“It’s the ruins of a relationship. How sad it is, but also how beautiful it was. That’s all you have left at the end” - hmv.com talks to First Aid Kit about new LP Ruins
Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg have made a quite name for themselves in recent years. Their music, quiet, elegant folk, is seldom the sort of thing that shifts many units, but their last two albums have sold handsomely, both here and in the US, and made them an outfit capable of selling out venues with capacities in the thousands.
For their new LP Ruins, the fourth of their career so far, the pair relocated to Portland to work with Laura Veirs and My Morning Jacket producer Tucker Martine. They’ve stripped down their sound back to its bones, making an album of delicate folk songs.
As Ruins hits shelves, we sat down with the Söderberg sisters to find out all about how it came together and why they so much inspiration from a very polite break-up.
How did you want this album to move on from what you did on Stay Gold?
Klara: “We had a strong concept in our minds for what we wanted from Stay Gold. We wanted it to be epic, beautiful and to have a lot of big string arrangements. When we came to talk about this record we wanted to capture the feeling how we are live, something much rawer.
How did the process change from last time around?
Klara: “We went in with Tucker Martine, a brand new producer, we’d never worked with him before and we went to Portland and he brought in some new people. It was our first time with a proper session band, so we could try things out and see how it all worked.”
Did you enjoy living and working in Portland?
Johanna: “We loved it. It’s weirdly a lot like Stockholm, we felt at home there straight away. There’s so much good music there, it’s full of great people. We did our last record in Omaha, Nebraska, which is so small. We loved it, but spending six weeks there drove us a little crazy…”
What did Tucker give you as a producer?
Johanna: “Every producer is different. With Tucker, he really values being spontaneous and being in the moment. But he’s so creative and collaborative, he wants as much input as he can possibly get.”
Klara: “There were other musicians coming in and out of the studio all the time. We could ask for whatever we wanted, it was very free.”
One of those musicians who was coming in and out was Peter Buck, formerly of R.E.M, how was working with him?
Klara: “I can’t lie, I was a little intimidated, he’s a legend and he was just sat there listening to our songs and thinking how to make them better. The whole thing was a massive compliment.”
Has the way you write songs change over the years? Do things come together faster now?
Klara: “It’s actually the same. Some are fast, some take longer, all our songs start from one moment, sometimes that’s a line and you have to really work it at, or sometimes you have an amazing 10 minutes and a whole song. Even after all this time, there’s still no real method to it.”
Is there a song on the record was a particular labour of love?
Johanna: “‘Postcard’ has been around for a long time. That song was written in 2013, most of it anyway.”
Klara: “I’m very picky with my words, which sometimes frustrates Johanna, I can sit for hours and hours and come up with nothing. We both agree it shouldn’t be too easy.”
Do you always agree on what songs make the record?
Klara: “No. But we know we can find common ground. For this album, it made sense to keep in thematically about a break-up. We had 18 songs going into the studio, so some didn’t make it, but that’s good.”
Johanna: “We don’t want our records to be too long. We like to keep our records to a classic vinyl, we’re old school, we like an A-Side and a B-Side, 40 to 45 minutes. We want you to finish the record and want another song. Sometimes that means cutting our favourite songs. It’s just another First Aid Kit puzzle.”
You said this is a break-up album, is it the story of a relationship?
Klara: “It’s not a concept album like that. I’d just broken up with someone and then we went straight into writing the record so it’s just what came out. All the songs we loved touched on that theme and it would have felt strange to include songs that sat apart.”
Is that where the title comes from?
Klara: “It is. It’s the ruins of a relationship. How sad it is, but also how beautiful it was. That’s all you have left at the end.”
Was that the only title you had?
Johanna: “No. It wasn’t like with Stay Gold, as soon as we wrote that down we knew that was the title. With this one, we wanted to call it You Can Tell Yourself So Many Things, But Nothing Has To Be True, but our label weren’t too fond of it, it felt a little like fake news. Then we thought about Rebel Heart, but that’s a Madonna record. Ruins felt like the right fit, so it seems like the only one.”
How’s your live set coming together? You’ve got four albums now, you can’t play everything…
Johanna: “We could play for four hours. We won’t.”
Klara: “It’s tricky, but it’s a good problem to have.”
Johanna: “We’ll change it up a lot more, throw in a few oldies there, keep things interesting. It doesn’t feel like that long ago we just had one record and we were struggling to fill a set. Now we’ve got so many songs!”
Klara: “We’ve got a much bigger band now. Johanna has moved to play bass and we’ve added a keyboardist, we’re a five these days.”
With the songs on the new album being so personal, are you worried about having to sing them every night?
Klara: “No, things are good now. Me and my ex-boyfriend are friends, it’s not an open wound I have to keep poking. This tour will be more like sharing it, it’s more heartwarming than heartbreaking.”
Johanna: “We were a very open and honest family growing up. Sharing how we feel in our songs is what we do, it’s not as naked as it might be.”
Are you able to think beyond this record? Do you collect songs as you tour?
Klara: “No, it’s nice to have space to not do that, to take things in with no pressure. We’re just enjoying not having to be creative."