First Aid Kit On Conor Oberst, Feminism, And Touring With Family
Earlier this summer, Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit wooed thousands of Lollapalooza attendees with their rootsy finger-picked ballads and lush harmonies inspired by the likes of Joan Baez and Buffy Sainte Marie. After their set — the trio played mostly from their gorgeous sophomore LP, The Lion’s Roar — I sat down with the band’s front ladies, the Söderberg sisters. Johanna, 21, and Klara, 19, talked to me about recording with Mike Mogis in Omaha, how Bright Eyes taught them about country music, touring with their parents, and the ups and downs of being young women in the hyper-masculine music industry.
Tonight, First Aid Kit kicks off a North American tour in Chicago. The string of dates brings them all over the US — including Austin City Limits Festival — with several dates in Canada as well. After touring America, the band tours Europe through the end of the year. US dates are below.
Stereogum: How’s tour going so far?
Klara: We’ve been in America now for two weeks. We started with East Coast shows with Conor Oberst, warming up for the Newport Folk Festival. We sang with Conor there. And then we did some of our own shows in Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Now we’re finishing it all here at Lollapalooza, and then we’re going home. Back to Sweden. Then we’re doing another European tour.
Stereogum: Are you excited to go home?
Klara: A little bit.
Johanna: We usually want to go home because we want to see our family, but we’ve had our whole family here with us now. Our mom, our dad, our little brother. So, usually we really miss them but they’re all here, so it’s great.
Klara: I definitely miss home a little bit. We’re only home for three or four days before going on tour again.
Stereogum: What’s touring with your family like?
Johanna: We are family — Klara and I are sisters — and our Dad always tours with us doing our sound. So we’re always touring with family. This is special because our brother’s 8 years old. And it’s his first time touring around America. He’s been to Omaha, Nebraska before when we recorded our album. But it’s his first time seeing other cities.
Stereogum: You’ll have to tell me what recording in Omaha was like. When I was in high school I was the biggest Saddle Creek Records fan.
Klara: So were we.
Stereogum: I saw you play with Conor Oberst at Newport Folk Fest. Teen dreams?
Klara: It’s all been kind of crazy. Our record label, Witchita, they released Bright Eyes’ first records in Europe. So through them we got to meet Conor and Mike and everybody. They heard our music and liked it and so Mike wanted to work with us, and Conor sang on our record. It’s all been pretty crazy because they were the reason we started to make this kind of music in the first place. It’s been really incredible. People say you should never meet your idols. But for us it’s been the opposite, but that’s because our idols are the coolest, sweetest people.
Stereogum: So were Bright Eyes and Saddle Creek bands sort of your gateway into this sound? It seems like you have a lot of old-school folk and Americana influences.
Johanna: We got into that kind of music through Bright Eyes. When he released I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning and Cassadaga, they were very folk- and country-inspired. At the time, we had this idea that country music was totally [different] … Then we found all of this country through Bright Eyes. They were a good band to hear it through first, because they’re not that extreme.
Stereogum: Did you go straight from making music in your bedrooms to being on a label and recording with Mike Mogis? Was there an in-between phase where you were gigging around in Sweden?
Johanna: The record label was at our second show ever. They came to Sweden to see us.
Klara: Which was a terrible show.
Johanna: That’s how fast it happened. Since then we’ve just been touring and touring.
Klara: This is the only band we’ve ever had.
Johanna: These are the only songs we’ve ever written.
Stereogum: Do you ever have an urge to play another type of music? I can tell when you’re up there, at the end of the show, you were playing with this energy, I was thinking, “They should be in a punk band.”
Johanna: There’s a punk influence.
Klara: I don’t think we’re going to limit ourselves. If we want to do something different, I think we will. As long as we both want to do the same thing, it’s always going to be First Aid Kit. We don’t know what we’re going to do, which is exciting. We’ll see. Maybe the next one will be a punk record.
Stereogum: What was playing Newport Folk Festival like? I think there are really distinct differences between playing a festival like Newport Folk Festival and Lollapalooza.
Johanna: It’s very different. We’re folk fanatics so for us that festival was so special. It’s legendary. The line-up was all of our favorite bands. But we like playing these festivals too because we get to play for a different audience. They’re two different things.
Klara: There’s a lot of great stuff here too. Newport was small and intimate.
Johanna: It was special for us.
Stereogum: I feel sometimes for people with folk-centric ideals, that ethos is at odds with big corporate-sponsored festivals like this. Is it conflicting for you?
Johanna: Well, you don’t want to feel like you have to change who you are … That’s the worst thing to feel. We only do our thing.
Stereogum: You are pretty young. Have there been any obstacles of being so young at festivals like these? You’ve entered a pretty serious part of the music industry. You’re not exactly playing house shows and little bars. You’re pretty in it, in terms of the professional music industry.
Klara: It’s weird. Most people we work with are about 10 years older than us. Our age isn’t something we walk around thinking about. But then when we do think about it, it’s like, wow, this is crazy. A couple of years ago I was in school, and now I’m here.
Johanna: It’s a special situation. It’s hard for our friends to comprehend what we’re doing. And it’s hard for us to relate to their lives. I’ve never had a regular job. So I don’t know what that is like. You live in your own little bubble. It’s a good problem to have. We have years on our side. We’re still young.
Stereogum: You’re both under 21? Has that been a problem at shows?
Johanna: I’m 21.
Klara: I’m 19. Most people don’t really ask. So then it’s not a problem. At venues in Oregon and Washington, they’re very harsh about their rules. So they’ll say, “you can’t leave the dressing room.”
Stereogum: I read this interview with you on Rookie about how you’re really into feminism and how some of your songs have these feminist influences, which rules. But I thought, “Damn, they’ve got all of the struggles of being women in the music industry, and all of the obstacles of ageism in the music industry.” When you’re young working in music sometimes it seems like people aren’t taking you seriously, or are always trying to tell you what to do.
Klara: It’s a struggle sometimes.
Johanna: But we can do it.
Klara: We mostly [notice it in] what we read after the shows. And seeing people’s attitudes towards us. They don’t say it up front, but they sure think it.
Johanna: And you’re always surrounded by dudes, all the time. It would be so refreshing actually work with women. Especially with the technical-oriented sound technicians. We’ve met two.
Klara: We got to interview Jack White and asked him about why he likes working with female musicians. He said the worst thing for him, because he has a lot of people come in an record in his studio, the thing that’s always the worst for him is working with young, male, hipsters. Because they always have this attitude and a lot of ego. Women are more open-minded.
09/24 – Chicago, IL @ Metro *
09/25 – Ann Arbor, MI @ The Blind Pig*
09/26 – Toronto, Ontario @ Danforth Music Hall*
09/28 – Boston, MA @ Royale Nightclub*
09/29 – New York, NY @ Irving Plaza*
09/30 – Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg*
10/02 – Washington, DC @ Sixth & I Historic Synagogue*
10/03 – Asheville, NC @ Orange Peel*
10/04 – Atlanta, GA @ Buckhead Theatre*
10/05 – Nashville, TN. @ 3rd & Lindsley*
10/06 – St. Louis, MO @ Firebird*
10/08 – Omaha, NE @ Waiting Room*
10/09 – Lawrence, Kansas. @ The Granada Theatre*
10/12 – Austin, TX @ Austin City Limits
10/13 – Dallas, TX @ The Kessler Theater*
10/16 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda Theatre*
10/17 – San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore Auditorium*
10/19 – Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater*
10/20 – Seattle, WA @ Neptune
*- with Dylan LeBlanc
The Lion’s Roar is out now on Wichita.