First Aid Kit on “Palomino” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, February 24th, 2024  

First Aid Kit on “Palomino”

Older, Wiser, and Happier

Mar 29, 2023 Photography by Olof Grind Issue #70 - My Favorite Movie (Sharon Van Etten and Ezra Furman)
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It’s funny; sometimes the closer you are to something, the harder it is to remember how special it can be. It’s the root of the phrase, Absence makes the heart grow fonder. For the Swedish-born folk duo, First Aid Kit, they know this maxim well. Comprised of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, the group is known for its precise lyrical songwriting and blissful, angelic harmonies. But growing up, as the two sang together around the house, they didn’t think much of their vocal blend. It wasn’t until audiences raved and offered standing ovations that they knew they had something unique and lovely.

“I don’t think we realized it until we started playing live,” says Johanna. “Just from people reacting to us singing together in a venue. We were like, ‘We’re just singing…’ I don’t think we thought that our voices—we knew we could sing but…”

“We were just singing together,” continues Klara. “In the same room. Like, ‘Why the fuck not?’ That’s how it started. It wasn’t a plan, like, ‘Let’s do this because it will sound great!’”

The duo’s new LP, Palomino, their sixth full-length album, marks a return to the joy they felt early on making music together, before the taxing life of traveling star-artists took its at times harsh toll. It brought them closer to what they’ve always known for sure: making music together is fun, even paramount.

For the sisters, it began at home—both literally and in their music-loving homeland. And the real spark came with folk music—the stuff from artists like Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, The Carter Family, and more. Indeed, the sisters have always appreciated the storytelling and lyricism in this brand of songwriting.

Sweden was an “incredibly safe place to grow up,” says Klara. Though, she notes, that is changing to some degree these days as the influence of American MAGA extremism infiltrates the country, just as it has large parts of the United States and other foreign regions. The sisters say they’re often asked about their homeland’s influence on their art. Is it in the water? What’s the secret? For the duo, they say they don’t really know. Other than it’s a supportive region where almost every child sings in choir growing up and music is a fostered art form. When it comes to (American) folk music, the sisters have always appreciated its narrative qualities.

“It was so much about the lyrics,” Klara says. “This medium where you could both have these stories and also be moved by this music. I felt like I belonged in that world. I felt for the first time, ‘Okay, this isn’t manufactured. This is something I could do….’ And [it felt] like a home.”

First Aid Kit released their last LP of original work, Ruins, in January 2018. And almost directly after that, they began contemplating their next record of original songs, which would become the 2022 album, Palomino.

“We wanted to just do something—and we usually do this—the polar opposite of what we did,” says Johanna. “We wanted to do something a bit more light and upbeat and hopeful, which is a challenge for us,” she laughs. “We usually write super sad songs!”

For Palomino they employed a co-writer for some of the songs, Björn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John. On his first day with the band, he helped to write tracks such as the orchestral “Nobody Knows” and riveting “Out of My Head.” That was a good day, the sisters say with a chuckle. Now, with the lush album done, on the horizon for the duo is a long slate of tour dates, spanning 2022 into 2023. Together, they’ve come so far from the early days singing on a lark around their childhood home.

“Whenever we make a record, I never know if we’re going to make another one,” Johanna admits.

Thank goodness, though, for their fans that they did. Not only does the new record pluck from the best of the band’s talents—lilting, beautiful harmonies, storytelling, lyrical prowess—but the LP also showcases the band’s next breakthrough. There’s an overarching life lesson on the record: Getting older is okay. Getting wiser is the goal. Anyway, what’s the alternative? Though Johanna says, “I’m just so proud of us. If we died today, I would still be so happy,” the reality is the sisters have plenty more to offer. To wit, their new album is named after the Palomino horse, which only gets more brilliant in color and style as it ages.

And after a challenging, though deep breath-inducing pandemic, which itself came after some public burnout from Klara (“I’ve learned that eventually the body says no,” she says. “It’ll say no for you. You can push it but it’s going to eventually say no for you.”), there remain ample roads ahead where the duo can reconnect with fans, re-remember how special First Aid Kit is, and how they move audiences to all sorts of emotions.

“Music makes me feel less lonely in the world,” says Klara. “I go to it for so much, for comfort, to just have a good sing-along in the car.”

“I think the bonds you make with the people you play with or sing with is just so special,” Johanna says. “It’s my favorite thing in the world. Everything else ceases to exist in that moment. It’s a spiritual experience.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 70 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, our My Favorite Movie Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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