First Aid Kit (sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg) may nail harmonies as tight as the Carter Family’s, but it wasn’t exactly to the manner born. “We didn’t grow up with country music at all,” Johanna tells Rolling Stone Country, calling from her native Sweden. It was a joint obsession with Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes that had them digging into his influences — Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan, southern-steeped Sixties folk — and turned the singing siblings into aficionados of all things roots. It’s this rich history that inspires their latest record, Stay Gold and its ethereal, Cosmic American Music with a distinctly woodsy Scandinavian touch.
“Our friends always said, ‘you guys are weird. You’re listening to old country from the Twenties,'” Johanna recalls of when they’d crank the Louvin Brothers back in school. “Now they’re converted country fans. So we won.”
We’ll say — the sisters recently sang vocals for Oberst’s Upside Down Mountain and they’ll headline the Mother Church, Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, this fall. So Rolling Stone Country had Johanna recount a few of the duo’s top country influences — and drop a hint to a potential future collaboration with a certain “Wrecking Ball” (and no, not the twerking one).
Townes Van Zandt
We love Townes — he has an endless amount of songs, and we are still discovering him. Our favorite record is probably Townes Van Zandt and Our Mother the Mountain — the arrangements there are incredible and were the inspiration for the string arrangements on our new record. I think there is something about Townes and the way he writes — it’s so unbelievably sad. I shouldn’t get any enjoyment out of listening to it because it’s so tragic. His voice is beautiful and it breaks like it’s just about to fall apart. He does it all in a very beautiful, poetic way.
We first heard of her when she sang with Gram Parsons on his record, Grievous Angels. We just loved how they sang together and it really inspired our song “Emmylou” which is about singing with other people and how it’s a very unique way of communicating. Then we started listening to Emmylou’s solo records and fell in love with her as a singer and a songwriter — she’s incredible, and such a strong woman. She just does her thing.
We heard of the Carter family though Bob Dylan’s radio show, and it’s just so cool that these old, old recordings still sound amazing. I love the songs that deal with death, or religious songs — they are so existential. You feel their pain. They have really inspired us — we’re siblings and we sing together, but we never thought about that as a special thing when we did it. But then we discovered them, and discovered how family bands have a really cool thing going on, and really tried to utilize that in our music. What they do in their harmonies is actually quite simple, but they’re so tight and they do it with such passion that it’s really convincing and beautiful.
I think she is one of the coolest women on earth. She’s totally herself and we love the way she writes songs and her stories. I really like her latest record and also the song “Wrecking Ball.” We really want to work with her in the future – she actually spoke to us recently and said that she wants to work with us, too, so we’re really excited about that. She called Klara and she was really emotional — we cried! She said, “I want you to know that I support you, and if you ever want to do something in the future with me and Dave [Rawlings], we’re up for it.” I really hope it happens.
We have to mention Johnny Cash — he’s a legend. We’ve done covers of his songs, like “Walk the Line.” Even people who don’t like country tend to like Jonny Cash. Everyone can agree that he’s great. He’s one of those artists who crosses boundaries. His music is quite simple — very simplistic arrangements and chord changes. But there’s something about his voice, it’s so deep.