- Wed, 2012-06-27 13:14
In 2010 Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg released their debut album as First Aid Kit. A feast of intricate vocal harmonies and Appalachian-influenced folk, The Big Black And The Blue took the pair all across the world, and established them as one of the foremost modern folk acts. Two years later and they have returned with The Lion's Roar, adding extra shades of light and dark to their characteristic sound with the help of renowned producer Mike Mogis.
I Like Music went to meet Klara and Johanna on the eve of their support slot with Jack White, taking the opportunity to chat about working with both White and Mogis, fans' interpretations of their lyrics, their fascination with loss and regret, and the tougher side of trading a normal youth for musical success.
“I Like Music because… it’s a plaster for your soul.” First Aid Kit
ILM: How are you guys?
Klara: Good! Excited about the show tonight. We’re really happy to get to play with the fantastic Mr Jack White.
ILM: What’s it been like to see him play live?
Johanna: It’s very inspiring seeing him. I guess it made us want to pick up the electric guitar and headbang more than we do!
Johanna: It’s really about the music. It’s not about the show that much. It’s about musicianship.
Klara: Which is kind of rare, because with so much popular or pop music the music comes second, it’s all about the image.
ILM: You've also worked with him as a producer, releasing split 7" vinyl Universal Soldier / It Hurts Me Too via his label Third Man Records. What was he like as a producer?
Johanna: We only spent eight hours with him, so we can’t say that much! He keeps to himself.
Klara: He was very compulsive. We played the song and he was like “we should have a pedal steel player on that.” He’d just call someone up and a second later someone was there. It was cool; when he started getting creative with the music he really lit up. You could see how excited he got. That’s what you want from a producer. You want them to be really enthusiastic.
ILM: Bright Eyes member and now acclaimed folk producer Mike Mogis worked with you on your album The Lion’s Roar; how did that differ from your experience with Jack?
Klara: They’re very different! Jack has a very specific style. Everything that he’s done with the Third Man blues series turns into Jack White. With Mike we worked on our record, whereas with Jack it was more part of his thing.
ILM: What was Mike like to work with? What did he explore with you that you hadn’t worked on before?
Johanna: We worked on the arrangements and making a bigger sound.
Klara: Our first record’s really basic. So that was a huge step for us, just playing with a band. Lyric-wise we tried to be more personal. I think a lot of that just has to do with us being older. We’ve experienced more, and we felt like we wanted to put that in the music.
Johanna: Also trying to have more instrumental breaks. Not just always singing. Like, we have this one song called Dance To Another Tune where we have this psychedelic section where we kind of go crazy.
Klara: Yeah. We could never do that before when we were recording at home. We could never say “should we have a string quartet on this?” That was never a possibility! We knew when we were writing some of the songs that we were going to record with Mike, and I think that inspired us in another way, and made us look at it in a different way to if we were going to record in Johanna’s bedroom again.
ILM: How has your songwriting process grown and developed?
Johanna: It hasn’t really changed.
Klara: No, I think we’re just more aware of what we’re doing. In the beginning it was more like “I’m gonna see if I can write a song,” but now it’s like “I’m gonna write a song, because that’s what I do.” The process itself hasn’t changed. It’s very much in the spur of the moment, getting an idea and working with it. We don’t have any kind of method.
ILM: How long does a track typically take?
Johanna: It really depends. We have some songs that we’ve worked on for a long time, and some that just take an hour.
Klara: It’s harder when you’re on tour. You don’t have the time to sit down and just work on something for a day. You’re always doing something.
Johanna: You have to be in a state where you’re completely relaxed. We were just in Greece for a vacation, and that was perfect because we had nothing else to think about. On tour you’re always so occupied, taking in all these new things.
ILM: Do you always write together?
Klara: For a lot of songs I come with an initial idea and then we work on it together, and sometimes I can finish things by myself too, if I feel too inspired and can’t stop! But more and more we do things together.
ILM: When did you first start making music together?
Klara: We were just listening to a tape recording of us when I was seven and Johanna was nine, and we’re talking about how we have this band and we’re going to play a show. It’s always been there, but it wasn’t that serious, of course. But music has always been our passion.
ILM: How did you come across the First Aid Kit sound?
Johanna: It just started with guitar and harmonies, and that’s still the core of it. We just really like the folky vibe. That’s really it!
ILM: Where did the phrase The Lion’s Roar come from? Why did you settle on that as the album title?
Johanna: There’s not really a place that it came from, it just sounded cool.
Klara: Oh Johanna, you can’t say that!
Johanna: Well it’s true! I don’t want to lie!
Klara: We were writing this song, and it just… It can mean a lot of different things. It can be fear and it can be strength. I’ve read interpretations where people say it’s a song about religion, which I don’t really agree with. But we really love the fact that people can get different things from our songs. They can see their own lives in it. What music is about, in a lot of ways, is people finding themselves in songs, and I hope they can do that in ours.
ILM: What’s it like reading other people’s interpretations?
Klara: With the song Hard Believer there was a rumour that it was about me being gay, which I’m not! I mean, I don’t mind, it was just weird reading it! But I think in general it’s fantastic.
Johanna: Yeah, it’s what you want! Most of the time it makes sense, what they come up with. It adds another depth to the song. A lot of our lyrics on this album were more straightforward – with the exception of Lion’s Roar, that’s more abstract. But we strive to be easier to understand.
ILM: Something that struck me about a lot of the songs was that the past is a strong theme. Given that you’re quite young and your future is likely to be a lot longer than your past, where does that compulsion to look back come from?
Johanna: Who knows? I think the future and the past are connected in a way. A lot of the songs are about what we’re going to become in the future, are we going to become these people that have regrets? It also makes really good storytelling.
Klara: I remember writing a short story when I was ten about this old man whose best friend dies and he goes out looking for him. I just remember it being this strange thing, because I was ten but I was writing about this very old man. I feel like that sort of continued in our songs. We prefer writing from that kind of perspective. There’s something very interesting about being that age when you can look back on your life. And something so sad too. It’s just kind of fascinating and tragic.
ILM: Speaking of age: you’ve been part of the music industry since quite a young age, how do you think that has affected you and your writing?
Johanna: We are very isolated. As well as being an amazing opportunity, you’re giving up your entire life. It’s what we’re devoting all our time to 24/7. It’s hard to keep in touch with your friends: your lives are so different, they’re never gonna get what you’re experiencing, and I don’t get what they’re doing. That’s changed our songwriting.
Klara: Which I think is why we write so much about loss and regret. We miss a lot of people. That gets into our songs.
ILM: It must be hard to process the excitement of supporting someone like Jack White at the same time as having those feelings.
Johanna: Yeah, but you have to always remind yourself “I’m doing this amazing thing that so few people get to do.” Very often you do get these experiences of great joy, and that makes it worth it.
Klara: You can have a bad day and then you play a show and you’re met with all this love. Complete strangers know all our lyrics by heart. That’s amazing. There’s no word for that. When we started we wanted to give the world back this gift that we’d been given, which was music. For every person that we see who sings along, it’s incredible.
ILM: How do you see your future? What’s next in terms of the bigger picture?
Klara: We try not to plan that much ahead.
Johanna: We just do what we feel like. But I feel really inspired watching Jack, and other bands. I feel like we wanna make our live show more interesting. I guess when you tour this much you change the way that you write to adapt to your live show. It goes hand-in-hand. I’m not sure if that’s something we’re doing… In terms of specific musical directions it’s so difficult to know right now.
Klara: I hope we’ll just do whatever feels good.
Johanna: If we wanna do hip hop, that’s what we’ll do! Over-analysis kills it. It creates lots of anxiety. Trying not to be aware of what other people are doing and just doing it for yourself is the key to this. And not thinking about the business side of it. That’s just brutal.
ILM: How do you find that side of things? Do you try to distance yourself from it?
Johanna: You can’t just take that part away, especially where we are: we’re so involved in it all.
Klara: We have our own label, and we want to be involved in it. I think a lot of people definitely think that a musician’s life is just touring and partying all the time. It’s very much more than that.
ILM: Who or what are your inspirations at the moment?
Johanna: Right now we’re not writing that much, so I don’t know!
Klara: We’ve been listening a lot to Father John Misty. He used to be the drummer for Fleet Foxes: Joshua Tillman. I think it’s his eighth solo record, but the first one as Father John Misty. It’s fantastic. I’m really loving it. Alabama Shakes we’ve been listening to a lot. We’re also complete film nerds. Our mum works in film, so we’ve grown up with that.
ILM: What are some of your favourite films?
Klara: The Graduate, Rear Window.
Johanna: Bright Star, Picnic At Hanging Rock.
Klara: Before Sunrise and Before Sunset… We could go on!