Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Coachella 2012: Sweden’s First Aid Kit preps its brand of Americana for desert sets
My concert preview was originally published on The Orange County Register Web site on Tuesday, April 10, 2012.
Leave it to a couple of young sisters from Stockholm to capture the beauty and mystery of Americana music with authenticity rarely heard these days even in Nashville.
Johanna and Klara Söderberg, the duo known as First Aid Kit, have issued one of the most striking albums of early 2012. The Lion’s Roar is a collection of original material that captures the spirit of Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and June Carter without coming off as merely a retro experiment or well-timed trend exploit.
“When we were kids we didn’t listen to Americana at all,” Johanna (right) admitted during a phone chat with the Söderbergs shortly before a gig in Chicago. They arrive this weekend for the first of two high-profile turns at the 13th annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio. (They’re on Saturdays, April 15 and 22.) Also catch them opening for Wild Flag (another Coachella attraction) at El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles on April 19.
“Our parents are more into New Wave and stuff … but through a friend, who told us to listen to Bright Eyes … we kind of fell in love with that music instantly. We just felt at home.”
Klara, 19, picked up her three-years-older sister’s response without missing a beat: “We felt at home; it was so simple and honest. It spoke to us in a different way than music ever had before.”
She added that after being drawn into Bright Eyes‘ catalog, they immediately set about listening to artists who had influenced Conor Oberst and his ilk from Nebraska: “We found Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and Gram Parsons and all their influences as well, like the Louvin Brothers. We were totally in love with this music.”
Produced by famed indie producer and Bright Eyes multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis (also one of the four Monsters of Folk), The Lion’s Roar, from Wichita Records, is no one-trick pony. Songs range from the haunting folk-rock of the title track to the tender “Emmylou” and bittersweet “In the Hearts of Men.”
The disc is First Aid Kit’s first to be recorded in the U.S., but it follows the release of their wonderful 2010 debut Big Black & the Blue. That album was more intimate and sparse, yet already showcased the Söderbergs’ emotive vocals and honest songwriting.
Their dedication to Americana’s roots runs deep. Last fall they made a trek to the California high desert to shoot the “Emmylou” video on what would have been Parsons’ 65th birthday (Nov. 5, 1973). They even stayed at the Joshua Tree Inn, the legendary hotel where Parsons died of a drug overdose Sept. 19 of that year. The so-called father of “Cosmic American Music” was only 26.
“That was like a pilgrimage for us,” Johanna recalled, “but it’s been a dream to go there because we are so obsessed with Gram Parsons’ music and it was a very emotional experience for us to go there.
“I think our lyrics are based on our emotions and what we’re going through,” she continued, noting they owe their command of the English language to having studied it from 8 until 12. (They also grew up watching American television shows and hearing English-language music.) “But we always sing about things that we feel. A lot of the songs on this new album are a lot more autobiographical (than material off their first).”
Klara added that the process for each track varies: “The songs sort of grow by themselves. Sometimes we have lyrics (first) and we sit down with a guitar and come up with a melody for them; sometimes it’s the melody first.”
One thing that’s consistent is their obvious passion for a lasting career in this field: “We’re definitely in for the long run,” Johanna says. “I feel like we could really be doing this for a very long time. It’s going in the right direction … and goals? Playing Coachella is definitely one of our goals.”
Photo by Neil Krug.