First Aid Kit: “We just decided we were going to choose happiness”

Johanna and Klara Söderberg talk opening up and letting go for the record that’s set to redefine First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit are feeling good, and it shows. “I like the anticipation…” smiles Johanna Söderberg, huddled around the same laptop with her sister, Klara. “I love the moment right before an album comes out. We have this little thing that almost no one else has heard yet, and it’s just ours. You’re kind of living in this bubble, and you don’t have to look any further ahead if you don’t want to. It’s just a great place to be in.” 

This isn’t just any album either. Returning with a soaring fifth record that boasts a shift towards bigger, poppier hooks, the band are in a very different headspace to the one that made Ruins. Where their last album was born of a difficult breakup, Palomino now bounces back with confidence. 

Starting First Aid Kit while still at school in Stockholm, the sisters’ earnest, homemade indie folk leapt quickly from MySpace to Glastonbury. Bedroom studios became stadium tours. Musical idols became collaborators. Forced to reset during lockdown, the last few years gave the Söderbergs the sense of perspective they didn’t know they needed – now returned as a band with something even more powerful to say.   

As the they prepare to head out on their biggest UK tour to date, we caught up with Johanna and Klara to talk the reinvention of First Aid Kit. 

What do you normally do on album release day? 

Klara: I mean, we do read the reviews. There’s just no way we could escape them anyway, because we run our own our social media.

Johanna: It’s hard to escape them, but you also can’t read too much into it. And that’s true of the good reviews as much as the bad ones. You have to always go with your gut feeling about the record. If you don’t believe the bad or the good, I think you’re in a good place. 

Palomino is such a positive and empowering album. Considering the place Ruins came from for you both, that’s quite a dramatic change of scene. Where did that change come from? 

Johanna: I think, at first, it was almost a bit forced, you know? Because we just decided that we were going to choose happiness. We wanted to do something that felt a bit less gloomy. And just by deciding that, I think, the songs changed. It was a mindset. The rest we got from the pandemic was actually quite good for us too… it brought back joy from music.

Klara: There was a lot of therapy too! [laughs]. But that really did help us to have more of a hopeful mindset about things. 

Did you enjoy writing yourself into that new headspace? What effect did the new music have on you as were working on it?

Klara: Oh for sure. We decided to surround ourselves with people that just brought that out that in us too. Because we’re quite sensitive. We’re very easily influenced, I think, by other people’s moods, and Daniel [Bengtson, producer] is just the kind of person that gets us excited. I think he really brought out that happy feeling in the songs, and in us.

Johanna: And I think also Klara and I have gotten better at communicating with each other. So writing has just been a lot more fun than before. I think that helps as well.

You were writing with Björn Yttling now too, right? How did it feel letting someone else into that world for the first time?

Johanna: Yeah, there’re a couple of songs on the record that we wrote with other people. Which, yeah, it was scary. We’ve been very, very protective… 

Klara: It was weird! We’re super protective of our song writing! I think part of it is that we were young women, so it was always really important to us that we did everything ourselves. So then having someone else come in it was kind of like, ‘okay, we don’t need to prove anything anymore, so let’s just have some fun and invite other people into this and see what happens’. And if it’s not good, we don’t use it. And then maybe we don’t need anyone else. But you know, that’s not how creativity works. If it’s a good song, you can’t go wrong with that. So it’s been really fun.

You spoke before about the band being like a bird that you don’t want to hold too tight. Is that something you think you’ve been guilty of in the past when it was just the two of you? 

Johanna: It’s so funny, we went to this pub in London last night that was called The Bird In Hand, and we were like, ‘there it is!’. But yeah, I mean, that was actually something my therapist said that to me. And I thought it was such a good analogy because we’ve been so lucky to have had so many opportunities, and we really just wanted to do them all. But your body and your mind can’t always keep up. I think I’ve personally pushed a lot of that down because I felt like I can’t not do this or I can’t not feel grateful, but then it catches up with you. So I think it’s a really fragile thing. You have to take care of creativity.

First Aid Kit - Out of My Head (Official Video)

‘Out Of My Head’ is such a powerful way to open the new album. There are a lot of great influences coming through in that track too – especially Fleetwood Mac. Who else were you listening to when you were making Palomino?

Klara: I mean, there’s a whole lot of George Harrison.

Johanna: our favourite Beatle. 

Klara: And a lot of Carole King too. A lot of 70s Pop, which I think is a direction we haven’t really gone in before. We’ve been more folky, and this was more… slick pop. Also Hall And Oates. Lots of things we thought were cheesy before that we’ve kind of embraced now. But then there’s also the old stuff, Gram Parsons, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. They’re always there. 

Klara: But then also like a lot of newer music. Big Thief are a huge influence. Angel Olsen is someone who we listen to a lot as well. A band called Whitney, that we love. 

Johanna: There’s this album called Country Got Soul that we listened to a lot. It’s like a compilation record, and it’s a lot of country bands from the 70s that kind of merged soul and blues with country and I just think that’s really cool. We really wanted to this record to be groovier than the previous ones. We needed that groovier bass stuff. 

There’s such a great bassline on ‘Turning Onto You’. So much love for George Harrison in that track too. What’s the story behind that song? 

Johanna: That one was actually more about Hall And Oates for us. We were really inspired by a song called ‘When The Morning Comes’…

Klara: It actually has the same chords and the same horn section [laughs]!

Johanna: We really wanted to write a song like that. Something that’s like a lighter, happier love song. And that one just came very quickly. We tried a couple of different things in the studio, but we also had a great drummer on that track who just found that groove perfectly.  in that song. At first I was like, ‘oh, is this what this song is?!’ But it really is so great. And then Daniel plays that George Harrison guitar. 

Klara: Daniel really just wants George Harrison on every song…

First Aid Kit - Turning Onto You (Official Video)

Have you ever fallen out with each other over musical influences? There’s a whole song on Palomino that’s an argument over The Rolling Stones versus Gram Parsons…

Johanna: Not really… but I think we do have different favourites. I think there’s definitely been artists where I am more sensitive to the vocals, than I think than you are. 

Klara: Yeah, because you’re all about the lyrics. Like, if it’s a good lyric, everything else doesn’t really matter as much. But I can get annoyed at certain voices. Like I just can’t look past it, even if the lyrics are great. 

Johanna: But we’re both obsessed with Gram Parsons. So I think we do both prefer Gram’s ‘Wild Horses’. 

Klara: The Rolling Stones though… 

Johanna: Oh for sure [laugh]!

How much has your relationship with each other changed over the last few years? ‘Nobody Knows’ feels like such a beautiful love letter to each other – one that must have meant a lot to you both to include it here. 

Johanna: I think our relationship has changed a lot actually. And I think we really needed to work on it. You know, we’ve both gone to therapy, and I think we both had this kind of romantic idea that our relationship was just great. Like, we always said in interviews, ‘we never fight’, but that’s just not true. It’s been hard for us to separate our work relationship from our sister relationship, because they’re really entangled.

Klara: I actually think it’s astonishing how well we do get along though. A lot of people always tell us ‘I could never work with my sister or my brother’, and I think that’s been good to hear. This isn’t a natural thing – where you go from being sisters in childhood into spending all of our teenage years together, growing up in this career.

Johanna: I think, for us, we’ve always had the same friends and we hang out when we’re not working. I mean, we even used to live together. But I’m a mum now. We really do have completely different lives, and I actually think that really helps. We both have something to fall back on now if we ever don’t have the band. We still have so much, but not all of it is together. And I think that’s really healthy.

There’s so much love for the open road on Palomino. Do you still feel that pull to keep moving, even after you’ve found this new kind of comfort? 

Klara: Yes. 

Johanna: Yes. I think we’re restless souls. We’re definitely very dramatic people that like change. It inspires us. And that was kind of hard during the pandemic, when everything was quiet. We both liked it, but it was tough too, in terms of creativity.

Klara: We’ve been so used to travelling. I mean, we’ve travelled all of our lives. For so long. For 15 years.  Johanna: I think we realised how crazy that is. The kind of travel where you don’t feel at home anywhere, even when you’re at home. But, you know, we’re a live band. We’re always thinking about the next show. That’s what we do. These songs are made for playing live, and I can’t wait to get them out there. 

Palomino is available to buy and stream now. Find tickets here for First Aid Kit, with UK tour dates starting on 28 November.