THE SODERBERG SISTERS began their musical career performing in the streets of Stockholm to earn extra cash for hair dye. But what started as a way to earn extra money and spend time together led to a rapid rise and an acclaimed career for which neither sister was truly prepared.
“We just ran out of fuel,” Klara, 25, explains. “We didn’t feel inspired when we were performing on stage anymore, and we don’t want to lose that feeling. So instead of burning out completely, we decided to take a year off and ￼recharge our batteries. We wanted to gain new inspiration and find a calm because we needed that.”
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Influenced by American folk music in the wake of the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? boom, the sisters began writing their own Americana-style tunes and uploading them to MySpace where they garnered some radio play in their home country.
But when their cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” went viral on YouTube, the duo became a sensation as the cover took off internationally. The breakout video landed them a record deal in the U.S.
The two remained reverent of a musical genre best associated with a time before theirs, and a genre entirely out of their realm, native to a country an ocean away.
Since their discovery back in 2008, First Aid Kit has released four albums of original music, inspired by the likes of contemporary
crooners like Emmylou Harris and Conor Oberst, as well as iconic singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen. The band has been applauded for their Americana-folk vintage sound and their ability to keep their sound authentic.
However, in 2015, spending the better part of a decade on the road without taking a break started to wear on Klara and her older sister, Johanna.
The time on the road not only took a toll creatively but also affected their personal lives. Klara’s long-term relationship ended abruptly as they toured, causing more turmoil and heartache. The sisters realized they were long overdue for a break.
However, it’s that heartache that ended up providing the creative inspiration for their return to music with their new album, Ruins. Klara explains: “It’s the ruins of the relationship: how sad it is, but also how beautiful it was. That’s all you have left in the end.”
After a hiatus, the sisters reconvened far out of their comfort zone in Los Angeles. Their broken routine in a new place offered them a fresh perspective. The album’s first single “It’s a Shame” touches on how the shining sun in L.A. brought them a new sense of happiness during a time of sadness and grief.
“It’s such a creative city,” Johanna says. “There are so many musicians and artists and [so much] art arising that it’s hard not to be inspired when you’re there. We love the culture. As Swedes, it’s extremely exotic.”
Inspired by the new surroundings and looking to reboot their own personal lives, the Soderbergs’ intention with the new record was to make major changes: more edge. More pungency. More authenticity. And that’s what they did.
To live up to the expectation, the album was recorded live in studio, leaving plenty of room for purposeful errors.
“At our live shows, there’s lots of live energy, and we wanted to capture that on record,” Johanna explains.
“Our previous albums were pretty and polished, so we wanted to let this one be more raw. We kept some of the mistakes and flaws in the performance. I like when something feels real and authentic. Like there’s a real presence on the recordings.”
While many bands turn to a radio-friendly pop sound after signing a deal with a major label, First Aid Kit, rejuvenated by their time off and reevaluating their own priorities, took a different approach after leaving their indie label for Columbia Records. The band pushed back against suggestions for easy pop music and leaned in more intensely to their folk roots. The final product was a hybrid album that finds the duo experimenting with new sounds and a hold-nothing-back vulnerability fashioned by reflections on their sudden rise, heartbreak, burnout and finally, their renewed sense of creative authenticity.
Ruins is a showcase for new harmonies, with bold stylistic departures. The sisters manage to bridge the gap between the catchiness of mainstream hits and the tender, folk-inspired sound that launched them to stardom all those years ago. Yes, the lyrics touch on thoughts about life, love and remorse, but they also embrace ideas like redemption and the courage to stand up and find yourself again.
Ironically, it was only after finally taking the time off the road, and allowing themselves to finally be still by themselves that the sisters realized what kind of album they really wanted to make: one that would make their audience feel less alone.
“We want to connect with people, to feel a little less alone in this world,” Johanna says. “That’s the most powerful thing. When you’re listening to music, and it suddenly just clicks. It’s a really magical aspect of music.”