Believer (listen on the right), an acute reflection on religion wrapped up in invigorating, life affirming folk pop. The two big-eyed girls who took to the stage infused the room with warmth, humour and astounding self-possession. They wooed the crowd with songs that recalled the socially and politically aware folk tradition of artists like JOAN BAEZ, the lushness of FLEET FOXES (who they’ve covered) and the paired back simplicity of SLOW CLUB. And yes, they have incredible voices but it was their assured, inclusive way of drawing the audience into their contemplative stories that really struck me. I left the gig lifted, more alive.
A few weeks later, in the lead up to Christmas, I went to see them again at a small gig in Islington. Before they took to the stage for a live performance of their forthcoming debut album ‘The Big Black And The Blue’, we sat down for a chat. Johanna and Klara Söderberg, the two teenage sisters (19 and 16 respectively) who make up FIRST AID KIT, grew up in Sweden, singing and performing together at home and at school. “We’ve never had stage fright,” says Johanna. Klara plays guitar and Johanna learned how to play the auto-harp in an hour after her dad bought it for her. “He saw it on old Carter Family clips on YouTube. He thought he’d buy it for me because I’m lazy,” she laughs. Their first EP, ‘Drunken Trees’, was originally released on Karin Dreijer Andersson’s (Fever Ray and The Knife) Rabid label before being picked up by Wichita in the UK. “We know Karin because she lives nearby,” explains Klara. “Our brother goes to the same kindergarden as her daughters. That’s how we got to know her. We were just starting out and we asked her for advice on music, general questions and it seemed right she put out our EP. We really trust her.”
Much has been made of the sisters’ teenage years and the weightiness of their subject matter (gender roles, fidelity, love), one write-up even going as far to call it ‘creepy’ that they sing about things they haven’t directly experienced. What a ridiculous assertion. How old do you have to be to wonder at life? To reflect on the world? Understandably it’s something they’re asked a lot. “Most of our songs are written very spontaneously,” says Klara. “It’s almost like we’re authors, we just write a story. It’s different for every song.” She goes on to explain that Hard Believer was a response to long conversations she had with a friend who’s a Jehovah’s Witness. It’s this exploration of and response to the world, and the confidence with which they express their opinions that is genuinely engaging. There’s something refreshingly protest-like about their songs. Unsurprisingly The Carter Family, Bob Dylan and Buffy Sainte-Marie all feature heavily in the music they listen to. What draws them to those artists? “It just feels very sincere; really easy, simple recordings. Especially the really old music,” explains Klara, “because you know they weren’t making a lot of money from it. It was more like the pleasure of making music that drove them, they were just telling the stories because they wanted to. We try to have that attitude to music.”
For all their earnestness, it would be an oversight to suggest these two teenagers are living in the past. They’re as much into Lady Gaga as they are Dylan, raving about her album during the photoshoot. When I ask if they’ve ever been to America, Klara says, “No. But listen to my accent, in my head I’m there!” Apparently Conor Oberst and Sabrina The Teenage Witch share responsibility for the twang. Enquiring about the Gary Numan reference on their myspace provokes laughter. “Oh that’s from the Mighty Boosh. We’re fanatical about that show. We’ve had loads of questions about that. It’s just for fun.” Later their on-stage banter veers from film recommendations (You, Me And Everyone We Know) to self-deprecating quips about the supposed sarcastic tone of their voices. While FIRST AID KIT are undeniably inspired by their forebears, it’s their fresh, assured and modern take on the world that makes them such an invigorating prospect. And they can sing Gaga and co under the table.