Artist to Know: First Aid Kit

Other artists in this series include Mighty Oaks, Lake Street Dive, Katy Tiz, and Lizzo.

Maybe you’ve heard First Aid Kit’s song “Emmylou,” maybe not, but either way, it’s well worth a listen. When it was released in 2012 on their LP “The Lion’s Roar,” Rolling Stone listed it as the 10th best single of the year, and the LP reached number one in Sweden, number 65 on the Billboard 200, and the Top Five of Americana/folk chart (ironic, since they’re Swedish).

A Swedish indie folk duo made of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, First Aid Kit first gained recognition in Sweden as teenagers but gathered an international fanbase throughout Europe, the US, and Australia, along with other countries. Their debut EP, “Drunken Trees,” was produced by their father (a former member of the Swedish band Lolita Pop) and released in 2008, eventually followed by their first full-length album “The Big Black & the Blue” in 2010.

They’ve earned quite a few other awards and titles besides those listed earlier during their relatively thus far short career. 2012 saw them with 4 Grammis awards (essentially the Swedish equivalent of the Grammys), as well as the Swedish Music Publishers Association’s “Composer of the Year” (which they earned again in 2014) and “Breakthrough of the Year” prizes. In 2013, they received the Nordic Music Prize for Best Nordic 2012 Album. These are in addition to several other prizes and titles, and for good reason.

First Aid Kit’s music features beautiful harmonies by the sisters and string parts that are reminiscent of older folk country (particularly in the bridge for “Emmylou”). They actually performed “Emmylou” at the Polar Music Prize in 2015 in front of the woman who inspired it, Emmylou Harris. They’re just as magical live as they are on the album and even brought Emmylou herself to tears. Me too, Emmylou, me too.

Their songs are often simple in arrangement, but they’re absolutely gorgeous, especially vocally. A good example of this is their song “Ghost Town.” The sisters have minimal instrumentals in this, but the simplicity makes their voices even more hauntingly lovely.

If you like older Dolly Parton music, you might like “It’s a Shame.” It has a similar vibe, in my opinion, to some of Dolly’s less recent tunes (e.g. “Here You Come Again”). The sisters sing of longing for their lover and a deeper connection while recognizing that at some point, the relationship will end, and it’s just a beautiful song.

One of their newer songs, “You are the Problem Here” is a feminist jam, and I’m definitely here for it. This song calls out all of the usual tropes regarding sexist responses to sexual assault and victim-blaming. One of my personal favorite lines: “I am a human being, that is how you relate to me.” This speaks to how often, men can only relate to victims and survivors of sexual assault by their personal connection to women, i.e. having a mother or sister or daughter. First Aid Kit points out that men shouldn’t need to think of their family members to recognize that sexual assault is wrong; women are humans in their own right and shouldn’t only be considered worthy of respect through their relationships to men.