Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit, comprising sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, have played to bigger venues and audiences with each visit to the Twin Cities. Their third album, Stay Gold, dropped in June and they are just finishing up another tour of the United States and Canada.
Bursting onto the scene in 2008 after posting a cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” on YouTube, the sisters have honed their harmonic sound. The pair spins songs true to the likes of Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris, yet fresh for the ears of today’s listeners. They have recently kept busy by releasing two new covers: Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” for a Record Store Day release next week and R.E.M.’s “Walk Unafraid” for the upcoming movie Wild.
In town to play a sold-out show at First Avenue last night, the sisters took some time after their sound check to talk about life on the road, how they keep from burning out, and their plan to go back home for a short break this winter. You can watch and listen to First Aid Kit play at the Current studios during their two previous visits last summer and in April 2012.
You’ve become even more widely known since the last time you came through town, just this summer. What’s it been like to play to bigger audiences as you’ve continued to tour?
Klara: It’s been really fun. It’s always crazy that anyone shows up to our shows, to me. It’s amazing that you get to do what you love and that people want to listen to it.
Johanna: It’s been a very gradual thing, so it doesn’t feel like all of a sudden we’ve been playing huge venues. We’ve been working and doing this for five years, touring all the time. It’s not like all of a sudden you’re standing here. It’s a very gradual thing, and it’s been great.
You have done some amazing covers, like R.E.M.’s “Walk Unafraid” for the new movie Wild and Simon and Garfunkel’s “America,” coming out on Record Store Day next week. What was it about those songs that spoke to you?
Klara: Well, “Walk Unafraid” we were asked to do for the film, so it wasn’t our choice, but we love that song and it fits so well with the movie. The movie’s just incredible, and we’re super honored that we get to be a part of it. “America,” we were asked to play a song at the Polar Music Prize, a Swedish award that they give to musicians. Paul Simon was getting it and they asked us to play a song. It could be any song that was written by Paul Simon, and I think we went through, tried every song he’s ever written and “America,” when we played it, instantly it felt like, “This is it, this is the song.” It’s one of our all-time favorite songs, it’s just so beautiful.
How has your songwriting process changed with more touring and travel?
Johanna: I don’t think it’s changed at all. We don’t write songs when we’re on tour because it’s so intense all the time, but it’s always kind of been the same, with just a guitar and singing. We don’t really have a method or anything, it just kind of happens when it happens.
How do you keep track of song ideas you get on the road?
Klara: On our phones and stuff like that.
Johanna: In our minds.
Klara: If I feel like I come up with a line or something I like, then I write it down. Or a little melody—I record it on my phone and then have all these little ideas. Sometimes you’re writing something and you realize, “Oh wait, I wrote that thing, it kind of works with this,” so it’s good to just write everything down that you think is something, even if you don’t think it is.
Is it difficult to come back to it later and have so many sound bites, or do you have a good time piecing them together?
Klara: I think if it’s something that you really like, it’s kind of just stuck in your mind until you use it. You know it’s there always, I think.
You spend a lot of time away from home. How do you keep in touch with your inner Swede?
Klara: Well, now we’re in Minneapolis, so it’s pretty easy to do. You almost feel like home. We’re just a lot of the time happy to not be in super cold weather. We always appreciate being in a warm place.
Johanna: We keep in touch with our friends.
Is there anywhere you haven’t been where you would really like to go, either to perform or just to visit?
Klara: South America.
Johanna: Africa, Asia. There are many continents we have not explored.
You’re on the road a lot, and you have been for a long time. What do you do to relax and keep from burning out?
Johanna: Try to have days off and do other things. In Orlando, we went to Universal Studios. That was fun.
Klara: Harry Potter World was amazing.
Johanna: Just to do something completely different. We don’t have many days off, unfortunately.
Klara: Also, just reading or watching stupid TV shows and stuff. I do that a lot, just to get away and be in your own little world for awhile, or someone else’s world.
Does it ever get overwhelming?
Johanna: All the time. It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun as well. It’s very rewarding. A lot of people have jobs and they work really hard, and it’s not like someone at the end of the day gives them a standing ovation or something. We don’t always get standing ovations, but—
Klara: But you’re thanked for a lot of the work that you do.
Johanna: Every day.
Klara: People tell you that it means something to them, and that’s pretty rare. But with that, you also feel a responsibility, which is probably pretty stupid, because you shouldn’t, but you do a little bit. You just have to have time at home and do other things too. I think that’s important.
When you finish your U.S. tour and get back home, what’s next for you?
Both: We have Christmas break.
Johanna: And then tour more next year.
What are you looking forward to doing when you get home?
Johanna: To move, to walk, and not sit still all day. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
Klara: Yeah, definitely. To go on walks and take care of yourself.
Johanna: To eat healthy and cook our own food and do regular things that everyday people do. I look forward to doing the dishes. It’s just weird not having to do it.
Hailey Colwell is a journalism major at the University of Minnesota and a co-director of Theatre Corrobora.