First Aid Kit have thrown out the rule book to have fun with their darkest album to date.
Having recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of their first show, First Aid Kit return this month with ‘Ruins’, a sombre collection that attests to the Söderberg sisters’ musical growth in their first decade of writing and recording.
After touring breakthrough ‘The Lion’s Roar’ and its follow-up ‘Stay Gold’ around the world, the band took some time out of the spotlight. “We took a break,” they explain. “After ‘Stay Gold’, we took some time off from touring, took off almost a year just relaxing and recovering from everything we’d done, and then we started writing ‘Ruins’. We went to L.A. for five weeks to write and then to Portland to record it.”
Setting up camp in producer Tucker Martine’s (The Decemberists) studio in the depths of the Oregonian winter, the band set to work. “It was a different approach for this record”, Johanna explains. “[Tucker] is very collaborative with the artist and he brought a session band together for us. We let him decide completely that he was going to be in it, we trusted him in that. In the studio, we recorded a lot of the songs live. We just let the musicians dictate what was going to happen in the songs. Before it had been more kind of calculating the arrangements. And I think now; it happened a lot more in the moment.”
Johanna says that having a live band in the studio allowed them to take their songs in new directions. “In terms of what the songs could sound like, we had a lot of electric guitar and 80s keyboard which in the past we had been very opposed to. We wouldn’t have allowed that on a record. And I don’t know; it’s just as we got older we are more open-minded now and wanted to have fun with the songs.”
Written in the wake of the breakdown of lead vocalist Klara Söderberg’s relationship and recorded in the midst of an unforgiving winter, the songs on ‘Ruins’ reflect their context. “It’s a very dark record,” Johanna confides, “our darkest record to date. We made it in Portland during a snowstorm, so that definitely influenced the artwork as well as the theme.”
Packing a real emotional punch is recent single ‘Fireworks’, pairing a slow dance rhythm with a yearning chorus that takes Klara to the top of her vocal and emotional range. “It’s a song about how you can set yourself up, because you have expectations of yourself and others and what your life is going to entail,” Klara reveals. “The fact is that you never really know, but because you have these sorts of goals that you’re moving towards, you’re blinded by that, and you can’t see where you’re actually at. So it’s just this feeling of just being very lonely… after nothing worked out the way that you thought.”
At the more playful end of the spectrum, the boozy ‘Hem of Her Dress’ features a lilting beat and bellowed refrain at its finale. “It sounds like we’re drunk but we’re not, we’re just trying to pretend that we were,” Klara says. “We’d drunk sooo much whiskey, we were sooo wasted,” Johanna adds, her voice thick with sarcasm. “I think there was some whiskey involved actually, some tequila,” Klara remembers. “It was a lot of fun. I think each of the songs on the record deal with a separation and a breakthrough in different ways and that song is sort like, ‘Oh what the hell? Here we go again’. It has a lot more perspective and distance to it, and that’s why we wanted to end it in that sort of funny way, not such a serious way. And it’s a relief to have that on the album, not make it all so very gloomy.”
Despite the morose subject matter and sombre, wintry feel of many of the tracks, Klara still wants listeners to take the positives from the record. “Just that they feel something that they relate to, you know? It’s a big universal thing, heartbreak. And I think people can hopefully relate to it and see themselves in it, then feel a little bit less lonely in this world.”
While ‘Ruins’ was incubating, First Aid Kit shared their first new music in three years, a song called ‘You Are the Problem Here’, released to mark International Women’s Day 2017. The venomous track was motivated by the case of an American man receiving a lenient sentence for raping an unconscious woman. “That song was written and fuelled by pure anger,” Klara states. “It wasn’t like ‘Oh we’re gonna write a political song!’ it just happened because it needed to be written. And it’s totally new for us; we’ve never had a song like that, with that kind of statement.”
“But to us, it shouldn’t be a statement,” Klara counters. “It’s not political to us to be against rape, it’s so obvious, like a human right. It’s weird how that song is, in a way, controversial. I think all the people were shocked by us singing something like ‘I hope you fucking suffer’,” she muses. “No one saw that coming, and I think it’s kind of interesting to play with people’s expectations of us.”
“A lot of people think we’re these fairies walking in the forest, barefoot and we sing really softly, and that’s so not who we are. It’s great that the song has grown, we think it’s really important to bring these issues up… It’s just shocking that it took so long for it to get truly recognised.”
“It just feels important,” Klara concludes. “It feels too important not to, to do it and talk about it.”
First Aid Kit plan to spend most of 2018 on the road playing songs from ‘Ruins’, and they’ll do so with a rejigged line-up. With a live keyboardist joining the band, Johanna has license to step out from behind the keys and strap on a bass guitar. It’s something both sisters are excited about having trialled it at festival shows last year. “I just didn’t feel comfortable playing the keyboard, honestly,” Johanna confesses. “I didn’t feel that was my instrument; I was never going to be that into it. Now we had a break, and I thought ‘this is my chance!’ Because I’ve thought of playing bass for years, I’ve just never had the time to learn it. Now I absolutely love playing the bass.”
“To me, the shows are so different now, much more physical. I can feel the music differently, and I feel it’s really fun for the audience. There’s more interaction between Klara and me, and we’ve got to a place now live where we feel confident as a band.”
Having sat on it for the best part of a year, First Aid Kit can’t wait to take their new album out on the road. “We haven’t done a proper album tour in like four years, so we are very excited, and scared, but mostly excited!” With a clutch of timeless songs to tour on ‘Ruins’ and a newfound energy within the band, First Aid Kit are right to be excited about what’s to come. P
First Aid Kit’s album ‘Ruins’ is out now. Taken from the February 2018 issue of Dork,
Order a copy below.