First Aid Kit: Enjoying the Exhale

Johanna and Klara Söderberg, the Swedish sister duo better known as First Aid Kit, have been making musical waves since the early 2000s. Ever since they released a cover of “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” by the harmony-driven band Fleet Foxes, they’ve been on the map for many a rabid fan. Since then, they’ve released beloved albums, including the 2012 LP, The Lion’s Roar. But just as the duo is modern and impactful today, you could easily convince someone who has never heard them that they are from a past time—the 1960s or maybe even as far back as the 15th century. The duo returned in 2022 with another addition to their ethereal discography, releasing Palomino in November. 

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“I think we were really drawn to the sincerity,” says Klara. “A great song is always a mystery to me, how that happens. It’s the most holy thing for both of us. When we find a great song, it’s like, ‘How does this song exist?’” 

[RELATED: First Aid Kit Talks About Their Mammoth Tribute To Leonard Cohen]

The sisters were raised in Sweden in a musical family. Their father was in a band before they were born, and music flowed in the house. It was around the time Johanna was 8 or 9 years old and Klara was 5 or 6 that songs began to become a fixation. They learned then that they were “not like other kids,” Johanna says, and that they were “music nerds” through and through. 

“When I was around 12 or 13,” says Klara, “I started listening to folky stuff. First with Bright Eyes and from there just into becoming completely obsessed.” 

First Aid Kit’s songs “Emmylou” and “The Lion’s Roar” are all-timers, imbued with beauty and illustrious wonder. But the sisters don’t toot their own proverbial horns because of them. Instead, they are mesmerized by the work of others, including contemporary acts like Fleet Foxes and Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes). Klara says she doesn’t think about the band’s success all that much, though Johanna keeps a single photo of a sold-out show by her desk. That, however, is more of a reminder than a trophy won in glory. Johanna says that she is constantly surprised that the band remains relevant, that they can sell out venue after venue, even today. One symptom of massive success, though, is burnout. And Klara recently dealt with a severe case of that a few years ago. But getting knocked down made her more aware of how important it is to take care of herself and her sister.  

“I’ve learned that eventually, the body says no,” Klara says. “It’ll say no for you. You can push it but it’s going to eventually say no for you.”  

Of course, it’s so easy to keep saying yes. When record companies and venues and fans are offering opportunity after opportunity, most people would just nod their heads and add more and more to the pile. But that can claim so much energy. So, the sisters had to take a break. The pandemic shutdown, in a strange way, offered tha—a breath. No more touring, no more shows. More time for rest and reconsideration of where they were, and what they’ve achieved. 

Coming out of the darkness of Klara’s burnout and the difficult COVID-19 lockdown, First Aid Kit wanted to offer some sunshine. Thankfully, with five albums already under their belts and a great deal of muscle memory and creative comfort built up, there was a foundation underneath them that could help the creation of the bright, self-assuring new LP.  

“It’s surreal,” Johanna says of First Aid Kit’s place in the world. “I feel like I’m split into two people. One that’s on stage and one that’s not. It’s hard to even understand. I just can’t—it feels like a dream.” 

“It’s so easy to throw yourself into it because it’s so exciting,” says Klara. “You feel so privileged to be able to get to do this. But sometimes it’s hard to understand why you don’t have the energy or capacity to do it. I feel like I blame myself a lot of times, like there must be something wrong with me.” 

It’s about finding balance, in the end. And that’s a theme on Palomino, which highlights the importance of getting older, self-belief, and wisdom. The sisters began the writing process almost directly after their last album, Ruins, was finished in 2018. Standout songs include the harmonious “Angel,” which talks about fear, shame, doubt, and anxiety. Another hit is the driving “The Last One,” which talks about adulthood. The album, which was written with support from Björn Yttling, is as much a word of self-support as it is a creative work for an audience to digest. It’s an achievement, top to bottom. Now, the sisters are preparing for a tour in support of the LP. They’re back and, well, ready for more.  

“To feel some comfort,” says Klara. “I think that’s the main thing music does for me.”  

“It’s the closest thing to magic,” says Johanna. 

Photo by Olof Grind / Sony Music

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