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First Aid Kit pull away from pedal steel in punchy new 'Palomino' album

First Aid Kit talk about 'Palomino' and more (interview for The Current)The Current
  Play Now [11:14]

by Bill DeVille

September 30, 2023

Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit — consisting of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg — harmoniously blend vocals, pensive songwriting, and flowery pop eventually leading to them building a devoted international following.

Their latest studio album, Palomino, still has strong roots in Americana and folk, but it also crosses more into ‘80s pop territory with its punchier drums, and increased instrumental variety — including synthesizers in some tracks.

Before their performance at The Palace Theatre in St. Paul, The Current’s Bill DeVille sat down with the sisters to discuss touring, their all-time favorite Leonard Cohen songs and Artificial Intelligence in music.

Watch and listen to the interview above, and read a transcript below.

Two women answering questions during an interview at a theater
Host Bill DeVille interviews Johanna and Klara Söderberg of First Aid Kit at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul on Sunday, July 23, 2023.
The Current

Interview Transcript

Bill DeVille: Hey, I'm Bill DeVille from The Current here at the Palace Theatre with Klara and Johanna Söderberg. Did I say your name right?

Johanna Söderberg: Yes!

Bill DeVille: Excellent. So nice to see you. I realize we've done this before; I think it was back in 2014, prior to your show at the Varsity Theater. Do you remember that show?

Johanna Söderberg: No.

Klara Söderberg: I'm sorry!

Johanna Söderberg: I mean, I remember doing an interview, but I don't remember the show.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah. I mean, if I saw if I saw a picture, I probably remember it. But yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: We've been doing a lot of shows for a long time.

Bill DeVille: A lot of shows for a long time.

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah.

Bill DeVille: I looked up some of the dates of some of the shows you've done here. Your first one was back on June 1, around then, in 2010, at the Cedar Cultural Center.

Klara Söderberg: I remember that one.

Bill DeVille: You had that. What about the show with Lykke Li? Do you remember that? At First Avenue?

Klara Söderberg: Yeah, absolutely. I remember that very clearly.

Bill DeVille: And then there were shows that, let's see, First Avenue, and this is your second one at the Palace. And remember the first time you were at the Palace? This is now five years ago already, which is crazy to think.

Klara Söderberg: It is crazy. Yeah.

Bill DeVille: Everything is kind of thrown off a little bit, isn't it, when there was, you know, three years of basically no touring at all during the pandemic?  What was that like for you to not be able to tour and, you know, you're used to being on the road as you've been since you were teenagers?

Klara Söderberg: Absolutely.

Johanna Söderberg: Well, that was a bit special because for us, like, it kind of coincided with Klara having, like, of being burned out. So we canceled the whole tour the summer before the pandemic.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: So, we were already kind of on a break from touring.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: And then I got pregnant. So we were anyway, we were going to be doing a break from touring anyway.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: So in some ways, the timing was kind for us, but it was still very difficult, of course.

Klara Söderberg: I mean, in the sense that there was no outside pressure for me to tour when I was not in a position to tour. But I mean, obviously, it was a very, very scary time to be a person in the world, in general. But for us, personally, you know, with Johanna becoming a mom, and then I, me, just not having the pressure from the outside to tour was was probably a good thing for me to just be forced to take a real long break and to gain some perspective.

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah, and we got so much time to make the new record as well. You know, we could really, really, we didn't have to stress anything.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Bill DeVille: So the record is a little bit different, because most of your records you've done in the States, haven't you?

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah.

Bill DeVille: So you recorded this in Sweden. So how was that different?

Johanna Söderberg: Well, before, you know, we'd gone to the U.S., and we had like 10 days or two weeks. Or, you know, sometimes a month to make a record. But this time, we can just kind of stretch it out over months, and we had kind of like a 9 to 5, schedule, which was great.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Klara Söderberg:  It was a different way of making a record, having that amount of time to kind of go back to songs like, like a lot of times, like we'll, you know, we try to record songs. And if it just doesn't, we don't find the  right arrangement or production for it, we don't use it. But for this, it was like we could keep trying new things with the songs, and it was a different way of working, but it was really nice

Bill DeVille:  So tell us about the Palomino album. It maybe is a little more rock, maybe a little more pop than some  of your previous. How would you explain it?

Two women embrace each other in front of a cloud-studded blue sky
First Aid Kit, "Palomino"
Columbia Records

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah, we had this, we made the decision not to have any pedal steel on the record and no — what was it? — the brushes on the drums. Like we wanted to try a different sound because we felt like the pedal  — we love the pedal steel, and we miss it now! — but we just felt like it was time to try something new. And we wanted to go in kind of an '80s direction, because it was something that we'd never done before. We kind of actually hated the '80s sound back in the day.

Bill DeVille: Yeah, there's the drums.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah!

Johanna Söderberg: You know, it was the kind of music that our parents made, you know, our dad made.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah, and listened to.

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah.

Klara Söderberg: So we kind of wanted to rebel against that by making, like, folk music, which is funny.

Johanna Söderberg: As you grow older and wiser, you know, you accept more genres. And we just felt like it was fun. But then the record isn't fully like an '80s record. Like, we just didn't fit all the songs.

Klara Söderberg: No.

Johanna Söderberg: So it has some more country sounding ones as well.

Klara Söderberg: I think apart from no pedal steel, and no brushes, I think the general idea was to not have any rules andjust kind of try anything. Like, try weird synthesizers and things and just see what happened with our songs when you added that element to it.

Johanna Söderberg: And not to be afraid to be like, cheesy, I think.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: For sure.

Bill DeVille: Did you learn anything about yourselves during the pandemic when you weren't able to go out in the road and you weren't doing as much?

Johanna Söderberg: Well, we didn't, in Sweden, we didn't have like, like you guys. We didn't have a complete lockdown. So you could still go out.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: Things were, most restaurants, stores were open. We didn't have face masks. So it wasn't like as drastic as for the rest of the world. I mean, we were the only country in the world that had like this.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: So I personally didn't experience a huge change. 

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: Like, I probably saw people just as I used to. But you were outside mostly.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah, I didn't. I was a little bit...

Johanna Söderberg: Scared.

Klara Söderberg:  More scared. But I'm diabetic, too, so I felt like I was, yeah, in a different position. But I mean, I think it kind of, it was nice for us because we have been on the road since we were teenagers. So for us to kind of have time and space to just be and also be at home.

Johanna Söderberg:  I think it was the first time we were in the same place for like, two years.

Klara Söderberg:  Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg:  We didn't go anywhere.

Klara Söderberg:  That never, ever happened. And it was a little, like, weird at first.

Johanna Söderberg:  Yeah.

Klara Söderberg:  But also, in a way, nice for us!

Johanna Söderberg:  Well, we kind of finally like built a home at home; like, I feel like we have this base now that we can return to, while before we kind of felt like we didn't belong anywhere in the world when you're constantly traveling. It's a bit confusing.

Two women answering questions during an interview at a theater
Johanna and Klara Söderberg of First Aid Kit at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul on Sunday, July 23, 2023.
The Current

Bill DeVille: I can see that.

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah.

Bill DeVille: One thing I learned over the pandemic is how much I enjoy just sitting at home, chilling out, listening to records.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah!

Bill DeVille: Putting on an actual record. And you know, we couldn't really go out, so it was just a matter of getting used to being at home. And I found I didn't really miss what was going on in the outside world nearly as
much as I thought it would!

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah.

Bill DeVille: So I found that interesting. Now that you're back on the road, I see that, you know, so many of your dates are sold out, and the low-ticket alerts. That must feel good when, you know, been off the road for a while, huh?

Johanna Söderberg: It's amazing!

Klara Söderberg: Incredible.

Johanna Söderberg: We didn't expect it.

Klara Söderberg: Oh my god, no.

Johanna Söderberg: We were kind of scared having been gone for so long that people wouldn't return.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: And now it's just like, I feel like these are the best crowds we've ever had.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: I think they're so excited and passionate. And I feel like it's a new generation of people, like maybe who grew up during the pandemic, like young girls who haven't been to that many shows, and they have just so much energy.

Klara Söderberg: And they like dress up and they're so excited.

Johanna Söderberg: They give us gifts and it's like, "Oh!"

Bill DeVille: That's awesome.

Johanna Söderberg: It's amazing.

Klara Söderberg: It's wonderful, yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah, these are the best shows we've ever done, for sure.

A band performing onstage
First Aid Kit performing at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul on Sunday, July 23, 2023.
Sara Fish for MPR
Review and Photos: First Aid Kit play celebratory show in St. Paul

Bill DeVille: Do you have any highlights on this particular tour? You were mentioning Radio City?

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah, Radio City was special, just because that venue is so, I mean...

Klara Söderberg: I mean, you just come out on stage and it's like you just gasp.

Johanna Söderberg: Your jaws drop.

Klara Söderberg: It's just insane.

Johanna Söderberg: It's so grand and big. But also, like, it was so — because I had really, I was really scared and nervous before, because it's a seated crowd and it's in New York and you think like, "Oh, well, they've seen everything," you know. "They don't give — they don't care about you." But then we came out and they were like standing up already, and like smiling and cheering. It was such a warm room.

 Klara Söderberg: It really was.

Johanna Söderberg: Like a warm feeling in the room. So that was a really special moment for us.

Bill DeVille: So I imagine the nerves went away right away when you get a reaction like that.

Johanna Söderberg: I was still a bit nervous just because it was New York.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah, for sure.

Johanna Söderberg: Like, you don't want to mess up in New York. But like, also just seeing the marquee, like outside at Times Square and having like "First Aid Kit."

Klara Söderberg: It's weird. It's weird.

Johanna Söderberg: I'll never forget that.

Klara Söderberg: I never get used to it. I never do. I don't want to get used to it, but it's still, like, strange to me.

Bill DeVille: Yeah. Johanna, you said a while ago, I read this in an interview you did a while back. It says, "Our dream was to play music and do exactly what we're doing now." Then you mentioned, "Everything we've ever wanted as kids has happened." So now that you've done it all...

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah!

Bill DeVille: What's next?

Johanna Söderberg:  Honestly, we just want to keep going and keep doing it. Like we don't — I think it's good that Klara and I, I think we stay pretty grounded. We keep each other grounded being sisters. When you're doing something like this that is so extraordinary and strange. We really don't take it for granted. And if we can keep doing this forever, like I would be happy. This is the best job in the world. Like I can't believe this is our job.

Bill DeVille: So you still love it?

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah, of course we do!

Bill DeVille: That's awesome.

Johanna Söderberg: We wouldn't be here otherwise, you know? It's the best thing ever. And I think like the level that we're at, like these kind of size shows are my favorite. Like we did some arena shows in Sweden. That was fun, but like this, like these theaters are just...

Klara Söderberg: Yeah, this is perfect.

Johanna Söderberg: They're more intimate.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah, exactly.

Johanna Söderberg: But they're still quite big. And it's just...

Klara Söderberg: Yeah, it's so fun.

Johanna Söderberg: We could do this forever. Hopefully we will.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Two women singing and playing instruments onstage
Johanna Söderberg (L) and Klara Söderberg of First Aid Kit performing at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul on Sunday, July 23, 2023.
Sara Fish for MPR

Bill DeVille: Now you, I saw you did several little tribute concerts and recorded a live album and tribute to the late Leonard Cohen. That sounds so cool!

Johanna Söderberg: It was.

Klara Söderberg: It was.

Bill DeVille: Tell us about it. That's, I want to hear about that.

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah, well, we were at our friends'... We had our friends who have a band called Amazon, who are incredible, we saw them do a show at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. And they had this idea where they let artists come and do whatever they wanted, basically, on their stage. And so they said, you know, "If you have an idea, let us know." And then during the show, Johanna — like Leonard Cohen had just passed away — and Johanna whispered in my ear and said, "We should do a Leonard Cohen show." And I was like, "Yes! We definitely should." And then we got to make, we got to make this show where we got to just delve into his world.

People gather outside a theater building in a busy city
A statue of Swedish playwright August Strindberg outside the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm.

Johanna Söderberg: We did a lot of research, we read his biographies and all his poetry books and everything and kind of... We had these two actors involved as well. We kind of read poetry, so it became more than just like a
concert. It really was like a show with...

Klara Söderberg: Yeah!

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah, with poetry

Klara Söderberg: Like a piece that...

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah, kinda like, you know, we never got to meet him ever.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: Our dream was to sing with him, and now it was kind of like our way of saying goodbye to Leonard.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah, it was like a funeral for us, that we held for us.

Johanna Söderberg: And then we released it all on vinyl.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah.

Klara Söderberg: It was an incredible experience.

Leonard Cohen
Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen performed at the Auditorium Stravinski during the 47th Montreux Jazz Festival on July 5, 2013.
Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

Bill DeVille: Do you have a favorite all time Leonard Cohen song?

Klara Söderberg: I mean, probably "Suzanne."

Johanna Söderberg: I love "Suzanne."

Bill DeVille: "Suzanne" is a good one.

Johanna Söderberg: "Avalanche."

Klara Söderberg: Yeah. "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong."

Johanna Söderberg: "Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye." Oh, I have so many!

Klara Söderberg: "Famous Blue Raincoat."

Bill DeVille: And you know what? He was good to the bitter end. I tell you what, every time I hear "You Want It Darker." You know, that one will put a tear in your eye.

Johanna Söderberg: I know.

Klara Söderberg: That song...

Johanna Söderberg: I love that song so much.

Klara Söderberg: It's so good.

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah. It's so powerful.

Bill DeVille: And it has that monk thing going on. He was in a monastery.

Johanna Söderberg: He's so cool, and everything he did in his life.

Bill DeVille: Have you seen any of those documentaries?

Klara Söderberg: Yes, yes.

Bill DeVille: How about that one on the Greek island?

Johanna Söderberg: Hydra. I love that one about "Suzanne."

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: Oh, Marianne. I mean, sorry.

Klara Söderberg: Marianne, yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: Marianne, yeah. It's so good.

Bill DeVille: His lifelong muse.

Johanna Söderberg: I know.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Bill DeVille: It was so good.

Klara Söderberg: Yes, it was.

Bill DeVille:  Have you ever watched the Polar Music Prize banquet in Sweden where you're singing "Emmylou," and it cuts to Emmylou and she's got the tear rolling down her face.

Klara Söderberg: I watch it every day! No, but we, I mean we definitely have.

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah. We didn't, like, when we were performing it at the time, I don't think we were staring at her.

Klara Söderberg: No!

Johanna Söderberg: It's just too much.

Klara Söderberg: It might make her uncomfortable.

Johanna Söderberg: We didn't know at all what her reaction was going to be like, but afterwards we saw it. And yeah, we talked to her afterwards.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: She's the sweetest.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah, and she's just the best. She's...

Johanna Söderberg: So inspiring.

Klara Söderberg: Such an incredible person. So warm.

Bill DeVille: She's the queen of Americana and country.

Johanna Söderberg: She is!

Klara Söderberg: Yeah!

Bill DeVille: She's the best.

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah.

Klara Söderberg: She is.

EmmyLou Harris
Emmylou Harris
courtesy the artist

Bill DeVille: So when you're just goofing around, you know, maybe doing a soundcheck or whatever, what's the first song you go to?

Johanna Söderberg: We do Disney songs sometimes in Swedish.

Klara Söderberg: Uh huh.

Johanna Söderberg: It's a common thing. What else do we do? I don't know. We did “Tribute” yesterday.

Klara Söderberg: Oh, “Tribute”!

Johanna Söderberg:  Tenacious D.

Klara Söderberg:  Tenacious D, yeah, that's a good one! I mean, it's kind of like a classic thing. Like you just, if you have a guitar and a mic, and you put it in front of us, it's hard for us not to like make sounds.

Johanna Söderberg: We get pretty goofy as well. But we'd like to try out new songs during soundcheck.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: That's always fun. And sometimes even we've written songs during soundcheck.

 Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: Just give us a mic and we'll get inspired.

Bill DeVille: What was it that made music so important to you that it's your passion?

Klara Söderberg: It's always...

Johanna Söderberg: It's always been that way.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah, it's always been that way. We were always singing as kids and making up songs and choreography and everything. That was just what we love doing. I mean, anything creative, but especially music.

Johanna Söderberg: Yeah. I realized pretty early on that we were like not just casual music listeners. Like we were nerds. Like I remember being like eight or nine years old, that's when it started. Like I became obsessed with music.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: Like I didn't my friends didn't listen to it in the same way.

Klara Söderberg: No.

Johanna Söderberg: And then it's just kept going.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: Ever since then.

 Bill DeVille: A lot of people in this country have been talking a lot about AI, artificial intelligence. Now you, as musicians that sing songs, how do you feel about artificial intelligence? Do you feel like what happens if they make music like us? You know? If it makes music, like you do?

Klara Söderberg: I mean, it's scary. I think it's scary, for sure. But I also think that there is something innately human that's about, I mean, our music and the music that we love, where humans just make mistakes and are like, I mean, I think we are drawn to music, where you can hear that it's a real like... I mean, like Gram Parsons, for example, who is obviously one of our biggest heroes, like the reason that we love his music, because he made, you know, the, if you just listen to the instrumentals, it's like very classic country, but then he, which can sometimes be like, just feel very, like ... what's the word? But just...

Johanna Söderberg: Not boring, but like...

Klara Söderberg: Maybe not come across as a completely genuine sometimes to me, but with his voice, because it's like,has that frailty, it just, it becomes very moving. And I don't know. I mean, I'm sure it's gonna happen. But, I mean, I don't...

Johanna Söderberg: I'm not worried about our music. Because I think what draws people to us is that we feel, I hope that we feel real.  And that there's something; like, we don't have autotune and we don't fix — you know, we're not perfect, like, it has, it's not flawless. But I think that's what people like about it. It feels authentic and that the songs come from us. Like, it'd be weird to listen to lyrics knowing that it comes from AI. Like, who's the... you know, the AI hasn't lived a life.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg:  I think that's what people like about our songs is that they feel that it comes from the heart.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Bill DeVille: And one thing I don't think AI is gonna figure out is how to do sibling harmony.

Johanna Söderberg: You never know!

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

 Bill DeVille: You're not gonna feel the ache. I want to, you know, you're not going to feel the ache and the soul.

Johanna Söderberg: Exactly. Yeah.

Klara Söderberg: I don't think so. I mean, but you never know.

Johanna Söderberg: No. New technology. Who knows where it could go.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Bill DeVille: Well, so nice chatting with you. Last question. Here's an easy one for you. If you had to pick, which would you see this weekend: Barbie or Oppenheimer?

Johanna Söderberg: We've already seen Barbie.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: But I want to see Oppenheimer.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah, I'm gonna see Oppenheimer when I get, when I get home to Stockholm, but um, yeah, we made the choice: Barbie.

Johanna Söderberg: We're huge Greta Gerwig fans.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Johanna Söderberg: It was a no brainer.

Klara Söderberg: Yeah.

Australian actress Margot Robbie poses on the pink carpet upon arrival for the European premiere of "Barbie" in central London on July 12, 2023.
Justin Tallis | AFP via Getty Images

Bill DeVille: I want to thank Jake Larson and Aaron Ankrum for making a sound and look good. We appreciate it. And my name is Bill DeVille, here with Johanna and Klara from First Aid Kit. I hope your show is wonderful, safe travels, and it's been so nice chatting with you.

Johanna Söderberg: Thank you you so much.

Klara Söderberg: Thank you, you too.


Guests – First Aid Kit (Johanna and Klara Söderberg)
Host – Bill DeVille
Producer – Derrick Stevens
Camera and Audio: Jake Larson, Aaron Ankrum
Technical Director: Erik Stromstad
Graphics: Natalia Toledo
Digital Producers: Nikhil Kumaran, Luke Taylor

First Aid Kit – official site