Die schwedischen Schwestern von First Aid Kit begeistern uns seit wir ihren wundervollen, magischen, im Wald widerhallenden Harmonien zu Fleet Foxes lauschten. 13 Jahre und 5 Alben später sind wir entzückt von den beiden wie eh und je und gespannt, was sie uns via Zoom über ihre Reise zu Album Nummer 5, Who by Fire, ihrer Live-Hommage an Leonard Cohen, erzählen würden. Zwischenbilanz ist auf jeden Fall schonmal, dass die beiden sogar noch viel netter sind als wir das erwartet hätten (was ja beinahe nicht möglich ist), zudem auch noch ziemlich witzig und wir definitiv noch viel verliebter sind als wir es vor dem Interview ohnehin schon waren!
I have to out myself as a mega fan before we start. The depths of my soul loves your music and I just want to thank you for all the beautiful creations you’ve shared over the years!
Klara: Oh thank you! That is plain wonderful to hear!
How do you approach a tribute concert for Leonard Cohen?
Klara: Oh man, yes where do you start…
Johanna: He passed away in November 2016 and we were very sad. He’s number one for us in terms of songwriting and he’s been our biggest influence since we were teenagers. We were sad for many reasons. Trump had also just been inaugurated, there was a snowstorm in Stockholm and it was so dark.. We never really got to meet him, not that that’s what you expect to happen, but it was just a dream of ours to get to sing with him or to meet him and to say thank you for the music. So we thought what we could do would be to create this show for him. Kind of as a funeral almost, or as a way to say goodbye.
Where did you start to choose the songs? What was your process of making the songs your own?
Klara: That’s hard to say. When we decide to do a song, we usually just follow whatever comes to our heads. It’s not something we sit down and discuss, it’s more like following our instincts. But with this it was different, because we were working with a director for the show, who was also acting in it, so it was a completely different thing. She helped us, alongside the musical director, our dear friend Sebastian, to put the show together. It was the four of us who sat together and worked out how we could do this, what songs we wanted to include. Sebastian wrote all the arrangements and we knew that we wanted them to be like a seamless thing, where all the songs run into each other.
Johanna: It wasn’t like a regular concert, it was more of an art performance. We were at a theatre and wanted to use that. When you look at the film, there’s a lot of props and pieces, so it was more like a theatre production. But in terms of choosing the songs, that was really tricky.. He has so many records and was brilliant throughout his career. Even the record he made right before his death was fantastic. But we chose songs, or well some of them, that are about death. The title Who by Fire is a song about, well, death. It felt like him saying that he was ready to go. But then also Klara you also recited a poem..
Klara: So did you!
Johanna: I did too, but you did Prayer for Messiah. He wrote that when he was a teenager and we wanted to make sure that we looked at the span of his entire career, from when he was 17 to when he passed away, and covered everything.
So the film you mentioned, has this visually be recorded too?
Klara: It was yes. That was the first thing actually. We knew we wanted to record it somehow, but we didn’t think it was going to be a record. Because it was a theatre show, we filmed it and it was shown on Swedish television. We should probably put it out as well, I don’t know. But it’s really beautiful and it was such a special night.
Johanna: When we made it, we were also working on our record Ruins. We were in different studios in America, in Portland and Oregon, right before. It was very stressful and we didn’t really have time to rehears a lot and this is actually recorded from the first show on the first night and we were actually very nervous.
Klara: Very nervous!
Johanna: I think we didn’t realise how good it was until we listened back to it now that we had more time during the pandemic. We listened to it and realised how special it was and felt like putting it out. Especially now in a time when you can’t go to a show. So you can sit there and still go into that world of a live show. Our dream is to do this show again and to tour it internationally. In Montreal in his hometown for example. But until then we have this vinyl.
Thank goodness we do! I wondered actually, if there were any plans on touring the show..
Johanna: We’ll see.
Klara: I’m sure we could incorporate Leonard Cohen songs into our own show too, we just love playing any song by him.
How did you chose your collaborators for the show? You’ve had about 20 people and a choir if I picked that up correctly?
Johanna: Yes, there were so many people.
Klara: A lot of the people who sang with us are friends of ours. That’s where we started. Who do we know who would do a great job – and they all did and they all really put their own mark on the songs. It was just such a beautiful event, having all the people that we love there and sharing them cover our hero. It was just great, we had our friend Maja Francis cover Famous Blue Raincoat, but who wanted to add a bit of an electronic sound to it. She’s more of a pop artist and that was really fun. And then we had Loney Dear, who did a version of Avalanche that is just so different to the original.
Johanna: We just let him do whatever he wanted and he changed the melody completely. We didn’t want the songs to be too true to Cohen, but do our own take on it. That was really important. And to really emphasise the arrangements, because a lot of his songs are really sparse in terms of the arrangements,. But this being for the theatre, we wanted it to be really big and dramatic.
Klara: And his melodies are so beautiful and we wanted to highlight that and let them shine on their own as well. I think a lot of people just think about Leonard Cohen’s lyrics, but his melodies are so beautiful as well.
That all sounds so special, with you saying that you got such close friends involved too. That brings a whole new level to it too. From that place of love it really becomes a tribute, doesn’t it?
Klara: Yes, absolutely.
Johanna: It really did. It was also risky, because there were so many people involved and so many things that could have gone wrong. We were lucky too, that everything just fell into place and everyone was so passionate about it. Being there was special in a way that makes me want for everyone to be there, in the room, too.
Klara: It was one of the most amazing things we’ve ever done. We’ve all felt like a family and everyone was just so happy.
Something I found so great too is that you chose not to alter any of the recordings, but to release them exactly how they are.
Johanna: There is mistakes and it’s not perfect, but I think that’s live music and it shouldn’t be altered but allowed to be the way it is.
You said once, that whenever you’re asked to sing together you’d always choose to play Suzanne. The song is now also the first release of the album. Can you put in words why the song is so dear to you?
Johanna: It’s the first Cohen song we ever heard and I think it was at a time when we were discovering music. When you’re thirteen, fourteen, those years are so formative. I heard the song and remember thinking I understood music for the first time and understood what it was about. It’s such a masterpiece.
Klara: Yeah, and the lyrics of Suzanne. They’re just gorgeous. And I think there’s something about the guitar as well. I learned how to fingerpick around that time and it was one of the first songs I learned to play. It’s just such a nice song to play as well.
Can you remember the first time you sang a harmony together then?
Johanna: I remember when we learned to harmonise I was twelve or thirteen.
Klara: Oh was it when we were singing a song from O Brother, where art thou? Coen Brothers!
Johanna: It’s all about the Cohens. I remember we were walking around Stockholm and singing that song together and people were looking at us like, what are you doing? And we just thought we discovered something amazing.
Klara: This thing between us. And then we didn’t stop, we just kept on singing. Our poor parents, every day at home we were just singing.
When you look back at yourselves sitting in a forest covering Fleet Foxes and at where you are now. What is going through your head?
Johanna: Oh man.
Klara: It’s hard to say, I mean I’m very very grateful everything happened and I’m also happy that I didn’t know it was gonna happen. Because it was all rooted in a very deep love of music. And that stayed the same. We’ve had such a wild career and it’s been hard at times, but it’s always been rooted in that love for music. That’s where it started, with this really pure love.
Johanna: We had absolutely no expectations of anyone seeing that video at all. That’s what made it so good, that we just did that for ourselves. If we’d known what happened ten years later.. that we’re sitting here with you and talking about music. I mean, it’s mind-blowing.
Oh no, we are already running out of time. Given that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic and it’s providing time for introspection – would you like to share some reflections from your very own 2020 universe? You’ve become a mother too, Johanna!
Johanna: I’m still going through this transition of being a mother. It was shocking at first, I didn’t know what to expect, but for me it’s been really freeing to not only focus on yourself all the time. With music, you always write about your own feelings or in interviews you talk about yourself, so it was lovely to get to take care of someone else for once. For us, Klara and me, it’s also brought us together in a different way. You value things in life differently, family is more important than work and that’s more clear now than ever.
Klara: It’s awesome to be an aunt, I love it. She made the cutest little baby ever. I just hang out with the cutest baby, it’s wonderful.
Johanna: You’re welcome.