Siobhán Kane talks feminism, family and folk with First Aid Kit‘s Klara Söderberg. Hjalmar Söderberg is one of Sweden’s most famous writers, and like Strindberg, he ably explored melancholy – “the incurable isolation of the soul”, which is something his namesakes (and fellow Swedes) Klara and Johanna Söderberg are also fascinated by. Yet their heavy-hearted, careworn music far outweighs their tender years. 2010’s The Big, Black & The Blue was a wonderful debut, full of soaring harmonies, and a mixture of tender naivety and a delicate weariness, but this year’s The Lion’s Roar, is as its title suggests, a little more heavyweight, with production by Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis, a collaboration with Conor Oberst [‘King of the World’], and a more confident grasp on the nuances of heartache and the more subtle, difficult aspects of everyday life.
Their sensitivity and pure natures have won many fans, from Fleet Foxes (who they have performed with), and Jenny Lewis, and they wear their influences on their sleeves, from older musicians such as Crosby, Stills and Nash, to more modern bands such as The Mountain Goats, and The Knife, who signed the sisters to their Rabid Records label a couple of years ago. Siobhán Kane talks to Klara Söderberg.
The jump from 2010’s The Big, Black & The Blue to this year’s The Lion’s Roar was notable not only in terms of its maturity and intent, but the incredible response from people.
Yes, definitely. It’s been strange in some ways. It’s not something that we think about when we are making the music, we didn’t really think how people would react to these songs, and then when a million people throw opinions at you after hearing the record it’s weird. Though we have been really lucky, as people have seemed to like this record.
You just have to let the songs go when you finish the record, it’s not yours anymore, those songs are for other people. We recorded it last May, and had it for a while to ourselves, which was nice. It is actually really rewarding performing such personal songs live, we have had people crying, and you can sometimes see that the songs mean something to them, it makes it seem new to us, every time. It can be hard to put yourself out there, but you get so much back.
You and Johanna have a special musical shorthand, that must come from being sisters, but it must also remain quite a mysterious thing?
We never had any training, we just started singing together, and we have always sort of sung together, it’s always been what we’ve done, and then when I started writing songs, Johanna started singing harmonies with me. It was never something we thought about that much, or that it was special, because we were sisters. But then we started listening to lots of people like The Everly Brothers and The Roches, and realising that it was quite special, and we also found that when we tried to sing harmonies with other people it didn’t work as well. Our voices are so similar, it is almost like singing with yourself! And the way we phrase things is very similar, so it is so easy for us to sing together.
You are heavily influenced by a certain kind of American pastoral sound, filtering elements of Crosby Stills and Nash, and The Beach Boys, but I read once that you heard Conor Oberst when you were twelve, and became so intrigued by his own musical influences – that it set you off on this path.
I think his music stood out to me because it was so raw and honest, I had never heard music like that before – everything on the radio was so polished and overproduced, and here was someone writing about his own life and experiences, and not hiding anything, if he was angry he would scream, if he was sad he would cry. It was so empowering for me, to see someone so bold and honest in music, it intrigued me and made me feel I had something to say too, even though I was twelve! I wanted to write about my feelings, it didn’t have to be perfect, I didn’t need to be a pop star, just play guitar and write simple songs, it didn’t have to be complicated, that’s what really struck me at that time. I still can’t believe that we got to work with him!
You have previously said that your mother is a huge inspiration to you because she sees feminism as something that is important, and you were both raised as very strong people. It is quite dispiriting when sometimes female artists (such as Kate Bush) are written about in terms akin to something you would find in a Folk of the Faraway Tree book, yet comparable artists such as David Bowie are written about in different terms, subtly and otherwise. What are your thoughts?
Oh yes. I really love that you’re asking this question, it’s awesome!– because I totally agree with you, everything you said. If you are a woman and making music that isn’t so conventional, then all of a sudden you are a fairy or something. Kate Bush, Joanna Newsom…. you always read that about them, it’s hard to understand that people can’t get past that, it’s a way of people not allowing them to be taken as seriously as others, perhaps male artists. Our Mum was always strong, and it was always really inspiring having that influence for us, her feminism really inspired us. Her big idol was Patti Smith, and I think they share some similarities [laugh], they actually look alike!
She must have been so proud when you performed ‘Dancing Barefoot’ for Patti Smith, when she was receiving the Polar Music Prize [last year in Sweden].
Our Mum and Dad were in the audience actually, and they are both such big fans, and my Mum said, “we cried!”, and I said “when we sang the song?” and she said “no, when Patti Smith came out” [laughs]. When they saw her they both just started crying. The whole thing was…well, it’s hard to explain. She is just the coolest woman on earth, and I believe that even more now. She is such a good person, so full of love and humble. All of us who were playing for her at the awards ceremony were so nervous, wondering what she would think of our renderings of her songs. One of the girls said she was talking to her, and said she was worried she might sing the wrong lyrics, but she said not to worry as it will be our own versions, which is just as important, which I think is great.
Your Dad was quite influential for you both as well, wasn’t he?
Our Dad was a professional musician, so that inspired us, and made us feel like we could do that too, it didn’t seem impossible, whereas if he had been a dentist it might have been different, you know? At the same time, when we started I was fourteen, and I had never really thought about what I wanted to do with my life! I knew I wanted to make music in one way, but then I started writing songs and it progressed naturally over time.
Did any of the folk and traditional music of Sweden affect you at all?
I don’t think we really listened to a lot of Swedish folk music, but there is one musician called Cornelis Vreeswijk [Dutch/Swedish musician]…. he is fantastic, he moved to Sweden when he was twelve and made music in the ’60’s and ’70’s around the time of the revival, everyone knows him in Sweden and I think he has been a great inspiration to us.
Another inspiration is the brilliant Karin Dreijer Andersson [The Knife/ Fever Ray] who signed you to Rabid Records, could you expand a little on the story of how that came to pass?
It is actually a funny story. We have a brother who is eight now – Isaac, and when we first started making music we had people contacting us from booking agents to promoters, and we were so young that I didn’t know what to do about it, but Isaac went to the same kindergarten as Karin’s daughter, so our Mum just asked her advice, and said that we were making music and there was some interest, but we didn’t know what to do with it. So Karin came to our house and we talked about it and she started helping us, then one day she just said she would release our record, and give us a good start because being young women in the music business is not easy, there are a lot of people who want to take advantage, and I was only fourteen, and was just excited that anyone wanted to release our record. She started when she was nineteen and felt like she didn’t get a fair start, so she wanted to make sure that we did, and that we were taken care of. We owe her a lot. She is a fantastic person, and a fantastic songwriter, and she is a good friend and mentor for us.