If you were asked about your ideas on Sweden’s folk music scene you’d probably conjure images of some guy in tiny green overalls blasting notes through a giant horn.
Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, who make up First Aid Kit, defy this idea with bittersweet, Americana-tinged folk that could easily have come out of the dustbowls of Texas.
Since 2008 they’ve been riding the wave that brought folk music back to the attention of the masses and are currently in the midst of touring their new album, Stay Gold.
Talking on the phone from Arizona, Klara is philosophical about the rise of folk in recent years but argues that the genre never really went away.
“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,” Söderberg says in her adopted American twang. “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.”
If you’ve been listening to the radio recently, chances are pretty high you’ve run into First Aid Kit’s song, My Silver Lining. Its introductory violin line makes it instantly recognisable, and as the opener for their third album, immediately sets the scene for the yearning tone that carries through the release. In the first verse Klara 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.
“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,” she says. “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.”
The booming popularity of My Silver Lining probably has much to do with these universal themes.
“I was sitting in Johanna’s apartment last year,” Söderberg explains. “I was just sitting there in the living room and just 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.”
This month will be the third time the sisters have come to Australia, with the last tour in 2012 taking in the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne’s Forum Theatre. Sadly, Perth is not on the itinerary. Söderberg is humble about the band’s popularity in such a distant land, and she isn’t shy about admitting her thrill at selling out shows here.
“The 2012 shows were amazing, they were incredible. 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.
“I remember when we played our first shows in Australia, they were these huge, sold-out shows; it was crazy. We’d never been there 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.”
Aside from performing at the 2014 edition of Splendour In The Grass, the sisters will be playing at somewhat smaller venues this time. Folk and country are intimate types of music that are best enjoyed in smaller rooms where the singer doesn’t need to scream their stories.
“We’re probably going to come back later on and perhaps do something bigger,” says Söderberg, “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.
“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.”