First Aid Kit's Family Affair in Taking America

Swedish sister folk-poppers (and their dad) take on the States

Klara and Johanna Soderberg, sisters from the suburbs of Stockholm, lived out their teenage dream in an unlikely place: Omaha, Neb., where they recorded their major-label debut, "Stay Gold," due June 10 on Columbia Records, and home of the band that made them want to be musicians, Bright Eyes. "They were our biggest heroes," says Klara, killing time in a cramped dressing room five hours before a sold-out headlining show at Los Angeles' El Rey Theatre. "They inspired us to make music that felt honest and real."

The drummer's sound-checking muffles the music playing over the theater's PA: early Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young's "Harvest," two other influences heard on "Stay Gold."

First Aid Kit's journey began in 2008, when then-15-year-old Klara filmed herself and her sister performing Fleet Foxes' "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song." The haunting video went viral and emboldened them to record an EP with their father, Benkt Soderberg (a former member of 1980s rock band Lolita Pop), in a home studio. Next came a full-length, "The Big Black and the Blue," which they managed to slip to Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst when he was touring Europe in 2009. A year later Mike Mogis, another Bright Eyes member, saw First Aid Kit at the Austin City Limits Music Festival and agreed to produce its next record, "The Lion's Roar," which they recorded in Omaha.

Spending the last few years on the road hasn't jaded them, though, and guitarist Klara, 21, and keyboardist Johanna, 23, remain the kind of sisters who finish each other's sentences, with a hint of leftover teenage nonchalance; they give a collective shrug about the difference between making a record for a major and creating music on their own. "It's not like we wanted things to get massive," says Klara. "We just want to feel like we can do music for a living."

To produce "Stay Gold," they returned to Omaha and worked with Mogis, who helped flesh out and expand their formerly spare blend of folk and '70s pop-rock. Key to the new music is the addition of pedal steel and, on standout "Shattered & Hollow," strings. But make no mistake: "It has always been about our voices," says Johanna. "That's in the forefront. We wouldn't work with anyone who would overpower it."

Later at the El Rey, they'll perform side by side in short gold dresses to cover Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee," a choice that echoes their own songs - a story of heartbreak and last chances, a beat that comes and goes and a chorus that lets them shine vocally. It's a blend that plays out all over "Stay Gold," particularly on "My Silver Lining" and "Cedar Lane."

Booked up to November - their U.S. tour started in mid-May and runs through Bonnaroo on June 14 - the only time the sisters spend away from each other and their father (he's still the soundman) is when they return to their respective apartments in Stockholm. Not that they mind. As Klara says, "We like it like that - it's nice to know what you're doing for the year."


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