FIRST AID KIT
on fashion, dark periods, feminism, tarot and the making of a new album
- Interview by Ida Högström -
Inside a beautiful manor house in romantic-nationalistic style, about one hour outside Stockholm, the two sisters of First Aid Kit are getting their hair and makeup done. Sitting on grand baroque chairs, Klara and Johanna Söderberg look like queens, although these two queens are wearing dad sneakers; Klara combined with a denim jumpsuit and Johanna in high waisted jeans with a merch tee from their latest album, Ruins.
JOHANNA: I think we’ve become more interested in fashion lately. There was a period when everybody was wearing the 70’s bohemian Coachella look with flared jeans. It made us lose interest and inspired us to go another way. It’s like a rebellious act for us to wear fanny packs and dad sneakers because it is as unexpected of First Aid Kit as can be. We’re definitely not minimalists. One could say we belong in this house.
I can only agree. Every room has a huge fireplace, grandiose architecture, high ceilings with majestic chandeliers, Persian rugs on the old wooden floors, walls painted in musty colours or dressed in wallpapers with baroque patterns, full of paintings in gold frames. Klara and Johanna have a certain aura around them; in one way down to earth and honest, but at the same time their energy draws everyone’s attention to them, as if somehow they were untouchable or in their own universe.
While talking about their style I ask them if they have time to go shopping while they’re on tour.
KLARA: Unfortunately, we always end up having to get new suitcases to fit stuff we buy. There are tons of great vintage shops abroad and we often tell ourselves that this is our only chance to get that specific piece. I recently bought a “Charlie Chaplin-shirt” in Paris. A shirt adorned with sequins and Movie Star written on it. I haven’t worn it yet, but I definitely will!
JOHANNA: I have a vintage Pucci jacket that I bought in LA. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It’s made of pink velvet, full of various colours and patterns. I’ve had it for a really long time and I wear it a lot. It would have worked so well in this shoot, it’s that one of a kind jacket.
IDA: Sounds like you buy a lot of vintage clothes. Do you bare in mind the environmental and sustainability aspect when you shop?
JOHANNA: My new year’s resolution is that I won’t buy any new clothes unless they’re vintage. We have to take our responsibility because we get a lot of clothes from designers and climate-wise we probably have the worst jobs one can ever have. It definitely gives you climate anxiety and we’ll have to use our media platforms to make a statement and speak about it.
IDA: Do you have any garments that you always come back to? For example, I habitually buy new boots in the same style, or tied blouses. I actually don’t know have many of those I have in my wardrobe.
JOHANNA: [looks at Klara] You’re a dress person, midi-dresses especially. I always have to tell you not to buy new ones when we’re out shopping.
KLARA: I know, I don’t want to be that person, but I always buy those dresses, particularly in black and white with polka-dots on them. I think it’s because mom always wore those in the 90’s. So, it feels familiar.
JOHANNA: We’re also obsessed with boots, any kind of boots. I do love cowboy boots and when we were in Austin, we went to a shop called Allens Boots, where they have like thousands and thousands of them. It’s like heaven.
KLARA: I’ve become a skincare addict and I’m hung up on trying new products. It’s also kind of cozy to have these rituals too.
IDA: Do you have any favourite products?
KLARA: I love By Terry, Dior and a moisturiser named Aqua Bomb from a Korean brand called Belif.
IDA: On stage, you always seem to wear colour coordinated and matching outfits. Are you cursed with the “Destiny’s Child-syndrome” and unconsciously do this even in your private life?
KLARA & JOHANNA at the same time: Oh my God, yes, and it’s so annoying!
JOHANNA: When we’re to meet up with friends we tend to end up looking the same way. We’re always matching. Like that time when we went to the Rodebjer fashion show and had exactly the same outfit on: sweatshirt, skirt and dad sneakers. It was just silly, and we never plan it in advance – it just happens.
Starting early at ages fourteen and sixteen, Klara and Johanna now have been in the music industry for twelve years. Having had the opportunity to work with their passion and fulfilled their biggest dreams: like performing in some of the world’s most famous concert venues – including the Ericsson Globe – the giant sphere shaped arena in Stockholm of which they grew up looking out upon from their bedroom window, only dreaming about performing there one day. They’ve been guests on tv shows, gotten cracking reviews, played for their idols Patti Smith and Emmylou Harris and traveled around the world. Despite all this, their journey hasn’t always been a walk in the park. The high tempo and extreme pressure led to a point where they could no longer continue in the same pace.
KLARA: For me, it was a personal breakdown. A relationship ended, I lived abroad in Manchester and had to rethink everything. It was hard and now I wish that I wouldn’t have been so afraid during that time.
JOHANNA: We recorded the Ruins album in 2017 and where we are now is something completely different from then. The both of us are also in such dissimilar phases. Now you [Klara] feel better and instead I’m having a crisis. It feels like it’s the worst year of my life with a difficult breakup. Sometimes life just happens – shit happens, and you can’t always control it.
KLARA: When I was going through the rough period, Johanna had to be strong. One of us have to be the one carrying the other and now it is Johanna’s turn to be fragile. We support each other no matter what.
JOHANNA: We’re like an old couple, in that way. [she laughs] I guess the breakdown that lead to the album, probably was the first time we actually had to ask ourselves what we were doing, why we were doing it and who we are. We’ve been First Aid Kit since we were kids, and everything has escalated in such a high speed. [takes a deep breath] It was a dark time, and everything felt quite hopeless. That’s why Ruins turned out to be such a dark album. It’s like it had to be done. And with my situation now, I can relate to the lyrics more than ever and every time we sing these songs on stage we have to go underneath the skin of the words and experience the same feelings we had when we wrote it.
Klara nods her head to agree and the blow dryer goes on. It leaves Johanna with a meditative look on her face while she glances down on the floor.
JOHANNA: We started to reflect on our future. For example, both of us want kids. If a man has a child and goes on tour, no one seem to care. But for a woman, people tend to react negatively. I would like to be able to be with my child but still do what I do. I’m questioning a lot in my life now and I think it started during the time when we made Ruins.
KLARA: I questioned whether or not I wanted to do this, because it has to be enjoyable. Although, today I can see that period as something beautiful because it led to a great album. Life is long, you have to be able to explore things. YOLO! [said with an old Stockholm dialect].
The sisters keep joking around with the accent and break out in laughter.
JOHANNA: Some of the lyrics Klara wrote for Ruins, she actually wrote before the breakup. It was like you [Klara] had some unconscious prevision of what was going to happen.
KLARA: Florence Welch [Florence and the Machine] has written a book with poems and lyrics, called Useless Magic. There’s a quote of which I often think about: “Songs can be incredibly prophetic, like subconscious warnings or messages to myself, but I often don't know what I'm trying to say till years later. Or a prediction comes true and I couldn't do anything to stop it, so it seems like a kind of useless magic.”
IDA: Very Freudian.
JOHANNA: Maybe you’re a psychic, Klara.
KLARA: Don’t even go there! We’re really in to tarot
cards at the moment and played with a Ouija board last night. It was so creepy and I couldn’t sleep after doing it.
IDA: Why was that?
KLARA: The word “zhair” came up twice and when we googled it, we found out that it means “urdu”, which in its turn means “present”. [her voice goes up in a high pitch tone] Really creepy!
JOHANNA: We don’t believe in it, but I feel like it’s another form of therapy.
KLARA:We have a place in LA where we go for tarot readings. They’re really positive, compared to that Christian place we went to one time...
JOHANNA: The woman actually hit Klara on her hands, told her she’s a bad person because she hasn’t let God in to her house. That she has to take her life seriously. I think she’s right in a way. You [Klara] always get “three of swords” when we do tarot readings and that’s like the worst card you can get.
Klara objects. She tells me that it’s not at all that bad while Johanna describes the card.
JOHANNA: It’s a heart with three swords drawn through it. Maybe you’re [Klara] cursed? Just kidding!
KLARA: That’s why I like House of Intuition [the place in LA], because it’s so positive!
They look at each other and laugh. It gets me thinking that besides psychodynamic therapy, which they find helpful, this must be what makes them cope with rough times – their sisterhood. First Aid Kit have been talking about the dark period which lead to the album Ruins for over a year now and it is clear that their focus is elsewhere.
JOHANNA: The next album is going to be a more positive one. Mostly for our own good. Something more upbeat and with less minor chords.
KLARA: The process needs to be more playful. Our new album will be hopeful with more powerful and strong voices. At the moment we’re really inspired by female musicians such as Big Thief, Julia Jacklin, Mitski, Florence & the Machine and Stevie Nicks. I love how they use their voices full potential.
JOHANNA: We actually started to listen to dance music lately because of Klara’s boyfriend who’s a DJ. And Brazilian music, disco...
KLARA: That’s pretty much all I listen to at home. The rhythms of those genres are inspiring and with Johanna playing bass you tend to pay more attention to it. For me, lyrics and drums are the first thing I get drawn to.
A little more than half a year after the heartbreak album Ruins came out, the EP Tender Offerings with four independent songs was released.
IDA: Why release two records in such a short time?
JOHANNA: While recording Ruins we made these songs that are, somewhat, leftovers. In a good way, though. They just didn’t fit in to Ruins heartbreak theme, but we thought they were too good not to be released.
KLARA: The records somehow belong together, and we wanted to be able to play them on the tour.
One of the songs on the EP is called Ugly and is about reclaiming your own worth in a world where women get judged mostly based on how they look.
KLARA: As a woman, it’s so hard not to place your worth in how you look. We started our careers early, we were children, and when you start reading YouTube comments about how ugly you are, over and over again, it gets to you. We wrote the song mostly for ourselves, but when we perform it in front of all these young girls, it strikes us how powerful the song can be.
JOHANNA: Ugly is very personal and direct. And appearance is something that we have to deal with, whether we like it or not. But then of course, we have an aptitude for aesthetics and enjoy it.
KLARA: If we were to be guests on a talk show and show up with no makeup on, it would be considered a statement, even though we just might have been too tired to do our makeup that day. Men don’t get judged in the same way.
During the #Metoo appeal, First Aid Kit released a song called You are the Problem Here. It sounds like a slap in the face – a feminist anthem in the spirit of Patti Smith.
JOHANNA: We had to get out our frustration about it, and it came out as that song. We grew up in a family where our mother was a radical feminist and have always had this perspective with us. Being a feminist is natural.
KLARA: Also, we’ve been quite spared from the encroachment many women speak out about and I believe it has a lot to do with the sisterhood the two of us share, and the fact that our dad has been with us on tour.
IDA: Did you speak a lot about values when you were kids?
JOHANNA: Yes, about society, politics and gender roles. We had “the talk”, but about feminism. When Spice Girls were popular, mom told us that as a woman you don’t need to belong in one category. You can be both Sporty Spice and Baby Spice at the same time.
KLARA: [with a voice pretending to be her mother] “We are women and we earn less money. It’s an unfair world – brace yourselves”.
JOHANNA: But it’s hard. I’ve always wanted to be a capable girl. Achievement has been important to me. I think I used to suffer from body dysmorphia and tell myself that I was ugly and disgusting. Even though you have that kind of family, it’s difficult to protect yourself from others opinions. I think girls have higher expectations on themselves, expectations that are impossible to live up to. I still have. I guess me and Klara take on the classic roles: I, being the older sister, am responsible and have everything under control, while Klara who’s the younger sister, is a little bit more of a free spirit – wild and crazy.
KLARA: For me it’s been about finding the courage to say no. Dare to be vulnerable.
JOHANNA: We spoke a lot about being burnt out in interviews while releasing our album, that from then on, we were to take it slow. But now we’re both burnt out again. It just happened.
KLARA: We talk a lot about this while the process of making our next album comes nearer. We also have bunch of people who work for and depend upon us – we give them their salary. And we have to tell ourselves that we are the bosses. Everyone wants to earn money from us, but we have to keep reminding ourselves that we have the power. It’s easy to forget.
I guess it’s time for First Aid Kit to start getting the same respect and royal treatment as queens do. They defiantly deserve it.