Coachella 2012: Sweden's First Aid Kit explores American roots music
Sweden's sister duo First Aid Kit sings of Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons and June and Johnny Cash on its sophomore album, "The Lion's Roar," constructing a musical love letter to American roots music. If not quite outsiders, the harmonizing pair weren't the most likely young'uns to dream of wide-open, acoustic landscapes. After all, there wasn't, said Klara and Johanna Söderberg, much of a folk music scene among Stockholm's teenage set.
First Aid Kit is one of the few acts playing the multi-weekend Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., that wouldn't feel out of place at the country-focused Stagecoach, which is set for the post-Coachella weekend of April 27-29. Yet Klara and Johanna discovered the twangy history of American pop from the Coachella set, namely Conor Oberst's frantic and rootsy Bright Eyes project.
"He was singing his heart out about things that really mattered to him," said Klara, 19. She said Obsert connected the 12-year-old version of herself that was on the lookout for a musical hero. "For me to hear that at such a young age, it made me believe in myself. It made me really confident that what I was thinking and what was going through my mind I could sing about."
First Aid Kit's "The Lion's Roar" was recorded at Oberst's studio in Omaha, Neb., and its songs deal with the hectic coming-of-age pace by trying to bring life to a halt. The tone is optimistically languid, the vocals are crisp with life. Characters in songs, meanwhile, struggle to decipher a voice that's heard only via a telephone, and a stranger isn't a soul to discover but a person to fear in the lightly skipping guitars and chimes of "Blue."
"It's about our own fears of being young and having a lot of hopes and dreams," the 21-year-old Johanna said. "It’s just the fear of not ending up alone. This album has a more mysterious vibe to it. There’s a darkness in our songs that we’ve never had before. We definitely played with that. A lot of work in the studio was trying to find a dreamy sound, trying to find the right atmosphere."
The act turned to Bright Eyes veteran Mike Mogis to expand its sound in the studio. Johanna said he tinkered on every song. "We were limited on the first record. It was recorded at home in my bedroom, just me, Klara and Dad."
When the band performs this weekend at Coachella, Dad will be there as well. He's First Aid Kit's sound man. The duo received plenty of parental help in the early going, as it was Mom who rang the door of neighbor Karin Dreijer Andersson, one-half of experimental electronic act the Knife, asking for music business advice. "Her daughter went to the same kindergarten as our brother Isaac," said Johanna.
Ultimately, First Aid Kit signed to Andersson's label Rabid Records for a debut EP. A deal with indie Wichita followed. There's likely bigger things in store for the band after Coachella, as First Aid Kit will tour Europe with Jack White, whose Third Man Records earlier released a First Aid Kit single produced by White.
"We got a phone call from him," Johanna said. "He said, 'Hi, I'm Jack White. Come into my studio the next day.' We had no idea he had heard of us. So we went and recorded in eight hours and we were out. It was a brief encounter. But he's a serious fan, pretty nerdy. He's nerdy in a positive way, and we like that a lot. He understands our passion for the roots music of America in a way maybe others don't."
-- Todd Martens
Image: First Aid Kit. Credit: Neil Krug