FAULT Magazine X First Aid Kit
FAULT: Stay Gold came out in 2014. What were you doing for the four years until Ruins?
Johanna (First Aid Kit): We toured Stay Gold intensely for about a year and a half following it’s release. After that we felt quite burnt out and exhausted. We could’ve kept touring forever. However, since we’d toured pretty much non-stop since we were teenagers we felt like we needed a little break. We needed time to figure out our lives, beyond First Aid Kit. We lived in separate countries. I stayed in Stockholm while Klara moved to Manchester for two years. It was necessary to get a break from not just the band and the music, but from each other. It was pretty difficult but we feel like we learnt so much about ourselves and about life during this time period. We built serious relationships, bought our own apartments. Klara started taking acting classes. I got a driver’s license. We needed to catch up on some grown up things we’d been missing out on.
When did you start work on Ruins?
Johanna (First Aid Kit): When we took our break we told ourselves we didn’t need to work on new material straight away, we didn’t want to rush another record. We didn’t even have to listen to any music or go to any shows if we didn’t want to. However, pretty quickly after the touring ended we felt quite eager to perform and write again. Klara broke up with her boyfriend and had a little bit of a life crisis. This inspired the theme of the album and sort of got us started on it.
We went to Los Angeles for six weeks in April 2016. We rented a house in Echo Park and went on road trips across California. We hung out with other musician friends and gathered inspiration. That’s when we finished writing most of the tracks that ended up on Ruins.
How does it differ to your previous records?
Johanna (First Aid Kit): We wanted to try new things on Ruins. Because it’s dealing with a relationship ending, the lyrics are both more personal and more universal than on our previous records. Before our lyrics were a lot more fictional and had more story telling elements. This time the songs are more direct. I think it stems from us being older, more experienced and more in touch with our own emotions. We’re also braver in a sense, it takes a lot of courage to write so openly about your inner feelings.
We decided to work with a new producer in a new city, so we reached out to a long-time favorite producer of ours, Tucker Martine. We told him we wanted to make an album that was less polished, had more of a live feel and a little more edge. Previously, we’d been pretty strict about the sounds we allowed on our records. It had to be very folky, pretty and acoustic. This time we sort of through all those ideas away, and we’re very open to new things. Whatever fit the song, we went for. It was super refreshing.
Obviously, this is your fourth album, has the process been different to your others?
Klara (First Aid Kit): The songwriting process hasn’t changed that much since we started, but this time we wanted to make sure we really took the time we needed not to rush the record. All songs stem from a line, an idea, a lyric and then we work from there. Sometimes that takes less than five minutes, sometimes it takes years. In the end the most important thing for us is that we end up with songs that feel real and interesting. Something that makes us curious.
This time the recording process was different because we had a live session band that improvised a lot in the studio. It was so much fun! Getting to hear all these musicians that we’ve looked up to for so long play on our songs was a dream come true.
How have you grown since your 2010 debut?
Johanna (First Aid Kit): When I watch old YouTube clips of us performing I feel like we’ve changed so much. We were just kids when we started out, although we felt like we were so much older back then. We were pretty insecure. We can hear in our old songs when we’re trying to imitate our idols and it’s kind of cute. It’s definitely not something we’re ashamed of.
We’ve always been good at what we do and had a strong core in our music, but we’ve just grown so much more confident with the years. Both in the studio and on the road, we trust our instincts much more and can relax. I don’t think we care so much about what people think anymore. We’ve always sort of been following our gut feeling, and it’s lead us this far…so we must be onto something, right?
Does this last album feel like the most “First Aid Kit” like album?
Johanna (First Aid Kit): I think all records are very ”First Aid Kit”-like in their own pretty ways. They’re just documents of who we were at that certain period of our lives. We think of them as time capsules. We don’t want to stick to a sound too much, we truly are open for experimenting. Who knows what the future will bring, getting too comfortable in a certain style is boring.
So talking about Ruins, can you tell me a bit about the lyrical inspirations behind it?
Klara (First Aid Kit): When we went to Los Angeles to write the record I had just gone through a breakup. The wound was quite open. I thought I was going down one road and then it all changed. The songs came through that and so of course, they all mirror that intense experience of this major loss. Visually, we see the record as a ruin of a relationship, walking around it, exploring it and trying to understand it. It felt like an important record to write as honestly and boldly as possible. That is how you get a real connection with people, which is always what we strive for.
Klara (First Aid Kit): We always follow where we feel the songs want to go, arrangement wise. We usually have more a broad sense of what we want a record to be – this one we felt needed to be a little more raw with more of a live sound. Honestly, it’s all about the gut feeling. You go on in with ideas and expectations but in the end you go with what feels right and good.
We were listening to a lot of different music during the writing process, like Big Thief, Angel Olsen, Whitney and Mitski. We are always returning to our old favorites Townes Van Zandt, Joni Mitchell, Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan too. The list is endless. It’s hard to pinpoint where the inspiration comes from, it can be so random.
You’ve said that most of the record is about questioning yourself following the breakdown of a relationship. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Klara (First Aid Kit): It’s so easy to grow comfortable and be blinded by what you once thought was good. It’s hard to uproot yourself and leave it all behind. You feel so very lost. In the midst of all that it’s hard not to second guess yourself, looking for simple answers to things that will never really make sense. The record was written during a really vulnerable, exciting, scary time.
Do you find it cathartic to write about these kinds of subjects?
Klara (First Aid Kit): It is very cathartic. Writing is the way that we deal with whatever is hard in life, which is why our music is so sad, haha. Getting to share our deepest emotions with people, even though that can be scary, is so rewarding. The connection that we feel with people who love our songs is so special. Playing shows and singing the lyrics to another human being in the crowd, seeing their reaction and knowing the song means so much to them, there is nothing like it.
You’ve previously said that you wanted this album to be “more real”. Can you tell me about the ideas behind that?
Klara (First Aid Kit): That wasn’t something that we planned to do but the songs ended up being more direct and open. Like we previously stated, we wanted to have more of a raw feel, of a live performance.
Is it difficult knowing that such personal songs will be listened to around the world?
Klara (First Aid Kit): All the songs and themes are very universal. We left out names or anything that felt too personal. The songs are still very emotional and of course that can be scary but it’s ultimately the most rewarding thing, when people react to something that came straight from the heart.
How has your relationship with each other changed during this album?
Johanna (First Aid Kit): I think our relationship is stronger now than ever. Touring together for so long has been hard. We’ve been put under a lot of pressure and pretty much been around each other 24/7. No wonder we some times argue and can’t get along.
For a while I think we were on totally different wavelengths. We wanted different things for the band but didn’t express it clearly enough. We’re much better at communicating now to make sure we’re on the same page. We also know when we need space from each other. We have so much more fun together now, too!
Now that it’s out, how has the reception been?
Johanna (First Aid Kit): Honestly, it’s been pretty darn amazing. Releasing Ruins was scary, especially after that four year break in-between albums. We didn’t know what kind of reaction to expect from either music critics or our fans. We didn’t know if anyone was still into our music. We never expect anyone to care or take our popularity for granted.
Also, when we’re making music we’re constantly torn between feeling like what we’re doing is the greatest thing ever and feeling like it’s a complete piece of shit. Sometimes when you’re in the studio singing a song you feel like it’s a masterpiece. Then when you get home and get some perspective on it, you listen to it and get doubts about it. That definitely happened with Ruins in a sense. However, it’s been amazing playing these sold-out tours full of crowds who know the new songs by heart. When we look at our listeners we can tell that the songs mean so much to them. It’s powerful.
What do you want people to take away from your latest album?
Johanna (First Aid Kit): We want people to feel comforted, to not feel alone in their feelings. We hope it’s a relatable album. Everyone goes through heartbreak in their lives, one way or another. It’s important to realize that it’s completely normal and that things are going to be OK. That’s the beauty of sad songs. They allow you to wallow in those sad feelings for a while and then hopefully gather the strength to move on.
What are you working on next?
Johanna (First Aid Kit): Though we just started touring Ruins, we’re already thinking about the next record and future tours. We can’t say much at this point. All we know is we think we’ve got a really exciting future ahead of us.
Interview by Ely Watson
To find out more and to purchase RUINS, visit here.
Photographer: David Yeo
Fashion Editor: Rachel Holland
Make-up artist: Jaimee Thomas at Untitled Artists
Hair Stylist: Jordan Leigh
Nail Artist: Diana Drummond
Stylist’s Assistant: Ana Carnu
Photographed at Yoyo Studios