It’s been eight years since First Aid Kit smashed that stereotype with their country-tinged indie pop that first came to the attention of the world in the abrupt fashion of a viral video. The Swedish sisters have just released their third album, Stay Gold, and have turned their lyrical gaze onto themselves, exploring themes of remorse, nostalgia and the need for escape. It’s the follow-up to 2010’s The Big Black and the Blue and The Lion’s Roar in 2012 which featured their runaway single Emmylou – voted the tenth best song of 2012 by Rolling Stone.
This time around the song ripping up the airwaves is a little diddy you might have heard called My Silver Lining. The opening violin line screams out of the speakers grabbing your attention like a rogue bull, but its melancholy Texan-tinged notes set the scene for something less menacing. In the first verse, Sӧderberg sings of wanting to be taken to a place where there’s music and laughter to forget her search for the answers to life’s big questions. Looking for meaning is a natural aspect of humanity and the lyrics express it in such a down-to-Earth country way there isn’t a hint of wankiness about it.
Guitarist, singer and younger sister Klara sounds perky over the phone, talking about the band’s next gig, playing in Arizona for the first time. It’s not long before talk turns to the popularity of the recent single and what it means for her to live in the moment.
“I was sitting in Johanna’s apartment last year,” Sӧderberg explains. “I was just sitting there in the living room and started playing that first verse and I started singing those first lyrics to the song and just kept going for a long time. I was wise enough to record it on my phone. We had to pick out lyrics from there and that’s how it started.
“Take me to some place where I don’t have to think, and just sort of be, which is such a hard thing to do, to just kind of enjoy. That’s a thing that’s also been a theme with Stay Gold. How you can’t really appreciate everything that’s going on. You sort of look back at things and think I was happy then. It’s a strange thing.”
A wise rocker once said ‘from little things, big things grow’ and it couldn’t be more applicable while watching the old viral video of the young sisters covering Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Peasant Song. In the middle of a forest, a flannelette clad Klara introduces the song as a gift to the band before they fill the woods with their skin-trembling vocal harmonies. The reworking caught the ear of Fleet Foxes’ frontman Robin Pecknold who decided to give it a plug on the band’s website causing a tsunami of adoration from fans.
The rise of folk in recent years also helped to widen the band’s audience although it could be argued they were one of the reasons behind the boom. Stay Gold doesn’t stray far from their signature style of country but builds on it with grandiose arrangements courtesy of collaborations with the Omaha Symphony Orchestra. Sӧderberg takes a somewhat humanist approach in her ideas towards the folk revival, seeing it as retaliation to the ever-growing technology based music styles.
“A lot of the music that’s now popular is stuff like house music. It’s music that doesn’t really have anything to do with the human voice,” Sӧderberg contends. “It’s music to move your feet, not your heart really. I think people long for something more simple. It’s a longing for the human voice. It’s also just the kind of music that’s always around because it’s so simple; it’s a timeless genre. People just sing about their lives and what they’re going through.”
The band are heading to our faraway island for a slot at Splendour where they’re sure to be quite the hot ticket judging by their two sold-out sideshows in Melbourne and another in Sydney. A tour back in 2012 that took in the Forum and the Sydney Opera House is fresh in Sӧderberg’s mind when discussing their next trip. Selling out those venues would be enough to knock your socks off but it seems it may have been trumped by seeing some of our most famous personalities.
“They were amazing, they were incredible,” Sӧderberg gushes over the past tour. “Right now the one thing I’m thinking of is that we got to hang out with some kangaroos. That was cool but also playing the shows. We always felt like we’ve got a lot of love from Australia which is amazing.
“It’s kind of crazy to us. I remember when we played our first shows in Australia they were these huge sold out shows – it was crazy. We’d never been here before and it’s very, very far away. And there’s people that want to come to our show, it’s a cool thing. It’s a cool thing that anyone wants to come to our shows ever.”
The major difference between their past tours of Australia and this one is (aside from Splendour) the venues they’ve chosen are much more intimate. It couldn’t have been a decision based on whether they could fill those big rooms again considering Stay Gold’s first week placing at number nine on the ARIA charts. It’s more a question of where the music fits and how best it can be appreciated, where big rooms offer grandiose events and smaller spaces give you the chance to form connections with your fans.
Folk and country are intimate types of music that are generally best played from small stages where the singer doesn’t need to scream their stories. These may be the deeper reasons for playing cosier venues but on the surface the idea has a much more playful aspect.
“I think it’s because it’s just fun,” Sӧderberg exclaims. “We’re probably going to come back later on and perhaps do something bigger but it’s also because we really enjoy playing smaller venues. We like the intimate feel and you can look at everyone in the audience. I really enjoy playing all sorts of rooms but that’s going to be fun.
“It’s just when you’re playing an intimate song and singing lyrics that mean a lot to you, or are emotional, you can see someone in the audience and they’re singing along too. Looking into someone’s eyes is a really powerful thing. When you’re in a bigger room and you can’t see anyone it’s a different feeling. You can’t really have a connection in that same way.”
If you got your hands on tickets to those sold out shows, don’t be expecting the huge orchestrations you hear on the record, with the sisters deciding to strip the band back to the bare essentials.
“We’re just a four-piece on stage so we won’t really be recreating that but I kind of like that because it’s a different thing, the live experience from the record,” Sӧderberg says. “It is more intimate. We’re just four people but I really like it. I don’t think you really have to sound exactly the way you do on record.”
The ominous ticking down of clock isn’t exactly a new idea in music but it is a universal one that’s buried deep in our collective minds. The themes First Aid Kit explore of nostalgia and longing for past glory days are all offshoots of the ultimate question of our own mortality, which gives their indie pop a darker tinge. What’s also refreshing is to hear it done in such an honest way that distances it from the usual method of overzealous poetry and opaque empty metaphors. The questions Klara is running from in Silver Lining are ones we all have to deal with and listening to First Aid Kit may make you face up to them, hopefully for the better.