First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit keeps its feet on the ground

They moved Patti Smith to tears and received a standing ovation from Paul Simon – and they have been showered with awards and praise for their album The Lion's Roar.

When sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg receive us at their apartment on Södermalm in Stockholm, there are no visible signs of First Aid Kit's enormous success. Well, the four Grammis awards occupy a place of honor on the bookshelf, but the sisters themselves are every bit as humble and warm as they appear to be on the stage and in the media.

"The awards primarily mean we can keep doing what we enjoy doing. They represent encouragement from our colleagues in the business, but our goal is not to receive awards. Our goal is to continue writing and playing music," says Klara.

In addition to the Nordic Music Prize and the four Grammis for The Lion’s Roar during the spring, American music magazine Rolling Stone placed the group's song "Emmylou" among the top 50 songs for 2012. More specifically, the song came in an honorable 10th place right after Bob Dylan, Jack White and Bruce Springsteen.

"We couldn't believe it and first thought there must be some mistake. But we are naturally delighted! We are happy and grateful to have been mentioned like this in a magazine like Rolling Stone, but we shouldn't overanalyze the significance of it," says Klara.

Johanna describes their existence as two separate worlds – one world with awards, interviews and the press, and another world that comprises the creation of music. It is the latter that is most significant for First Aid Kit.

"We keep each other's feet on the ground. We don't allow ourselves to get swept away by all the attention, but rather focus on the aspects that drive us to create," says Johanna.

Music creation is also something that First Aid Kit addressed in one the four thank you speeches the sisters gave when receiving the Grammis awards in February: "We want to thank the innumerable musicians who have inspired us over the years and who have shown us that honesty, playfulness and joy suffice when creating music – that it is possible to create for the sake of creating, that you don't have to disguise yourself to fit in or get noticed."

"Our motivation is that music is so fun. We make music because that is what we love to do the most. We walk around singing all the time here at home," says Johanna.

The sisters have sung for as long as they can remember, and they grew up in a family where music was a natural way to spend time together. However, First Aid Kit initially consisted of Klara on her own. As she describes it, she became "totally obsessed" by the American Indie band Bright Eyes at age 12.

"Bright Eyes' music prompted me to start playing the guitar and learning chords, simply because I wanted to find out if I could play too. And I started writing my own songs," says Klara.

It didn't take long before Johanna started adding vocals to Klara's songs. The one-man band First Aid Kit became a duo, as well as a fantastic songwriting team.

"Sometimes Klara can produce a complete song that is perfect from the start. Most often, however, the process starts with one of us having an idea, a line or something else that we work from" says Johanna.

"Some songs are quick to write, but we can work with the ones that take a long time for several months. With those songs, we work with the different parts like a puzzle," says Klara.

They have only lived in their new home for three weeks, but have managed to get settled and organized after a period of touring in Australia, awards galas and a great deal of press contact. Klara and Johanna joke that they hope the neighbors can cope with their constant singing.

"We are taking a longish break from performing and the press right now. This interview is an exception. We need to relax sometimes, since that is when inspiration and the desire to write new songs come to us," says Johanna.

She describes how concentration and energy are needed when creating music. Sometimes the sisters can get ideas when they are on tour, but they don't have time to finish writing the songs then. That is why the breaks are so important for creation. Klara and Johanna have never experienced being female in a male-dominated industry as an obstacle or as something negative. They grew up with strong women as their musical role models – Joni Mitchell is one example.

"Girls are under a great deal of pressure, and there are lots of ideals for them to live up to. There is a lot of surface and plastic. It is important to ignore all that and just do your own thing. Our advice to young songwriters is just to write, anything really, and the more you write, the better your material will be," says Johanna.

"It seems odd that we can be considered role models now. At the same time, it would be fantastic if we could inspire even one single person to make music," says Klara.

Phosphorescent, which is American singer-songwriter Matthew Houck's stage name, is flowing from the apartment's speakers. When Klara and Johanna are asked to produce a list of music tips for STIM Magazine's readers, Phosphorescent is naturally included, and the sisters are touchingly quick to agree on which four other songs to pick.

"We have found a lot of music by reading interviews with other songwriters and musicians. That’s a good way to get ideas," says Johanna.

First Aid Kit is scheduled to play in Sweden, Norway, Finland and England this summer. Stockholm Music & Arts at the beginning of August is one of the highlights on the tour program. First Aid Kit will be one of the main acts together with Prince and Rodriguez.

"We couldn't go to Stockholm Music & Arts last year because we were playing at Lollapalooza in the U.S. I almost cried because all of our favorite artists were scheduled to play – Emmylou Harris, Antony and the Johnsons, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Patti Smith. It felt like the organizers were making fun of us. But we can be there this year," says Klara.

First Aid Kit's summer program also includes a performance with Mando Diao in Helsingborg and two concerts in Uppsala and Gothenburg where they will play with Patti Smith.

"It was Patti who asked if we wanted to play with her. We have grown up with Patti as our house goddess. Both of our parents worshiped her, and so did we. It seems unreal that we are going to be the headline act together, but it is naturally a huge honor," says Klara.

Right now, Klara and Johanna are waiting for their combination studio and rehearsal space to get finished. It is being built in the basement of their parents' home, and the sisters are clearly looking forward to its completion.

"We really want to record a new record, but we don't know when that will be," says Johanna.

Lotta Örtnäs