First Aid Kit to bring a touch of the classic country sound to this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival
Johanna and Klara Söderberg combine gorgeously sublime melodies with soaring, close-knit harmonies and thoughtful and reflective lyrics.
Since releasing their debut album, The Big Black and the Blue, in 2010, the Swedish duo’s popularity has gone from strength to strength.
Their fourth LP, Ruins, got to a very impressive number three in the UK album charts earlier this year.
The elder of the two sisters, Johanna, 27, took time out from the pair’s hectic schedule to talk to the Cambridge Independent from Stockholm.
“This year has just been touring, touring, touring like crazy,” she says. “We’ve been all over the world and now we’re doing summer festivals in Europe.”
The sisters were not too familiar with the Cambridge Folk Festival prior to signing up.
“I hadn’t heard of it before,” admits Johanna, “but I saw the photo of the lineup and us headlining with all these incredible legends. We were very, very honoured and surprised, to be honest.
“We love Patti Smith, Janis Ian, John Prine, Rosanne Cash – all of them are legends – as well as Marlon Williams, who we’re huge fans of. I think he’s playing the same day as us, so we’ll get to see him...”
Although First Aid Kit’s music has been described as folk and ‘indie folk’, there is a strong country vein running through what they do – thanks largely to the unmistakable sound of the pedal steel guitar – with clear tips of the hat to country acts of the 1960s and 70s, such as Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.
But Johanna and Klara didn’t grow up listening to this music.
“We grew up with parents who were very into rock and punk and new wave, so we grew up with Television, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, and David Bowie – names like that, and then we listened to whatever was on the radio,” recalls Johanna.
“We didn’t discover folk and country until we were about 12 and 14, and just fell in love with that whole sound.
“I think it’s because you need to be really good at singing and performing, but also the lyrics are so important, the songwriting is so solid – and Klara and I have always loved writing stories... so I think it just combines everything that we love into one format.”
Johanna – who cites singing with Ryan Adams at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado as one career highlight – says that she and Klara like to write about “all kinds of things.”
She notes: “Recently it’s been more personal and private and what’s going on in our lives currently.
“We kind of see each record as a document of where we were in that period of life. On Ruins there’s a lot about this break-up that Klara went through – a really big break-up – so it’s a very sad record.
“There’s always an element of storytelling in there and we try to mix the private with the more folky, fantasy element as well.”
Encouragingly, the duo seem to be introducing a more traditional country sound to younger people.
“We are because a lot of the people who come to our shows are young girls and some of them, I guess, see us as role models.
“They often come up to us after the show and say that because of us they started writing songs and singing and harmonising, and that they discovered Emmylou or Gram or other country artists through us – and that’s the biggest compliment.”
Don’t be surprised if First Aid Kit are one of the most talked about acts at this year’s folk festival weekend.
First Aid Kit will be headlining the Cambridge Folk Festival on Friday, August 3.