By Sarah Bauer
VANCOUVER – It’s dark outside in Stockholm when BeatRoute reaches sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, known together as First Aid Kit. Klara, the younger of the duo, has filled her apartment living room with lit candles, and describes the lighting as low and peaceful. It’s a pretty vision for two pretty-voiced women who have enchanted folk and indie pop enthusiasts for almost a decade with their honeyed, sibling-bonded harmonies and nostalgic lyricism.
But pretty has its limits, especially in a year like 2017, which Klara describes as “change…but not in a good way,” for the political and cultural climate of the world. Ruins, First Aid Kit’s fourth LP, addresses the aftermath of Klara’s broken engagement and the detritus of two wild and rebel hearts. With a single, jutting, screaming line on track nine (“The Hem of Her Dress”), the Söderbergs alert listeners to their own personal sea change: they aren’t afraid to get ugly.
“It’s more interesting to play with our voices and create those contrasts,” says Johanna, who pairs Klara’s lead singing and guitar with vocals, keys, bass guitar and Autoharp.
Ruins, produced by folk favourite Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket, Neko Case), has emerged out of the dust storm of a protest song single released in March 2017 (also produced by Martine), called “You Are the Problem Here”. In it, the Söderbergs go against type, with grizzly guitars and furious, hollered lyrics, directly addressing a recently publicized rape case where the perpetrator slinked off with a light sentence.
“We could have approached it as sweet and pretty,” says Johanna, letting her voice go cartoonishly cutesy, “but we just thought, no, we’re angry, and this is a punk rock song.”
The Söderbergs go by what they want, in the format they decide, and are comfortable enough in their musical identities to claim every aspect of it with outward joy.
Take for example the referencing to postcards and phone calls on Ruins (there’s even a track called “Postcard”), as means of communication with a distant ex.
“We were going to call it Snapchat,” jokes Klara, while Johanna explains their preference. Social media, texting and digital devices “just don’t fit,” with the evocative styling and sense of harking-back in their music. Jay-Z and his Motorola two-way pager on “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)” sounds completely outdated now, Klara reminds us.
“Postcards remind us of our parents when they were young,” says Johanna. “We’re romantic.”
Romance holds strong on Ruins, as a cohesive vein within a thoughtfully arranged ten-track collection marking the residual pains and revelations of a great love lost. The sonic bond between Klara and Johanna is unmistakable, like the McGarrigle sisters, but juicier and with a rollicking, Johnny Cash sense of genre and playfulness in where their voices take them. There is an optimism despite the heartbreak, torrential change, and the big fat unknown of the future.
As said in a handful of the opening words on “It’s A Shame,” “No point on wasting sorrow / On things that won’t be here tomorrow”.
First Aid Kit play in Vancouver on January 27 at the Vogue Theatre (Vancouver).first aid kit, The Vogue Theatre