After listening to the first few chords of a First Aid Kit song, it’s clear the Soderberg sisters were meant to make music. Klara and Johanna, 22- and 19-year-old Stockholm natives, have captivated audiences across the globe with their hauntingly beautiful folk-inspired melodies and atmospheric songs.
The Soderberg sisters were discovered in 2008 after covering Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” filmed in a forest in Sweden. Leaning into each other and sitting side-by-side, Klara strums the guitar as the sisters’ sharp and alluring voices take flight. The video became an Internet sensation.
“That was sort of the turning point in our career,” Johanna tells Xpress. “I remember watching the view count going up on that video, and realizing that people cared about what we were doing; that it had an impact. That was probably the biggest moment [for us] so far, ‘cause everything changed after that.”
Since then, First Aid Kit has released two albums: 2010’s The Big Black and the Blue, and this year’s The Lion’s Roar. They’ve toured across the world, collaborated with Jack White and Conor Oberst, and have shared the stage with Fleet Foxes, Patti Smith and Paul Simon.
It might seem unlikely that such powerful voices in Americana would hail from Sweden, but Klara and Johanna draw from a broad range of musical influences. “Both our parents are music lovers,” says Johanna. “Our dad was in a band during the ‘80s called Lolita Pop, and they played rock music. [Growing up] we listened to David Bowie, Patti Smith, Television, Velvet Underground, Pixies, stuff like that.”
“When I was 12,” says Klara, picking up where her sister left off, “I first heard the band Bright Eyes and just fell in love. I then found Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt Leonard Cohen, all of those, and thought, ‘Hey, maybe I should try to do this, to write a song.’”
For her 13th birthday, Klara got a guitar. “I just started playing, and started recording demos of the songs I was writing,” Klara says. “Johanna asked if she could sing on one of them, and that’s sort of how we started.”
Interestingly, the Soderberg’s success has brought them full circle, and in 2012 they got to record with members of the band that motivated them to take songwriting seriously. “When we got to meet Mike Mogis [Bright Eyes’ producer] and work with him to make this record, and work with the band that essentially made us want to make music in the first place, that was huge for us,” says Klara.
Listening to either of First Aid Kit’s albums, one is transported into a unique world. Both uplifting and deeply sad, their songs tend to pull in two directions at once. “There has to be a problem, tension,” Johanna says. “A lot of our songs are stories, we haven’t experienced everything about them, but it’s about us anyway, about emotions and everyday sadness that all humans have to live through.”
Like most things, the two work together when writing and composing. “Klara usually starts them off,” says Johanna of their songwriting. “Yeah,” adds Klara. “I tend to write the verse, and what usually happens is I get stuck and I say, ‘Johanna, help me!’ And we finish them together.”
This will be First Aid Kit’s second performance in Asheville (they played at the Orange Peel last November with Lykke Li, who headlined), and they’re looking forward to returning. “We did really love playing in Asheville,” Klara says. “We didn’t know much about the city when we came, but quickly fell in love with it. It’s a beautiful city, and there’s something about it.”
Johanna interjects, “We were both like, ‘We want to live here!’”
“I like being in a city where I can see the forest at the same time,” Klara says. “I want to always feel close to nature. It’s one of our favorite places in the U.S. so far.”
“Completely,” says Johanna, “and we don’t say that to everyone, I promise you.”
— Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.